in service of the
The Sydney Festival, Human Rights, and BDS
Some topics have become so politically and emotionally charged that their very mention will cause the speaker to be subject to an avalanche of vitriol and assumed prejudice without any attention being given to the merits of the argument being prosecuted. The Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is one of those subjects.
The 2022 much loved and appropriately lauded Sydney Festival has received considerable publicity, not because of the quality of its events, but because of the disruption of more than 40% of the festival’s performances, with some 100 artists, companies and arts workers withdrawing in solidarity and in protest of the Israeli Embassy sponsorship for the Festival. Judith Lucy, Tom Ballard and Nazeem Hussain, amongst many others are boycotting the festival to protest polices enacted by the Israeli government which cause loss of human rights by the Palestinian people. By their action these performers have become active members of the BDS movement.
Some years ago, I was a speaker at a symposium sponsored by Manning Clark House and hosted by Phillip Adams, on the topic: ‘does humanity have a future’. Most speakers contributed from the perspective of science, but I was especially taken by one who spoke from the arts who observed: “civilisation is heading for disintegration when artists and artisans cease holding a mirror to the face of power and more particularly to the political elite”. Performers – artists, cartoonists poets, do not simply entertain, they command a stage as truth tellers, as veil removers. Blessed are those who take this responsibility seriously, and we should be grateful. Performers have every right to protest when their performance is compromised through association, in this case by the embassy whose government has initiated a system of apartheid. Through colonisation, confiscation, discrimination, and intimidation, Palestinians are forced to live under occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank in a world vastly different to that enjoyed by the illegal settlers who have appropriated their land, property, and rights.
Through the recent passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel laureate, and human rights champion, we have been reminded that the term apartheid can and should be applied to any situation in which gross inequality has become institutionalised as a direct result of governmental policy. This is the case in Israel/Palestine, and as such confirmed in the past year by Human Rights Watch and by the highly respected and US state department endorsed Israeli NGO - B’Tselem. Both independently concluded that Israel is practising apartheid. To say otherwise is to deny the truth. Tutu is famous for many sayings, but one is pertinent here: “to remain silent in the face of oppression is take the side of the oppressor”.
The Zionist lobby and its supporters fiercely attack the BDS movement, variously describing it as ‘vile’, ‘antisemitic’, ‘opposed to Arab and Jewish coexistence’, ‘desiring the elimination of the State of Israel’. None of this pejorative nomenclature is remotely true. What is vile is Israeli security forces standing by while settlers beat a Palestinian. What is vile is an Israeli family living in the home confiscated from a Palestinian family. What is vile is 2+million Palestinians living in squalor in the Gaza strip. What is antisemitic is apportioning the blame of Israeli governmental actions to a person simply because they are Jewish. The BDS movement opposes true antisemitism for the same reason it opposes abuse of Palestinian rights, and it is why many Jewish people support the BDS movement against the Israeli government.
The BDS movement would not need to exist if Arab and Jewish coexistence prevailed. Unfortunately, it does not exist and will not exist because of the stated policies of the Bennett/Netanyahu governments, both leaders having stated that not one inch of land will ever be ‘ceded’. to create a Palestinian state. The passing of the Israeli Nation State Law on 23 July 2018 stated that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” This confirmed the impossibility of equal and reciprocal coexistence. Since the signing of the Oslo agreements of the 1990’s Palestinians have not only accepted the right of Israel to exist but have agreed to do so based on Israel’s occupation of 78% of the historical land. BDS exists because for the past 54 years Israel has continued to take as much of the remaining 22% as it can, rendering a two-state solution impossible.
Those who rail against BDS which includes a significant number of Australian politicians of all colours need to face this question: “When people are oppressed and their human rights denied, what are their options and which if any of these options is acceptable?” It seems to me there are four possibilities. The first option is armed and violent resistance. This option was strongly eschewed by Tutu and is eschewed by the BDS movement. The second is negotiation. We all remember the White House lawn handshake that concluded the Oslo agreements. A Palestinian state was supposed to be formed within 5 years of that handshake in 1993! That was 29 years ago. The third option is simply to lie down and accept that subjection is one’s lot in life. This is of course morally wrong and dignifies oppression, but it appears to be the option the Israeli government wills the Palestinian people to adopt. The final option is non-violent resistance. BDS is one form of non-violent resistance. To deny or condemn the BDS movement is to condemn non-violent resistance and force subject peoples into one of the other two undesirable positions..
It is no secret that the Zionist lobby puts pressure on politicians to make support of the BDS movement an offence. The reason for this pressure is clear. The movement is effective. While the economic effect is probably quite minimal at this stage, the potential for economic damage is considerable. More significantly, reputational damage is much more costly.
The answer for Israel and its supporters is not to muzzle the messenger, to silence the blast of the trumpet horn. The answer is to address the reasons why the Boycott movement has emerged.
Back to the Sydney Festival. Long may artists and performers, including sports people, be a moral voice within the community. What has happened at the Sydney Festival may well be a watershed moment. Let me finish with a shout out to the many Jewish voices who are saying to the Israeli government ‘you will not, you cannot conduct oppression in the name of Judaism. You most certainly will not do it in our name’.
Vale Desmond Tutu
Desmond, we salute you! You have brought so much joy and hope into our lives, and we have been so proud to have sung, danced and walked a small part of the journey with you. You have helped us all to walk a little taller, to believe the impossible is possible, and to have confidence in the goodness of God, even when circumstances suggest otherwise.
At five feet four inches Desmond Tutu’s height symbolized his life and character. He eschewed power and domination and yet this little bundle of pure human energy and raw goodness carried more moral authority than almost any other person in our lifetimes.
How was this so? Well of course his time and place in history played a major part. But there is much, much, more.
