in service of the
The ABC - a victim of Right wing Cancel Culture
Increasingly ferocious attacks on the ABC by Fox, Sky News, News limited are gratuitous, transparently self-serving and a threat to a free press. This is serious, a vibrant democracy is impossible without an independent and unfettered press, and in the great tradition of western democracies, without a public broadcaster. Ferocious attacks from politicians are vexatious, coming as they do from powerful people who wish to avoid accountability and would prefer their deeds be kept in the dark.
The ABC occupies news space which privately owned companies resent, believing that news and its distribution should be in private hands. News outlets that are privately owned, by definition, have a sectional agenda. Hopefully, a public broadcaster’s mandate is to publish news without fear or favour to any sectional interest. To have the ABC out of the way, or at least severely diminished, suits their business plan and allows their sectional interest to appear more ‘main-stream’.
Comments critical of the ABC from government politicians are vexatious because they reject the concept of accountability. Programmes most detested by government are Four-corners, 7.30, and Q and A. It is the job of journalists to hold those who hold public office to account. The principle of accountability should be welcomed by all in positions of power and authority. Cleary this is not the case for a significant number of senior ministers in the Morrison government. It is not helpful for them to whinge that the heat of laser sharp enquiry is directed more intensely toward them than the opposition. It is inevitable that those in power will be subject to more scrutiny than those in opposition, for the simple reason they hold power.
Action against the ABC by competitive news outlets and by government officials is also hypocritical, for it is they, on the right of the political spectrum, who most vehemently argue for freedom of speech and accuse those with whom they disagree of being ‘woke’ or being part of ‘cancel culture’. If ‘cancel culture’ is the threat to a free democratic society that those in the right often assert, surely the attacks on the ABC are the most egregious form of this culture. Those who are crying the loudest are the very people who do not wish their performance to be held to account. It is apparently virtuous to demand the right to freedom of speech when promoting ideas, or people, who support your position, but it is not acceptable for freedom of speech to be exercised in the arena of accountability.
Without scrutiny and accountability of those in power, democracy and liberality becomes very fragile.
It is hard to argue against the proposition that the ABC’s Four Corners is the flagship of the best in Australian journalism. Over many decades its stories have brought to light numerous situations which would otherwise have remained hidden. Australia and Australian democracy owes the programme, its journalists, producers, and the management that has supported it, a very great debt of gratitude.
Of course, it too needs to be held accountable, but this is a different matter than being attacked by those who would prefer their performances not to be scrutinised by the light of day.
It is more than a little interesting that current attacks on the ABC include personal attacks on its chair, Ita Buttrose. It appears the argument goes like this. “We, that is the government, appointed Ita to chair the ABC to ensure the government’s agenda is strongly prosecuted. Ita is apparently not doing this to the satisfaction of the government bench, instead she is doing her job, chairing the ABC board of management. Therefore, she should be dismissed, not because of any failure in the performance of the task to which she has been appointed, but because she has not in all circumstances protected the government’s perspective on controversial issues”.
It is likely that, if the ABC continues to do its job properly, it will come under further and accelerating attack, because it appears we are currently served by one of the least accountable of governments.
There are several in the current cabinet or parliament who should have stood down or should have been stood down. In the past it was the custom that if failure occurs on a grand scale in a minister’s department, they will stand aside. On any scale there has been monumental failure in the department of aged care. When figures are presented to justify the performance of a department that are later proved to be manifestly untrue, a minister would in the past have stood down. When the public persona of a minister or ordinary member has become the source of scandal, in the past they would have stood down. It is not simply a matter of innocence or guilt, it is a matter of public trust and perceived fitness for office.
‘Cover ups’ appear to have become an acceptable modus operandi, the most egregious form of cover-up being the treatment of whistle blowers. The continuing prosecution of witness K and Bernard Colleary is scandalous. It is cruel both in its endlessness and in its secrecy. It could be stopped at any time by the public prosecutor or by the Attorney General. That it continues, and continues in secret, is not because a great crime has been committed by those standing at the bar, but because the Australian government is guilty of a crime against the Timorese government that they would prefer not to be given oxygen, a crime that the Timorese had to take to the Hague to gain redress. Bernard Colleary is doing no more, but no less, than what a barrister should do, represent his client. For this ‘crime’ he can neither practice and earn a living, or clear his name. The previous Attorney General and the current Attorney General should have stood down, or have been stood down, because of this gross injustice.
Ironically this is a matter over which the ABC is guilty, it has not sufficiently held the government to account.