He was born into relative poverty and struggle – and some violence. It is interesting to reflect that people born of wealth and privilege are seldom able to reach this quality of human living. Only those who sit lightly to privilege exercise such authority. He was fortunate in the company he kept. He was later to say: “I am the sum total of all the lives that have intersected with my own” – from Trevor Huddleston to Hector Pietersen. He says it was Trevor Huddleston (priest and bishop), the courageous opponent of apartheid, who eschewed violence and galvanised the young through faith, music, and moral vision who influenced his vocation to the priesthood. Tutu was arguably Huddleston’s greatest legacy.
I would like to reflect a little on the giftedness of this extraordinary man through personal encounter with him.
In 1990 President De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and Nelson Mandela was released from his 27 years in goal, 18 of them on Robbin Island. In 1994 he was elected president of the Republic of South Africa.
Desmond Tutu came to Canberra in 1993 and relished his visit to the South African embassy in Yarralumla ACT, claiming it was the first time he had, with permission of the State, entered an inner sanctuary of his homeland! I had recently chaired a meeting of “Australians against Apartheid” at which the speakers were Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser. (Each competed with the other to show how they had been the strongest supporter of the boycott movement that eventually forced the hand of the South African government).
We met the archbishop at Canberra airport. The first of numerous glimpses into the character of the man occurred as we walked along the concourse. A woman with a disability recognized the famous face and went for her camera. Her disability made the movement slow, and the opportunity was about to pass. I saw the archbishop nudge his chaplain who went to the woman and said: “Madame, the archbishop would love to have his photo taken with you, may we use your camera for this purpose”! Somewhere in Australia a very proud photograph sits on the mantle shelf. The archbishop treated both pauper and sovereign with equal dignity and honour.
Margaret and I were quickly to observe he was a man of extraordinary discipline. He woke early for prayer and reflection. He then went for a long walk. Saying morning prayer with him was one of life’s great gifts. One evening, a State dinner was given for him. At 9.00.pm some formalities still lay ahead (fortunately he had already made his speech), he politely stood, thanked everyone for their company and we left. He explained that he needed to reflect on the day, be in bed before 10.00.pm and be ready with freshness to greet the next day.
Everywhere he went Desmond was always keen to identify with and learn from local indigenous people and their struggle for dignity and autonomy. A meeting was held at our home followed by a dinner at which the guest list included Professor Mick Dodson and the Revd. Tom Slockee. He was always conscious that colonizing forces, often led by religious zeal, contributed to the loss of indigenous identity, property, and culture. One of his most famous statements is: “When the missionaries came to South Africa, they had the bible, and we had the land. They said: ‘Let us Pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the bible, and they had the land”!
For a long time he had a particular passion for the plight of one of the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, the Palestinians. Their fate has not been dissimilar to that of Australia’s indigenous who had long suffered under the doctrine of Terra Nullius, until it was overturned by the High Court in the Mabo case of 1992. Israel was created under the equally erroneous slogan of “a people without a land for a land without a people”. Following events of 1948 and 1967 Palestinians have become a dispossessed people.
Desmond became increasingly alarmed at growing apartheid instigated by policies of the Israeli government and compared it unfavourably with his own experience of South Africa. He was a strong supporter of the BDS movement, calling it an important weapon in the arsenal of non-violent resistance. What follows is an extract from an article he wrote for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2014:
It is becoming more and more clear that politicians and diplomats are failing to come up with answers, and that responsibility for brokering a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Holy Land rests with civil society and the people of Israel and Palestine themselves…………
People united in pursuit of a righteous cause are unstoppable. God does not interfere in the affairs of people, hoping we will grow and learn through resolving our difficulties and differences ourselves. But God is not asleep. The Jewish scriptures tell us that God is biased on the side of the weak, the dispossessed, the widow, the orphan, the alien who set slaves free on an exodus to a Promised Land. It was the prophet Amos who said we should let righteousness flow like a river………
Goodness prevails in the end. The pursuit of freedom for the people of Palestine from humiliation and persecution by the policies of Israel is a righteous cause. It is a cause that the people of Israel should support……….
Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free.
He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.
Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Desmond saw it as a matter of spiritual obligation to engage with seats of power which meant engagement with politics. At the time of his 1993 visit Gareth Evans was foreign minister. The visit to Gareth’s office was utterly memorable, as a giant of faith met with a fine politician but clearly and publicly a religious sceptic. After the formalities and the TV cameras had left, Desmond turned to Gareth and appeared to innocently ask: “Are we talking about anything significant today”? “Of course, your Grace”, Gareth responded. “In that case we will pray” retorted Desmond – and did!
If a single doctrine were to most reveal both Desmond’s profound Christian faith and his passion for social justice, it is “Ubuntu”. It is sometimes translated: "I am because we are" (also "I am because you are"), or "humanity towards others". It is a term that in one form or another is familiar to Zulu, and Xhosa alike.
We, western society inheritors of the enlightenment, find the concept baffling, so immersed have we become in the concept of the individual. It is strange that the political right is more comfortable aligning itself with Christianity than the political left, and even more strangely the Christian right champions the exaggerated antipathy towards socially driven policies of common good and the consequent injustices perpetrated by the political right. Strange because the concept of the individual is a very novel idea to both Old and New Testament. Christianity is inextricably bound to belief that we are who we are through others and most especially through God, who in Jesus has become incarnate amongst us.
Desmond, we deeply mourn your passing. Will there ever be again such a cheeky breath of fresh air, such a fearless champion of truth and justice, such an attractively iconic human being.
In a world painfully devoid of real leadership we can only hope and pray so. In the meantime, peace is always on offer and Ubuntu its path. Justice is near if we refuse to walk past the evils we see. Hope sings from the eyes of a child. We all have the capacity to be channels of grace. May it be so. And the company said: ‘Amen’.
The True Meaning of Christmas
Light has come into the world and the dark has not put it out
When a little child accuses his grandfather of swearing because he had mentioned Jesus in conversation, we can have some idea of how far Western culture has fallen from any real understanding of the Christian narrative! Indeed, it is more likely in Western culture, that Christianity will be belittled and made more fun of than other world religions. Care is generally taken not to offend Islam or Judaism, while Eastern religions are regarded as safe ‘go to’ destinations for those who seek meditation, mysticism or simply a meaningful ‘religious’ experience. It may well be the case that the fault lies with the perceived behaviour of those who claim to be Christian, but more likely that recent generations of adults have not grown past the literalism they heard in their infant and primary nurture - if they have heard the Christian message at all. In any case, the familiarity ‘that breeds contempt’ is in fact a false familiarity – it is in truth a lack of any real understanding or knowledge.
So, what of Christmas?
Christmas is adorned with two image groupings. The first group are largely biblical and include a manger, camels, gold, frankincense, myrrh, sages from the East, angels and shepherds. The second group are accretions over the ages and from different, but largely European countries: Santa Claus, fir trees, carols, presents, cards, decorations, family meals, and pictures of snow. Navigating through, let alone evaluating the merits of these images, is no simple task!
May I suggest a very good starting point is to be found in the date chosen for the celebration of Christ’s birthday, probably in the 4th century during the reign of Constantine. There is no way of knowing which day Christ was born, so why this date?
In the northern hemisphere, around the winter solstice, there was a pagan celebration of light vanquishing darkness as the shortest day passed and the prospect of growing light lay in front. Many, if not most Jewish and Christian festivals have their roots in lived contexts, often pagan festivals which were appropriately absorbed and given new meaning. (Celebrating the local accent and culture should always be part of Christian living. It is shameful that in the last 200 years Christianity has more often been a significant weapon of colonisation).
As the Torres Strait Islanders were to celebrate centuries later, the coming of Christ and the coming of Light can be understood as coterminous. How so?
The Gospel writers, but especially John, constantly use the image of light to convey growth, new understanding, insight, wholeness, indeed life itself. So, what is it about the coming of Jesus that conveys such new understanding that history itself has been attuned to his birth, years preceding and years following.
First it is the astonishing revelation that whatever we think God is like, we must rethink, because God cannot be other than the nature we see in Jesus. So: God is near. The divine energy we call God is in the business of restoration, redemption, forgiveness, inclusiveness, community, honouring all, even the most unlovely. This revelation was as shocking to the 1st century as it is today where images of God are often partisan, tribal, about power, prestige, and exclusivity. As JB Phillips famously said, ‘your God is too small’.
Equally astonishing is the light shone on the true nature of humanity – for as Christian credal affirmation confirms, Jesus is both ‘true God’ and ‘true man’. The popular image of humanity to be desired or admired in the 21st century, as in the 1st century, has not changed much. Power and prestige are sought and honoured. Success is measured through wealth. Winning is everything, losing is shameful. The revelation or light of Jesus turns this understanding on its head. Servanthood, regardless of vocation or status, is demonstrated as the mark of true humanity. Above all real leaders are servants. True humanity is to be cherished not though accumulation or achievement but through quality of living. We are who we are not because of individual identity, but because of who we are in relation to everyone and everything else. The Australian political scene, especially that part of it which identifies as Christian would do well to read, mark and learn this reality.
The primary message of Christmas, first heard by the shepherds is peace and goodwill. Sadly, this message will always remain an elusive dream while we remain so disinclined to rise to the human nature shown to us in Jesus. Wealth, power, prestige, competition, and pride seem always more attractive.
Jesus is then the intersecting person, or the intersecting point. In him humanity and divinity intersect. In him time and eternity intersect. In him the transitional and eternal intersect. It should be the business of all humans to nourish the unity of soul and body, to seek reality beyond material acquisition and to celebrate this moment in the context of what endures.
When the Australian indigenous community confronted Christianity 200+ years ago the experience for them was less than edifying. Not much light here. If on the other hand, there had been genuine reverence and respect for culture, the outcome could have been very different. Is it too much of a stretch to imagine that Christianity and indigenous culture could have met at the intersection of “Song Lines”?
And so, what of Christmas this year. Meet and celebrate as a family? – absolutely. Share gifts with one another? – certainly. Better still, contribute to the wellbeing of the marginalised in any way possible.
The overriding emotion of Christmas should be awe and wonder. No wonder adults love to be in the presence of children during this holy season for children are much better at awe and wonder than adults. It would be wonderful if the Church could find a way of setting the scene for such awe. It is unsurprising that Cathedrals with wonderful music, lights, and ceremony come into their own at this time.
However, for many, perhaps most Australians, connection with formalised Christian faith is a bridge too far. But it should not be impossible through music, the natural environment, imagination, storytelling, perhaps some quiet reflection before the prawns are shelled, to put life into perspective. Each one of us are both insignificant, and precious. This moment is nothing within the sweep of history, but it is a moment that will never come again.
Today is the moment to love and be loved. The celebration of Christmas is the celebration of humanity in the embrace of divinity.
Celebrate well. Blessed Christmas to all.
The Great Human Dilemma
Why is it that, capable as we are of extraordinary greatness, our species is better known for acts of unspeakable depravity?
In the last few weeks some of you will have read press articles or heard radio interviews from my sister Val and her extraordinary life in Ethiopia amongst the Afar people, and more particularly of her current situation caught in the crossfire of a brutal civil war.