The attacks on the ABC by other news outlets and especially by senior members of the government is a matter of considerable gravity. It is not simply that in times of emergency like the pandemic, or bushfires, that the role of the ABC is paramount, it is that every democracy worthy of the name needs and deserves a vibrant public broadcaster unfettered by sectional interest
Those who do not like the light of day shining on mirky activity should remove themselves from public service not attempt to shoot the messenger.
War – who is being advantaged by it?
The world’s media has swung into action to report the ‘imminent war between Hamas and Israel’ as if there is equality of capability and culpability. Why is it not reporting the desperation of Netanyahu to stay in power without a mandate, and the convenience of war for him? Why is it not reporting the reality that this ‘conflict’ makes it virtually impossible for a coalition to be formed against him, inclusive of Arab parties? Why is it not reporting that Hamas and Netanyahu need one another? In a strange way they are both on the same side, they were both born in and shaped by conflict, they both need conflict to cement their positions. Neither want a two-state solution, one seeking the supposed elimination of Israel, the other the extermination of Palestinians. Hamas may talk about its desire that Israel not exist but has zero capacity to influence or effect that outcome. On the other hand, the leadership of Israel that says it will never allow the existence of a Palestinian State has every capacity to achieve this end.
More importantly, why is it not being made unequivocally clear that for 70+ years Palestinians have been subject to gross violation of their human rights and that this subjugation is intensifying not diminishing. The threatened forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah is but the latest example of outrageous human rights violations. In the face of constant violations should anyone be surprised there are reactions. That some reactions are violent and threaten innocent civilian lives must be condemned. However, what should be reported and underlined is the cause. In a nutshell the cause is the occupation and its consequences. Reactions should not be treated with equal seriousness as the action that caused them.
Why is ‘disappearing Palestine’ not being made clear to the outside world. In the partition which was forced on the Palestinians following the second world war the intention was for two states of approximately equal size. As a result of the war that followed, for 70+ years Israel has been 78% of the original Palestine and the Palestinian territories 22%. In the Oslo agreement of the nineties, Palestinian leadership agreed to a state based on that 22% with East Jerusalem as its capital.
As a result of the aggressive and illegal settlement programme, pushed and accelerated by Netanyahu, Palestinians, although approximately equal in population to Israelis, are being progressively pushed out of the 22% into disconnected pockets of population. Netanyahu and his ‘government’ (there is currently no legitimate Israeli government) effectively control the fate of all Palestinians, no matter where they live. Gaza is blockaded and therefore controlled.
So, where does all this place the Australian government and its foreign policy. In a very tricky position. Australia purports to stand up for human rights. We have been quite outspoken about China’s oppression of the Uighurs – and rightly so. We have not been quite as outspoken about the denial of civil rights to ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. How many Australians know anything about the fate of the Karen, or indeed have knowledge of the Karen diaspora in Australia?
We should raise human rights violations anywhere they occur in the world. However, we will remain hypocritical, two faced, because of our uncritical support for Israel as its supposed best friend. Silence in face of its human rights violations makes us tacit supporters of its system of growing apartheid. It is shamefully the case that we feel at liberty to criticise foes, but do not have the same compunction to criticise those with whom we are otherwise aligned. Is that partly because we are embarrassed and ashamed by our own domestic record?
Let me repeat what I have said many times before, more Australian politicians, Federal and State, especially of coalition parties, go to Israel than any other country in the world. Why? What knowledge or agenda do they wish to propagate on their return? What is it that they see when they are there?
How many have visited a Palestinian family evicted from their home? How many have joined the crowd of workers at 4.00.am being herded through a ‘security’ tunnel to try to be at work on time? How many have met a Palestinian farmer who can see his fields but must take a 40km trip to reach them because of no go zone. How many have stayed with a Palestinian family in Nablus to experience the intermittent availability of electricity or the scarcity of water while observing the illegal settlements above the city with manicured irrigated lawns and plenty of water to wash the car? How many have conversed with shop keepers in Hebron who daily contend with refuse being poured down upon them from settlers above. How many have spoken to an Australian member of the accompaniment programme who at the age of 80 has volunteered three months at a time to walk with Palestinian children from their homes to school to protect them from settler harassment? How many have spoken with Palestinian parents on their way to gaol to visit their 12-year-old son or daughter who has been incarcerate for supposedly throwing a stone at a soldier who has shot his or her cousin?
Yes, there are always two sides to a story. But here in Australia, so great is the pressure exerted by Israeli interests that only one side is permitted. The journalist John Lyons has long made this point, not least in his book Balcony over Jerusalem.
What is currently unfolding in Israel/Palestine is tragic beyond words.