A couple of days ago she emailed me as follows:
Here things have sunk to an all-time low with the ferocity of fighting, destruction of community, property, and casualties. We are trying desperately to turn things around for the community – it is totally all absorbing. News came this morning that the TPLF fighting headquarters in a district called 'Adda'ar had been smashed. If this is true, this is a breakthrough as there are over 32,000 displaced people now in their 18th day without food - very, very drastic. If we can find a way through, we will reach them [with food].
The insanity of all this is, I guess, as old as humanity. Fighting is [what humans do]. I cannot begin to understand the thinking of the invading army. They are smashing everything in their path, otherwise they burn it. They climb on top of Afar dome-shape houses [deboitas], totally smashing them. They split the 'aloyta' Afar bed with knives. This is so awful for the women who own them - some form of desecration.
Val had previously reported that her medical centres and schools had been pillaged, food ransacked, and people left absolutely destitute.
Well, God will pull the Afar through and meanwhile, we try what is possible to inject normality into life such as under the tree education, rather than doing nothing.
The Ethiopian situation is one of excruciating irony. The prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, forged a peace deal with Eritrea in 2019 and won the 2019 Nobel peace prize.
During the week I watched The People’s Patriarch on u-tube. (I strongly commend it). Michael Sabbah, a Palestinian Arab Christian was appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1987 by John Paul ll. He now lives in retirement on the West Bank. Sitting on the Mount of Olives and looking down on the ancient city he despairs. He says the West, led by the US, is prepared to sacrifice all Palestinians including all Palestinian Christians in its uncritical support of Israel and its apartheid led government. He says the city has lost any claim to the title ‘Holy’. He says this title can only be reclaimed if love once more prevails. Love across the Abrahamic faiths and love from oppressor to oppressed. In the meantime, he says Palestinians have only two choices. Either submit, accepting their downtrodden state, or resist.
This week, the Christian calendar, celebrated the last Sunday of the current Christian year – the festival of Christ the King.
The (bible) readings for the day address this terrible dilemma. We are social beings, we belong together, we need to get on with one another. Our measure of success or failure depends, amongst other things, on how we are led. Who is king amongst us?
The first reading (from Daniel) reflects the terrifying leadership of past and (then)present civilisations – Babylonians – Persians and Greeks, under whom the Israelites and other subject peoples suffered terribly. All these powers, who at the time considered themselves invincible, had their moment in the sun and faded. The writer reflects that above them was/is an authority they have neither known or respected. This authority is not based in ambition, exertion of power, jealousy, or rivalry, but in tenderness and care of creator for creation. The title given to this authority was the title Jesus chose for himself ‘Son of Man’.
The Gospel reading for the day was the well-known encounter between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate wanted to know if Jesus considered himself a rival to Roman authority - ‘King of the Jews’. Jesus responded that his authority was of a very different kind to that of Pilate. He had come into the world to witness to ‘truth’. Pilate famously asked: “What is truth”. (In the end despite strong objections from Jewish leadership, Pilate directed that the inscription on the cross read “Jesus Christ the King of the Jews”).
The truth, which Jesus came as witness, is that kingship (governing) cannot be about power, ambition, control. It can only be about service, love and care, and if necessary, about diminishing, that greater good might flourish. We are taught that whatever we may think about God, this is the nature of the divine, and the true but lost nature of humanity.
Australian political sophistication permits verbal warfare but eschews open violence (although watching the recent protests in Melbourne you might well ask how sophisticated we are).
What has become all too clear is that national leadership is no more than a game. It is not about the best policy on anything, be it taxation, climate change, national security, the pandemic, transparency, or anything else. It is all about the next election. It is not about anything else.
In national leadership truth has become a casualty in the ambition for power retention. What is said is couched to placate a section of the community government relies upon to be kept in office.
The good news is that the truth about which Jesus came as witness is alive and well in the lives of countless ordinary women and men, many people of deep faith, but by no means exclusively so. Let us hope and pray that some of these men and women will feel called and have the resources to stand for high office. Political parties appear not to have space for them, but they can stand as independents.
It is only when leadership of this character predominates in Australian domestic politics that we will be the nation we could be and become a leader rather than a laggard in international affairs.
Choice not Mandate – Prime ministerial drivel.
Prime Minister Morrison has declared he will deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2050 the ‘Australian Way’ through ‘choice not mandates’, underwritten by ‘can-do capitalism’. - What a load of marketing drivel.
“Can-do capitalism” has long been the problem, not the solution. Capitalism insists on the removal of limits. Living in a carbon neutral world is about living with limits. Paradoxically, understanding and living with appropriate limits is about more, not less, it is about true freedom.
Governing is about regulating limits, budgets direct money there, but not here. Why is it so hard for the Morrison government to govern in relation to climate change? It is strange that the Morrison government, festooned as it is with self-described Christians, fails to act on one of Christianity’s most fundamental precepts - to live a disciplined life within clear boundaries. ‘What you give away you keep: what you hold onto you lose’. It reminds one of GK Chesterton’s brilliant quotes: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Choice is a gift exercised by the wealthy and privileged. Its absence defines what it means to be poor. In the capitalist world choice is about product and profit. In a civilised world choice is about equity and fairness - ethics.
Can-do capitalism avoids paying for the pollution inherent in production. Can-do capitalism hides its profits in the Cayman Islands. Can-do capitalism uses is wealth to extract grants and permissions that enable further wealth accumulation, even when it is clear the permission granted is harmful to the environment, and the lives of others. Can-do capitalism has enabled the top 5 – 10% to grow extraordinarily wealthy (even in a pandemic or global recession) while the rest stagnate. Can-do capitalism benefits from tax provisions and exemptions which by implication place an unfair tax burden on salaried workers. Can-do capitalism seeks ways to minimise wages and maximise profits. Can-do capitalism is inspired by the doctrine of the individual and repudiates the doctrine of the common good.
In face of the covid pandemic the existential threat to health was considered so great that for a time the overriding priority normally given to the right of the individual in Australian political life was overridden by a perceived greater need to serve the common good. Remarkably, both sides of the political spectrum, accepted scientific advice, and for a while at least, governed and regulated for the common good, despite minority protests and screams to the contrary. Notwithstanding mistakes and hiccups, Australia has fared better than most countries and Morrison will be banking what he hopes will be credit for this achievement, as he approaches the forthcoming election.
Why is it that the same dedication and commitment to science and common good cannot be given to the challenge of climate change, which, in the sweep of history, will be shown to be existentially more dangerous than the pandemic?
What Morrison apparently lacks the wit to understand is that it was the mandated restrictions that provided Australians with the opportunity and choice of living relatively free lives compared with the rest of the world. It was the mandating of these provisions and their general acceptance across the breadth of civil life, that saved the health system, the economy, and future lives. The overwhelming majority of Australians opted to make the ethical choice of abiding by the mandated restrictions. A small minority chose non-ethically, causing further restriction and anxiety on many.
Mr Morrison comes from the world of marketing where ‘choice’ is understood in terms of comparing one product with another. It is not a word that carries ethical value, unless perhaps your choice is based on a product being ‘fair trade’, Australian made, or similar category. I suspect only a tiny minority of decisions in Mr Morison’s marketing background carry any ethical value.
But in the challenge of global warming this is far from the case. Indeed, it could be argued the opposite is true. As Glasgow has demonstrably shown, it is only if all players accept that this challenge is a universal moral obligation, that headway will be made. We are morally obliged because everyone must pull their weight. We are morally obliged because we are a wealthy and privileged nation. We are morally obliged because per head of population we are heavy emitters. We are morally obliged because we are deciding for future generations in a matter over which they have no say. We are morally obliged because our neighbours are sinking
From government to business, farming to banking, large corporations to individuals we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to reduce emissions and restrict global warming. This statement is no longer contestable
For the wealthy there will be ample choice to act ethically. The only inhibitor will be where the wealthy position themselves on the scale of moral maturity. On the bottom of that scale choices will be motivated solely by self-interest. Higher up the scale, choices will be motivated by a desire to make the world a better place.
However, making choices that include care of the environment will be almost beyond reach for the poorest third of Australians without assistance. In my visits to some of the poorest places on earth, I noted that providing a meal often meant denuding the landscape – a terrible and painful dilemma.
The capacity of middle Australia, and the poorest in the community, to make ethical choices must be enhanced through government regulation. Government has plenty of levers at its disposal. It can and should require a minimum standard of vehicular emissions. It can and should immediately cease all fossil fuel subsidies. It can and should legislate the highest standard of insulation in public housing and private rentals. It can and should lower taxes and import tariffs on electric vehicles. Etc.
It is not a matter of demanding that people buy a certain vehicle, live in a certain home, or travel in a certain manner. But it is a matter of making ethical choices accessible to the majority and unethical choices more expensive.
The slogan which the Morrison government is apparently taking to the next election is not about choice as the slogan would have us believe. Their actions, rather than their words, indicate they have no intention of making ethical choices within reach of most people as we face the daunting task of avoiding a much-reduced future for the planet, and all life on it.
The Queen nails it at Glasgow: Morrison does not
“For more than seventy years, I have been lucky to meet and to know many of the world’s great leaders. And I have perhaps come to understand a little about what made them special,” the Queen said. “It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics. But what they do for the people of tomorrow – that is statesmanship.
The Queen made it clear that the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge eclipses all other challenges.
There are people of statesmanlike calibre at Glasgow, they include David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, and Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Highly respected statesmen like leaders such as the Queen and Pope Francis have delivered messages of substance to the conference. Leaders of industry such as our own Andrew Forrest, present at the conference, are contributing to the future in a courageously statesman like manner through significant investment.
However, it is tragic that the adage: “cometh the hour cometh the man/woman”, with few exceptions, does not apply to the political class. It most certainly does not apply to Australia’s political class at a national level.
This is the speech I would have expected to hear from our Prime Minister:
My fellow Australians:
In the course of human history there have been moments when the actions or inactions of present generations have shaped the future for all succeeding generations. This is such a moment. Stay as we are, and future generations will not experience the freedoms and qualities of life we and recent generations have taken for granted. Unchecked release of fossil fuels in the form of carbon dioxide and methane gas, will trap more heat causing hitherto unexperienced change to the environment, and severe damage to human health, biodiversity, and a viable global economy.
I do not wish in any way to minimise the depth and extent of the challenge that lies ahead. We must and will play our part with the rest of the world community. However, I want also to say there is no need to feel foreboding. Indeed, foreboding will only nurture paralysis. We can and will transition from one economic system to another and in the process enjoy an improving natural environment and discover human values that simply exceed the contemporary ubiquitous desire for accumulated material wealth.
Here in Australia, we face a wicked short-term problem. We are currently one of the globe’s greatest miners and exporters of fossil fuels in the form of coal and gas. We cannot stop this mining immediately, but it must be brought to an end. Many countries rely on us for energy. Exporting fossil fuel has become a significant part of our economy. The industry employs thousands of workers who must be transitioned to other employment. I wish however to make the following clear. No new fossil fuel licenses will be granted, and no new coal or gas fired generators will be built. The government will not be investing any money in fossil fuel carbon sequestration schemes which, even if technically possible – which is exceedingly doubtful,-- will never be able to compete economically without subsidy. As a matter of urgency, the government will incentivise the development of green hydrogen, both as an exported energy, but also for the upscaling of Australia’s lagging or disappearing industries. We will not support the production of blue hydrogen at scale. The government will support private industry investment which will transition iron ore exports to domestic steel production, thus greatly enhancing our economic future. The government will prioritise these industries in areas currently given over to coal mining. By 2030 we expect many of these new industries to be in production, thus enabling the closure of many existing coal mines and the transitioning of their employees to new and sustainable employment.