Joe Biden has parroted the words beloved also of Australian Prime Ministers: “Israel has a right to defend itself”. But hang on a minute. Israel is not being attacked by some external power. It is experiencing dissent from within territories over which it exercises control. Apart from the rest of the Palestinian territories, it continues to maintain a blockade of Gaza and therefore controls it. Israel has within its power the capacity to end this endless cycle – take its foot off the neck of Palestinians. Grant equal democratic rights to all citizens. Abandon racist ideologies.
Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu, various competing Israeli political power plays, none of you are part of the solution, you are all part of the problem, step aside leave space for younger leadership which hopefully will see the future in terms of an integrated, free, respectful society in which difference is treasured and diversity embraced.
Dear Scott (if I may),
You have got yourself into a bit of strife from commentators who have found your speech at the Australian Christian Churches Conference to breach the convention of separation between Church and State; also, for your assertion that the devil is using the social media platform for evil.
I on the other hand found much in your talk with which I could agree, my problem is that I see no evidence that what you said is taken at all seriously in your life as Prime Minister.
Let me explain. You made quite a point of agreeing with the late Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and his emphasis the God’s dealing with us, and by implication our dealing with one another, should not be transactional but covenantal. This is a point Lord Sacks makes over, and over again in his writings, and it is a point with which I absolutely concur. As creator, God covenants with the whole creation for good. A covenant is total commitment to the person or object to whom we are bound. As creator God is bound to creation. A marital relationship is covenantal, each partner is bound to the other for good. As Prime Minister you are bound to Australia and its people. Australia and its people must always come before loyalty to your party, or the benefactors of your party. What is the evidence this is so?
You and your government appear always to act in a transactional manner, not in a covenantal way. You transact with stakeholders who support your party’s ideology. You transact on the floor of the house to achieve political victory, not the passing of good policy. You transact with members of your own party who have fallen short of community expectation to minimise fallout for the government rather than remaining committed to the highest possible ethical standards.
Good on you for quoting Jonathan Sacks, but it does not mean very much if action does not reflect the words. It is not good to slip into hyperbole, but the government you are leading looks to be the most transactional Australia has ever experienced.
You made a good point about the importance of community. Humans are essentially social beings. None of us can survive on our own. Believing in community requires a level of altruism and denial of self for the sake of greater good. Private ownership lies at the heart of your government’s ideology. Commitment to profit is the one objective of private ownership. Commitment to public ownership arises out of belief that some aspects of life are best held in common trust for the sake of all. Many acts of privatisation have been catastrophic in term of common good.
You made a particularly good point about value which must be given to every individual, regardless of their identity: politically, ethnically, socially, gender orientation etc. You decried what is appropriately called identity politics. But is not this the very thing your government does? Three-word slogans beloved of your side of politics are all about identity politics. Making sure government largesse is distributed in seats which might pay political return, is identity politics. The theatre of question time is full blown identity politics. I have long been an advocate for environmental responsibility, instead of my arguments being taken seriously I am easily dismissed as a left wing socialist. Lately many on your side of politics dismiss as ‘woke’ arguments for justice and social cohesion. This is full throttle identity politics.
As I heard you speak about valuing everyone for who they are, a picture came into my mind of parliamentary question time. Debate on the culture of parliament as a safe workplace for women was continuing. Tanya Plibersek was making what any reasonable person would agree to be a rational sensible, and mostly party-political free speech. You were at the government dispatch box with your back to her for almost her whole speech. With the best will in the world, I cannot see how valuing the individual for who they are, rather than through their identity (in this case political identity), plays out in your world.
Now let us turn for one moment to social media. I do not personally hold a positive view of this medium and refuse to use Facebook or Twitter. However, ‘the devil’ no more uses this medium for evil than any other instrument in daily life. The truth of the matter is that anything with the capacity for good equally has the capacity for evil. Every human being is capable of both. Triumph and tragedy walk with all of us. Evil does not have an empire of its own. Christians are not dualists. When the light shines the darkness must go. Light must shine on the dark side of social media. Your fellow ‘conservatives’ do not want the light to shine on the basis that everyone has the right to ‘freedom of speech’. It is good to see that your colleague Craig Kelly has had his social media account closed, despite his behaviour being defended by yourself. It should always be unacceptable for those in positions of authority to post material which is irrefutably false. It should also be totally unacceptable for social media to be used to slander others. Part of the problem is that your side of politics runs quickly to shout ‘cancel culture’ when falsehood is being called out for what it is.
As I have said, I am not a fan of social media, no doubt I am a child of my generation, but please do not bat bad behaviour on social media to the ‘devil’ when your side of politics is reluctant to rein in unacceptable behaviour.
Scott, good on you for being unafraid to give testimony to your faith. Good on you for being unafraid to identify with “Australian Christians’. Please be aware however that there are thousands more fellow Christians who struggle to understand how a covenantal Prime Minister can allow families to languish on Christmas Island, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain so equivocal about the future of the planet, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain utterly captive to his party’s ‘identity politics’.
Woke and Cancel Culture
Because of the culturally binary world in which we now live, it is almost impossible to speak without unwanted value being added or subtracted by others. Words or statements are too often enveloped in a pejorative package by those who disagree, thus excusing the package creator from having to deal with the truth being conveyed. Wrapping things as ‘woke’ is one such package of avoidance.
‘Woke’ is now weaponised by those on the right to belittle expressions of value or opinion that appear to challenge preconceived notions of what is acceptable. Those who dare to challenge some of the stories that undergird present day ANZAC celebrations are definitely ‘woke’. Those who support lifting the age of criminal responsibility in children, or wish to see imprisonment as the last resort for young offenders are ‘woke’. Those of us who are outraged by charges being laid against whistle blowers such as witness K and Bernard Collaery are ‘woke’. To be appalled by the endless incarceration of asylum seekers is definitely ‘woke’.
And yet ‘woke’ is a state to which all should aspire. That is, we should all aspire to an awakening based on insight and knowledge. Funnily enough ‘woke’ is the condition that undergirds Christian discipleship. All Christians are compelled to embrace ‘metanoia’, usually translated as ‘repentance’. Repentance is not primarily beating one’s breast in sorrow and regret, but living differently as a result of seeing differently.
There are many aspects to my personal life that have needed to respond in metanoia. I began with a strong patriarchal mindset. I had no knowledge of indigenous life, history and culture and as such had a racist mindset. I was unaware of my personal responsibility for environmental sustainability. To many of these realities I have ‘awoken’. That this journey needs to continue for the rest of my life, I am well aware. I aspire to be ‘woke’. All of us should aspire to be ‘woke’. The weaponizing of the term to deride or discredit is a cowardly act by those who refuse to be informed or worse, to change their way of life.
Freedom of speech is rightly lauded as one of the most important values undergirding democratic society. ‘Cancel culture’, is a weaponised term used to illustrate the perceived manner in which this value is thought to be undermined and as a consequence democracy itself is thought to be under threat. But hang on a minute!
In a democratic society, is it desirable, or should it be possible, for people or mediums of influence to publicly state that which is knowingly and blatantly untrue, especially when the intention of doing so is to mislead for personal gain? No, it should not. The most obvious example is Trump and his supporters who claimed they won the last election when clearly, they had not. The intention was to mislead and undermine democratic processes. It would have been irresponsible not to take steps to mitigate this activity. Cancelling the spread of these statements protected democracy, not the other way around.
For two decades Australian politics has been riven asunder by one side of politics refusing to accept verifiable scientific facts. The cost has been enormous. By now many thousands of Australians could have transited into new sustainable, highly skilled jobs. Australia could have been far more ready to trade on the emerging international market rather than being laggards. Australia could have developed policies that would have been environmentally and economically effective. Instead, we have seen two decades of wasted opportunity and the cost of putting things right escalating by the day. Giving free rein to an alternative view, when in reality there was no alternative view, has seriously undermined Australia
So, does freedom of speech mean that people have the right to say whatever they like. No, it most certainly does not. Individuals do not have the right to slander others, and people or institutions in positions of influence do not have the right to untruths which protect their own privilege or power.
It is ironic that those who argue for the absolute right of ‘freedom of speech’ are themselves less than good examples of this democratic value.
There are a multitude of issues in every generation that ‘dare not speak their name’. Until recently violence in the home and violence towards children has been in this category.
All of us ‘see through a glass darkly’. There must be far more open and non-partisan debate about the issues that confront us in the 21st century. As these conversations occur, blatant mistruths and manipulation in protection of self-interest opposed to ‘common good’, need to be called out for what they are. Protection of the fossil fuel industry by companies and compliant politicians is absolutely in this category.
May we all wake to the challenges that confront us and remain awake (woke) to the democratic call for trust and respect without which an open society implodes.
Shameful, and Humiliating
It is beyond shameful that Australia has held Priya and Nades Murugappan and their children Kopika and Tharnicaa on Christmas Island since August 2019 and that thy have been held in continuing detention for more than 1000 days.
Added to this insult this morning has been news that a proposed visit, to be led by Senator Keneally on a specially chartered plane, approved by Border Force, has been stopped by Defence Minister Dutton. What is it with this man? What ideology drives him, what political ambition possesses him, that he continues to heap cruelty upon cruelty on law abiding asylum seekers? Even more, on a family that clearly have the respect of a whole Queensland rural community behind them. In these circumstances it is utterly humiliating to be known as Australian, for we are all implicated by association with these unnecessary, cruel, and calculated acts that are somehow associated with misguided political advantage.