My government will support schemes that enable the less affluent sector of our community, including residents of social housing to either generate and store their own solar energy or become part of a local mini-grid. Owners of rental properties will have a three-year lead time before the provision of solar energy generation will be mandatory, the capital cost being offset through current negative gearing provisions. My government will insist the national grid is significantly upgraded to meet the needs of decentralised 21st century power generation.
My government will do all within its power to make ownership of electric vehicles possible for the majority of the population before the end of the decade. The commonwealth vehicle fleet will be transitioned from fossil fuel to electrification as soon as possible. This will necessitate working with the states and local government to ensure an adequate spread of re-charging stations. It is my hope that by the end of this decade the majority of Australians will not only own an electric powered vehicle, but that they will have the capacity to charge it from solar generation at home. All fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out in the term of the next government.
Australia has a vast agricultural capacity and as we know our farmers are some of the most efficient and productive in the world. It is sadly the case that climate change with extreme weather events and droughts is already severely impacting lives and livelihoods. This threat will accelerate into the future. With some urgency, my government will work with the farming community in the development of technologies which reduce emissions. At the same time, we wish to expand agricultural sequestration and in the process increase soil productivity. We will work with farmers to increase vegetation, especially trees. We will work with the states in assisting all primary producers in the annual measuring of emission reductions either through sequestration or through technological adaptation.
Some essential industries are high emitters. My government will work specifically with industries such as concrete manufacture and aluminium smelting on technologies which will assist their adoption of new methods.
We will work with the States to significantly extend parks for the protection of biodiversity. We will also work with the States to increase green areas, walkways, and bike paths that are accessible to all Australian residents within walking distance of their home.
I am confident that if we all work together, share ideas and resources, and remove political ideology and grandstanding from debate and conversation it will be within our grasp to reach a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030.
My fellow Australians, the opportunities are as vast as the challenge is daunting. We cannot afford to fail. To delay is to fail. It is an exciting time, made so by the focus every one of us needs to give, ensuring we all play our part. It is correctly said, we contribute a small fraction of global emissions, but it is also true that per head of population we emit more than most. It is crucial we encourage others by the example we set. We have more to gain than most from the transition ahead, equally we have far more to lose than most if as a global community we fail.
My pledge to you all is that on my watch political grandstanding and wedging will cease. This is a challenge to all humanity to rise to our better selves and so become the stewards of our grandchildren’ future on the only home we all share – planet earth.
Israel, the Bi-Polar State
Israel continues its policy of extinguishment in relation to Palestinian rights. They are to have none. The logical next step is to punish them if they complain about this.
On Friday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz signed an order declaring six civil society organizations in the West Bank as terrorist organizations.
Some of these groups operate as human rights organizations: Addameer offers legal support to prisoners and collects data on arrests and administrative detentions, and actively works to end torture and violations of prisoners' rights. Al-Haq documents the violations of Palestinians' rights in the West Bank, monitors the killings of children and the wellbeing of arrested children in Israel.
The NGOs also include a women's rights organization and an agricultural Labor association.
The six groups are Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center, Defence for Children International Palestine, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
A joint statement by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called the decision "appalling and unjust. This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations," the joint statement read.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates "unequivocally condemned" Gantz's decision.
"This fallacious and libellous slander is a strategic assault on Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation and expose its continuing crimes," a statement by the ministry said.
The ministry also warned "of possible serious consequences from this unprecedented assault and holds Israel fully responsible for the safety of the organizations’ staff." Naming innocent people as terrorists automatically puts them and their families in danger. Given the Israeli defence force’s predilection for violence against the innocent, this proclamation gives them carte blanche clearance for such violence without consequence.
This announcement is outrageous and requires swift condemnation from the international community not least from the US and Australia.
Are we likely to hear it? I am fearful that we are more likely to hear it from the Biden administration than from the Morrison government.
In the last few days, the Morrison government has further eroded any remaining trust one might have that it will work to uphold human rights and international law anywhere, but particularly in Israel/Palestine.
First, it has indicated it wishes to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Antisemitism does not need any further definition, like all forms of racism, it needs to be addressed and called out wherever and whenever it raises its head. But criticism of Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinians is not antisemitism. Even the authors of the IHRA definition have said they did not intend its use as the political weapon it has now become. The definition is being used to squash criticism of Israel. The use of the definition, particularly in universities, will shut down honest research and freedom of speech and further intimidate fair minded journalism
Second, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, chaired by James Pattison, has recommended the government consider listing Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. Currently only the military wing is so defined.
In 2006 Hamas won Elections that the United States and its allies pushed for. The elections were supervised by former President Jimmy Carter’s “Carter Center” as well as the United States Congressional Research Service (CRS). In their report they state "The election was overseen by 17,268 domestic observers, complemented by 900 credentialed international monitors. ... The Bush Administration accepted the outcome of the Palestinian legislative elections and praised the PA for holding free and fair elections. ... The conduct of the election was widely considered to be free and fair." Israel, the United States, Australia, and others never acknowledged or accepted the democratic will of the Palestinian people.
Hamas was never given an opportunity to govern, no opportunity to engage with their occupiers, the US or others, rather, Israel and its allies sought to isolate and punish Hamas and the Palestinian people for having the audacity to elect someone they did not like.
Hamas now governs the Gaza Strip and some 2 million people. The United Nations stated that Gaza would be “uninhabitable” by 2020. It is now entering its 15th year of a cruel and barbaric air, land, and sea blockade.