Following more than a month of terrible headlines involving politicians (primarily but not exclusively) of the hard right, one must ask, is there something inherently and incurably sick with a political ideology that appears to result in behaviour devoid of human decency and respect.
If this is the case, then a little course on empathy training is not going to make the slightest difference.
Is the politically hard right so convinced of truth imbedded in their certainties that they are absolved from normal accountability? It appears so. There was a time when ministers of the crown would stand down when serious errors were made either by them or by members of their department. In the Morrison government this era has long gone. It is now always someone else’s fault, or no fault is acknowledged at all.
I found myself in fierce disagreement with many of the policies and determinations of Prime Minister Howard, but never did I doubt an underlying integrity and decency.
With at least half the current cabinet, it is impossible to place trust and respect, either because of utter incompetence, or because of misleading and untruthful presentation of policy, or because political ambition has completely overtaken service of common good, or because ethical behaviour has become victim to party loyalty and supremacy.
Real leaders will always ‘hold the hose’ and accept accountability for outcomes. No real leader will allow cruelty under any circumstance, let alone in the name of political expediency.
Culture is purpose framed through Identity.
Many words have been uttered about the toxic culture of Federal Parliament. So, what is the problem? Culture emerges out of a perceived or enforced sense of identity. The parliament breeds a sense of entitled identity. Many, but not all, including some women, have woven themselves around such identity and in turn have shaped the identity of their staffers. This became tragically clear in the lack of leadership exercised in response to this week’s march by thousands of women. It was not a privilege, as they were being encouraged to believe, for women to be offered a private meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister for women. It should have been an honour for the Prime Minister and Minster for Women to meet with the women on their turf, seek to hear them and address the issues they brought on behalf of half the population.
If the sense of identity worn by governmental leadership was more transparently one of service, not entitlement and privilege of office, it would have felt an honour. (How many Prime Ministers have had the opportunity to meet representatives of half the population in one meeting)? Political leaders are after all ‘ministers’, the root meaning of which is ‘servant’. The ambition of politicians should be to seek the betterment of society they serve. This is hardly rocket science. Sadly, the ambition of most morphs easily into remaining in power at the next election. Time spent between elections being spent courting interest groups with this ambition in mind.
How did we arrive in this unfortunate state? There are no doubt a multitude of factors, many of which the whole population must own, but one of the dominant driving factors is that an increasing number of politicians are recruited from the ranks of party staffers who inherit an identity with their party and its ideologies from their early 20’s. The world beyond this bubble remains outside their experience. In this bubble the party and its prospects are everything, scandals must be dealt with in terms of their consequences for the party.
It is said that some have nurtured an ambition to be Prime Minister since their school days. In what context was this ambition framed? Was it to finally address unfinished business in relation to our First Nations peoples? Was it to recreate Australia as a regionally based manufacturing country with a multitude of highly skilled job? Was it to safeguard our natural environment, to create an atmosphere in which species extinction is halted and ecosystems protected? Was it to imagine what a liveable city might look like in the 21st century? Was it to build a vibrant economy in a post carbon world? Was it to give effect to a broad based and liberal education for all, that all might have the opportunity to celebrate life in its fulness? Was it…?
Or was the ambition to be no more than becoming the most important person and the most powerful person in the land?
On either side of politics, but especially on the government benches, it is difficult to understand the reason they are there, other than to be important and protect the interests of those who share the same ideological aspirations. This perception is borne out by the flood of politicians who, when they leave office, carve out a lucrative future for themselves from the influence they were able to exercise while in parliament. Pyne and associates is the latest example who now have the arms company Elbit as a major client and this week lobbied on behalf of the company in parliament.
Politics should be about transformational leadership. Our Prime Minister has shown he is incapable of anything other than transactional leadership. Every decade or two it is necessary for the clock to be reset. In changed circumstance it becomes necessary to enable a fairer, more just, more sustainable, more liveable world. Reform is not easy. It almost always means convincing one’s own side that change is necessary let alone convincing the opposition. The last Prime Minister capable of this was Bob Hawke who managed the seemingly impossible task of convincing the Unions that reform required a different modus operandi from them.
There are currently many areas crying out for reform, for which the government is showing absolutely no appetite. Top of the list is the way Australia is (or is not) being led into a post carbon economy. Environmentalists remain important voices, but they are no longer the only, or even the main voices clamouring for reform. To the voice of scientists can now be added, the market, the insurance industry, the National Farmers, State Governments, the nation’s youth, yes, even those employed in the mining industry who know the life of coal is at an end and want transition to a productive post mining life.
There must also be reform of monetary policy which currently allows those with assets to flourish while those on salaries stagnate. Growing equity gap is alarming. If further proof of this situation were required a cursory examination of the fate of Australians during 2020, the year of covid, will amply illustrate. Many large companies, shareholders and property owners flourished, many above the level they would otherwise have expected. At best those dependent on salaries stagnated and at worst either lost their jobs or suffered severe reduction in hours and income.
Aged Care, Health and Education are at various levels of crisis, under performance, or lacking the capacity to deliver. A conversation about how Federation can most efficiently work in 2021 with an honest debate about the relative value of private and public delivery of services is long overdue.
So, let us return to the problem of a toxic culture. If federal politics is to remain at the basement level of party, even intraparty rivalry and jealousy and holding onto (or achieving) power as the only ambition, then frankly there is little chance that the toxic culture can change. Toxicity and vacuousness are soul mates. If on the other hand transformational leadership can emerge with a more noble aspiration, this will energise a transformed culture with a more nourishing and noble reason for existence.
Should the law be the last word in all circumstances?
The awful shadow that hangs over our parliament, and especially the cabinet, has not been lifted by the vigorous denial made by the Attorney General at Wednesday’s press conference. As we know, law in and of itself cannot be guaranteed to deliver justice. Technicalities and the capacity of privilege to engage senior barristers almost always disadvantages the vulnerable and less resourced.
Through it all, the prime minister is insisting the matter has been considered by appropriate law enforcement instrumentalities and the matter is closed.
Neither statement is strictly correct. The law enforcement instrumentality, (NSW Police), has not properly considered the matter, they have made it plain they cannot because evidence they require to do so is held in the silent embrace of the deceased complainant. Her decision not to proceed happened the day before she took her own life. The matter is not closed, not because the Attorney General has not, and cannot, be proven innocent or guilty, but because he is Australia’s law maker, he holds one of the most powerful posts in the land and the population needs to know he is a fit and appropriate person to hold this office.
It is simply nonsense for the prime minister to insist, with colourful and exaggerated hyperbole, that an inquiry will somehow undermine the very foundations of the rule of law. There are many precedents for an independent inquiry. Indeed, the Attorney General has himself commissioned enquiries. Were one to be held, and we assume the Attorney General’s claims are accurate, presumably evidence would accumulate supporting the Attorney General’s denial, enabling empathy to turn toward him, even if such an inquiry could not fully declare his innocence, or guilt.
Context is a powerful factor in the determination of the best way forward. An enquiry would not primarily focus on criminality, which we know cannot be proved or disproved, but on character.
The fact that neighbours of mine who have previously held significant administrative positions in Canberra guessed the unnamed cabinet minister to be the Attorney General goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General along with Mr Tudge were subject to a Four Corners investigation on inappropriate behaviour in November 2020, goes to the question of character.
That in his press conference the Attorney General spent considerable time diverting attention by comparing his situation to that of a political opponent goes to the question of character.
That in the same press conference he claimed to be the real victim through trial by media, while not supporting an enquiry which would negate the need for the media to pursue its own enquiries, goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General has relentlessly and cruelly pursued the lawyer Bernard Collaery over the Government’s scandalous Timor L ’Este debacle goes to the question of character.
The government has senior people who have proved themselves to possess impeccable character, Mr Tony Smith, the speaker of the House, comes immediately to mind. Australia’s chief law maker needs to hold the confidence of the people of Australia regardless of the political party to which he belongs. Unless this confidence exists, he becomes the catalyst for loss of confidence in the rule of law, not those who are calling for an enquiry.
Free Speech in Private and Public worlds
A veritable avalanche of words has recently been penned in defence of the supposed sacrosanct place free speech holds at the heart of democratic life. But should that place be so sacrosanct?
Many, perhaps most of us, live almost all our lives in a private world where our opinions and actions are largely, but not exclusively, a matter of our own choice.
The public world is the world of facts upon which every intelligent person can be expected to agree – or be capable of being persuaded. The private world is the world where we are free to follow our own preferences – a world in which there is no right or wrong in lifestyle.
The private world is a world in which good is largely understood as being that which serves our personal interest. The public world is a world in which good is understood as that which benefits the whole, good that is common.