Through the blockade, Israel controls the Gaza strip and its people. If the joint committee listing becomes a reality, it will potentially define several million people, by default, as terrorists. The people of Gaza are amongst the poorest and most oppressed in the world. Unemployment, especially amongst the young is high. Necessities of life, including potable water, are in very short supply.
The international community has a responsibility to assist Palestinians in the formation of a unity government which will have the confidence of its people and build the framework of a sustainable and ultimately prosperous civil society. Israel does all it can to oppose and undermine such an outcome. This listing will destroy any possibility of Australia being seen as an honest broker and further condemns Palestinians, in association with Hamas, to the futility of hurling rocks from inside their Israeli made prison. It is short sighted. It is a step in the wrong direction and cements hostility.
The Nationals and their dangerous search for relevance
Every deputy covets their moment in the sun. This can usually be arranged without harm. In the case of Mr Joyce little appears to come without harm. The Prime Minister has taken the extraordinary step of inviting Mr Joyce rather than the parliament to determine Australia’s economic and environmental journey and future within the global community. Now I know Mr Joyce continually says this is not about him but about the party room. But the fact of the matter is, he is the leader. He ousted a leader who would have signed on, it is all about him, he has made it about him, this is the reason he became ‘leader’.
Given movement to a post carbon world is now inevitable the question every National Party member should be asking is, “how can I ensure that my constituents are assisted in the transition of their businesses so that they gain maximum advantage from this new economy”.
This is a very different question to the one currently being asked, even boasted about, by Mr Joyce. Namely what is the highest price that can be leveraged for agreeing to sign on? How far can the taxpayer be screwed for projects of dubious value, but which shore up National Party relevance n fossil fuel dependent electorates. In other contexts, a most unpleasant word with criminal consequences would be used to describe such activity.
I woke on Monday morning 18 October to hear the National Party needs more time to consider the PM’s plan for net zero carbon emissions and wondered whether I should laugh, cry, or be very angry. In fact, I felt despair, not only, but primarily, for the planet, but also for the absence of national leadership and the prospect of a dismal future for Australian democracy.
What kind of country do we live in where it is possible for a mere handful of people to decide the most important policy direction this country is likely to take, not simply this year, or even this decade, but without much exaggeration, in our lifetime? In a democracy one would assume decisions that affect everyone would be made by the majority. Mr Joyce apparently thinks they should be held captive to a tiny minority.
It is clear a substantial majority of the Liberal members of parliament support the proposed 2050 net zero target and by implication a strong 2030 commitment, for the one will not be achieved without the other. It is known that within the Labour Party an overwhelming majority exists for decisive climate change action. From the Greens this commitment is a given. Many (most) of the independents gained office because of a stronger environmental commitment, and within the National Party itself support for stronger commitment can probably be found in half its membership.
So, how is it even remotely possible for a handful of people, probably in single figures, to hold so much sway? Barnaby Joyce has the temerity to say the Nationals will not be held to ransom. Who does he think is being held to ransom here? Mr Joyce’s party gains about 5% of the national vote and even within that vote there are many who support stronger environmental action.
I assume regional Australia means anywhere outside capital cities. I live in regional Australia on the South Coast of NSW. The Eurobodalla Shire Council, (not known to be left leaning) has signed up to the 2050 target and is on track for a substantial reduction by 2030. Mr Joyce does not represent regional Australia, but a very small section of regional Australia dependent up on the fossil fuel industry.
What is involved in Coalition Party shenanigans has little to do with the environment, or regional Australia, or agriculture, or jobs, or least of all, integrity. It has everything to do with internal political party machinations. The coalition rules with a knife edge majority. In present circumstance it will be fighting to hold power, let alone increase its majority. It needs every seat it can muster. A fracture in the coalition could be disastrous for Morrison, as much as I am sure he would love to rid himself of the maverick Mr Joyce.
There is a way forward. Mr Morrison could put his plan for net zero emissions to the parliament. It would be passed with an overwhelming majority even though many would like it to have gone much further. The Australian population would not forgive failure of the good that is possible on the altar of a utopia which is not politically deliverable. Democracy would be greatly enhanced if votes were made as conscience rather than party dictates. It should be normal for legislation proposed by independents to be given impartial and fair consideration. Neither of these options is currently tenable.
Let me bell the cat. Members of the National Party who are opposed to climate action are not seeking to protect regional Australia, they are seeking to save face having for decades backed a horse that is now running last. Backing the same tired horse is to condemn constituents to a sidelined passive existence while the rest of the world moves on. From agriculture to the Business Council of Australia, there is no section within Australian civil society that is not committed to a post carbon world.
Please, please members of the political class face the irrefutable fact that unfettered climate warming will have catastrophic consequence for future generations. Had we acted as we should, and could, at least 20 years ago, Australia would already be on track as a post carbon world leading economy with a much stronger industrial base and the capacity to adequately compensate those whose lives are most affected by the change. The longer this is left, the harder and more expensive this will be. No action or inadequate action will hit agriculture very hard, the very constituents the Nationals claim to represent. But of equal seriousness the vast opportunities a post carbon economy offers, especially in regional Australia, will be denied those who could benefit most.
What is the meaning of Australian democracy when a minor party, populated at its own confession by extreme right-wing ideologists, can decide Australia’s position on arguably the most important policy issue of our time?
There is only one question to be faced. Do we agree that increased global warming is an existential threat, not simply to the natural world, but to the economy, to biodiversity, to national security, to global justice and to the wellbeing of future generations?
Scientists, economists, farmers, the insurance industry, the business world, the young and two thirds of the population agree this is the situation we face.
This being the case, it is not a question of whether we should sign up to zero net emissions within a globally agreed time frame, we should and must, but in our circumstance, what are the steps we need to take to do so in the fastest and most equitable fashion.