Those familiar with the Christian gospel could reasonably assume the Church would be first and foremost concerned about good that is common. However, the response of the Christian Church post the enlightenment has been to retreat into the private world. It has secured for itself a continuing place at the cost of surrendering the crucial field. The angst president Biden is experiencing from leadership in his Church, the Catholic Church, relates to what is considered morally acceptable in this private world. The Church has apparently nothing to say about the president’s major leadership burden which he must exercise in the public world. This retreat occurred before the explosion of social media, but having thus retreated, the Church now appears powerless to counter the effect of this medium’s ubiquitous presence which in the last two decades has not simply blurred the edges of these worlds but has seemingly made the distinction void.
The ethical consequences are considerable. The loss of an overarching ethical magisterium post the reformation and following the Enlightenment has led western liberal democracies to replace commitment to common good with a view that the role of the State is to protect individual human rights. A transformation has occurred from a substantive morality for the good to a formal morality of rights. This constitutes the central change in Western ethics over the past half millennium in terms of theory, practice, laws, and institutions.
If evidence of this move is required, just look at the official response from government in relation to Craig Kelly and his outrageous statements on social media. The Prime Minister has defended his ‘right’ to speak and express his own views, at least until those views were appearing to hurt the Liberal Party. While on Thursday night’s Q and A, Alexander Downer defended Craig Kelly, deriding those who dared question this right. He said Kelly had become a victim of ‘cancel culture’. Cancel culture is a pejorative term used in defence of everyone’s right to express their views in the public arena, no matter how extreme, and infers those who beg to differ are socialistic moral crusaders.
It is ironic that we appear to need a disaster to restore proper balance. The Covid pandemic has forced political and civic policy making to return to ‘good that is common’, even if it has meant overriding what would otherwise be considered basic human rights. There have of course been objectors, most thoroughly predictable, but on the whole Australians have complied with that which has delivered the best possible community outcome. This has not been the case in the US where the culture of ‘rights’ appears so deeply engrained in their DNA that its protection has appeared more important than life itself.
Perhaps there is time to prevent Australia sliding inexorably down a similar slippery slope, but only if those who hold public office can regain an ethical understanding of the consequences that flow from holding public office. No one is forced to hold public office, but if we do, there must be obligations associated with that privilege which have precedence over private opinions.
To put it quite simply, a person who holds public or representative office is not free to put forward views that are demonstrably false. Craig Kelly is the main culprit, but not the only parliamentary purveyor of falsehood. George Christenson also dabbles in untruth, as does Matt Canavan in relation to climate change. For some time there has been no wriggle room which might permit scepticism about overwhelming, and sadly worsening, scientific advice.
Craig Kelly has been the purveyor of mistruth in relation to Covid 19, Climate change, and the results of the US election. As a public figure he is simply not free to do that.
Following the establishment of a much-needed federal ICAC, one of its duties should be the capacity to sanction a politician who consistently presents material in the public domain which is demonstrably false.
Craig Kelly and his fellow parliamentarians have chosen to live and work in the public world, a world in which they are called to work tirelessly for good that is common. This truth seems to have totally bi-passed many, including Barnaby Joyce. When recently asked his view about the desirability of 2050 emissions targets, he shrugged his shoulders saying that by then he will be so old that any target will be irrelevant.
In the western world free speech is a privilege to be cherished, a privilege about which residents of totalitarian states can only dream. However, nothing in life is cost free. Those in the public world who use this privilege to peddle that which is demonstrably untrue are potentially creating a cost in confusion and division which the wider community must bear.
Australia Day Plebiscite
What kind of people are we, who, knowing full well our choice of national day presents insurmountable and painful difficulties to our first nations people, yet we still stubbornly refuse to move to another day?
The Prime Minister is fond of saying it is not his role to lecture others on a matter of morality or ethics. He recently took this line following widespread demands he sanction Craig Kelly and George Christensen for their continuing fabrication of truth in relation to a range of issues including climate change, but more recently, the result of the US election.
However, he is more than happy to lecture others when the matter at hand is in direct conflict with his government’s chosen ideological position. He has had no difficulty in lecturing Cricket Australia for their decision to feature indigenous history and culture for the fixture on 26th January. He told them to play more cricket and be involved in less politics. The truth of course is that sport has always been involved in politics, be it through grand spectacles like the Olympic Games, or less spectacularly through football competitions, in particular, the boycotting of South African sporting teams which played a large part in the downfall of apartheid.
Apparently, he is quite happy that a committee, to be led by the notorious George Christensen, will lecture banks and insurance companies about their decision not to fund or insure various fossil fuel mining enterprises. Minister David Littleproud informed these financial institutions that it is not up to non-elected individuals or businesses to make political decisions based on moral principle. Apparently, that is the role of government, although extreme reluctance to support an independent federal ICAC casts a shadow over this as a political ideal. It seems not to occur to the minister that these decisions may have had little to do with morality or politics and everything to do with prudent business acumen. Investing in stranded assets would almost certainly risk litigation from shareholders.