Resistance to action is coming from what can only be described as the ignorant, the self-interested, and either the insane or the morally corrupt. The last description appear cruelly pejorative. But it is the only way I can think of to describe the ideology of leaders who deny the urgency of our situation. An insane person is one who insists fiction to be reality and reality to be fiction. Those who resist immediate action on global warming either believe their fiction to be reality or they put forward a position they do not really believe but do so to protect self-interest.
One right-wing conservative party member has this week described those who push for zero emissions as ‘Marxists’. It is apparently the case that if one is to act in the interest of society as a whole, one is a communist. The arrogant ignorance of this man is breathtaking. It is said that the foundations of western civilisation are a combination of Greek thought, from whom we derive the democratic ideal, and Christianity. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Jesus taught that freedom resides in behaviours that enhance wellbeing through connectedness to God, others and the world in which we live. ‘Freedom’ to do whatever the individual wishes is no freedom at all, it is to miss the goal of being fully human.
The National Party vote comprises approximately 5% of the population. It would be bad enough if the party held the nation to ransom with these figures. But it is worse than that. It is obvious the party comprises those whose main interest is agriculture and those whose main interest is mining. Those whose interest is agriculture can see the benefits to them of action on climate change, not simply because extreme weather events are an existential threat to the industry but because soil sequestration has huge economic and productive benefits. It is therefore the case that Australia’s position on climate responsibility is being held to ransom by a mere handful of thuggish behaviourists from the likes of Christiansen and Canavan.
As Peter Hartcher has said, the recent advancement of AUKUS and the Quad in response to China’s ambitions is on its own a forlorn enterprise if equal commitment is not invested in the strengthening of Australian democracy at home. Many things need to be done that are currently resisted. Greater transparency, the establishment of a federal anti-corruption watchdog with teeth, abandonment of a culture of political winning to be replaced by bipartisan dialogue, resumption of accountability by ministers in the Westminster tradition and protection rather than harassment of whistle blowers: these would all be good starting points.
We know that for Australia to flourish in a post carbon economy major change needs to occur. Whether we like it or not the globe will embrace a post carbon economy, so why are we so stupidly putting off transformations which are necessary and will inevitably cost more the longer we leave them?
The net gains for life in a post carbon world are enormous, socially, economically and of course environmentally.
We have heard this week we are to invest $100B+ in submarines which might arrive in the 2040’s, which by then might be totally inadequate for the task of national security, and which bind us into a ‘forever’ alliance with powers whose best is almost certainly behind them. The post carbon economy task is more immediate and urgent, clearly, we could find the money for it if only we had the wit to enact some decent policies.
Australia has been punished by a lazy and derelict political class who have been doing all they can to shore up their political best interest rather than developing and delivering policies which could by now have Australia economically as well as environmentally in front of the pack in the world we know is not simply coming sometime in the future, but which has already arrived.
Churches and Vaccination Exemptions
It is disappointing that the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in Sydney have foreshadowed they will seek exemptions to enable non vaccinated people to attend worship in their churches when, with ongoing safety measures, current restrictions are lifted. It would have been much more responsible to have advised the health minister they will do all in their power to ensure all who attend worship are vaccinated and that those not vaccinated will be pastorally cared for in an appropriately sensitive manner.
Of course, it is laudable that Church leaders wish access to their worship centres be open to all, but the request for exemptions for those who have had the opportunity to be vaccinated but choose otherwise, is not laudable. An exception should be those who have a medical reason why in their case vaccination is not possible. We are led to believe that while there are genuine cases, the number is quite small.
It should be the responsibility of Church leaders to do all they can to encourage members of their flock to be vaccinated. From a Christian perspective the reasons why are clear. First, we should take all reasonable measures to live healthy lives and avoid behaviours that mitigate against healthy wellbeing. There can be no reasonable argument that refusing to be vaccinated safeguards health. More importantly, from a Christian perspective we should do all that is reasonably possible to protect and safeguard others. It is quite clear that being vaccinated is to act responsibly in the interest and wellbeing of others.
The argument that religious communities are somehow exempt from regulations lawfully imposed by secular authorities on the whole community, is simply not plausible, unless it can be argued that what is proposed is morally wrong. Acting for the safety of the community is not morally wrong. From the first century onwards, Church leadership has been clear that the Christian community should comply with the requirements of secular authority in all things lawful and honest.
I am aware that both archbishops had earlier flagged they could not whole heartedly support the AstraZenica vaccine on grounds that historically it owes its origin to a foetus. While I do not support the argument, I respect the point being made. I do not support the argument for two reasons, first the link is historical and not dependent on the harvesting of contemporary foetus and second because I see no difference between harvesting life-giving material from a foetus or harvesting an organ from a deceased person. If the foetus was the result of an abortion, then the argument might have some force.
Notwithstanding all of the above, Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines manufactured in the lab and the majority of the population will have access to these vaccines as the supply becomes abundant before the end of the year.
It is singularly unfortunate that the most common reason given for refusing vaccination is that it is ‘against my religion’. We are aware that, emanating for the US, considerable material has become available on social media that has influenced the less well informed to resist vaccination on some spurious religious grounds. Apparently, this has become the most common reason given for vaccination hesitancy amongst the indigenous community. The decision of the Archbishops to seek an exemption unfortunately carries weight amongst the less well informed who need little encouragement to act on notions that carry no credibility.
That one Roman Catholic Bishop has flagged he will seek an exemption for unvaccinated priests to exercise ministry in aged care facilities is beyond irresponsible. Clergy exercise leadership, if only for members of their flock. They should be assisting the community to safely move into greater experiences of freedom. We know that vaccination is the pathway for greater liberty.
In these pandemic times it is the responsibility of all who exercise leadership to encourage behaviours that are consistent, behaviours that carry the same share of burden and the same opportunity for freedom.