The Prime Minister has recently changed ‘young’ to ‘one’ in the national anthem. Few would disagree with the decision. However, on its own it is mere tokenism. We are not ‘one’ simply by changing a word in the anthem, and we are certainly not ‘one’ if on our national day the first nations people feel alienated.
Changing the day, would not mean changing history. We would simply, but significantly, be changing the way we celebrate history. In a real sense 26th January is the least suitable day to choose as Australia’s national day. The landing did no more than strike a claim on these shores for the British monarch and Empire and begin an early settlement. The landing did not in itself establish a new nation. This was not to happen until 100 years later. The landing began the establishment of colonies, the purpose of which was largely penal. Leaving aside the brutality and violence which was to quickly engulf the Dharawal nation, there was no understanding then that the continent upon which the Europeans were setting foot was occupied by more than 300 separate nations with history, culture, and tradition stretching back thousands of years.
Consideration of another date is not, to coin a phrase beloved of Prime Minister Howard, to submit to a black arm band view of history. It is to recognise that as we have matured as a nation, it is no longer a date that best captures nationhood. Over the years many dates have been suggested, no doubt there are many that have merit.
I have always favoured Federation Day as the most logical. We became a nation because of federation on 1 January 1901. I fully realise that this presents a logistical problem for annual celebrations, because everybody is asleep or on the beach on New Year’s Day and it is very close to Christmas. There are ways around it. The Queen’s birthday celebration is transferred to a date with potentially warmer weather and more sunlight!
However, there are other days.
I strongly recommend a plebiscite be held with perhaps two or three suggestions being made of which the current date could be one. A plebiscite requires a significant investment in education which would be an extremely good thing for us all.
It is simply dumb, as well as insulting to our indigenous brother and sisters, to stay as we are. Until there is a change, I will seek the company of First Nations people on 26th January, not out of any disrespect to our nation, quite the contrary, but because we can obviously do better, and for the sake of our ‘oneness’ we have to do better.
Christianity’s Watershed Moment
Evangelist Franklin Graham compared 10 members of the GOP to Judas Iscariot on Thursday after they voted to approve President Donald Trump's second impeachment. Ted Cruz, a GOP president wanna-be who speaks for conservative Christian values has done all he can to discredit the legitimate election of Joe Biden. Our Prime Minister, deeply immersed in ‘conservative Christianity’, has been inexplicably incapable of admitting Trump’s culpability. Why is Christianity so grafted to corrupt politics?
There have been a few watershed moments in the history of Christianity from which there is no turning back. One of these moments was in the 4th century when, through various Ecumenical Councils, it became clear that to claim the name of Christian it was necessary to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that in him there is life.
A second moment in the 15th century, facilitated by the printing press, saw authority transferred from a clerical, centralised and often poorly educated elite, to the whole family of God, the laity, via scripture. The faithful had been manipulated by this elite to protect their institutional power and authority.
Are current events in America heralding another such moment? Christianity has been associated with a seditious assault on the congress, an assault from which Christianity cannot be distanced and appears not to want to be distanced. Trump is not, and has not pretended to be, a Christian. As far as one can tell he is biblically illiterate. There is no evidence that he is a regular Church attender. His moral failures are legion and the damage he has done by claiming truth to be fake and what is fake to be true is immeasurable. Chaos and confusion are currently being played out in the lives of those whom he has convinced the election was stolen.
So, why this link between the Christian right and Trump? Quite simply it has absolutely nothing to do with Christian discipleship and everything to do with politics and ideology. The right and Trump have needed one another. From Trump’s point of view the evangelical right provide him with a strong electoral base and from the point of view of the evangelical right Trump provides them with the closest thing they have found to a theocratic state. He delivers, or purports to deliver, their agenda: supremacy of individual rights over social reform, prohibition on abortion, denial of gay rights and unconditional support for Israel. The situation is truly shocking. Is this the moment when any possible link between Christianity and a theocracy is completely, and finally rejected.
It is their obsession with a theocratic ideal, and apparent desire to fight and die for it, that has led to conspiracy theories about its opposite - a satanic cabal. The Christian right’s very identity is immersed in belief that they are soldiers for right against force of evil. At a spiritual and moral level this is a helpful image as a long as we understand the possibility of good and evil are ever present in the lives of each one of us. The dangerous error occurs when the idea of evil is transferred to those with whom we disagree of worse, do not understand. According to the conspiracy theorists, the existence and power of the cabal is led by paedophiles and demonstrated through a massive fraud that stole the election from them and their patron Donald Trump.
In this context the conspiracy theory makes absolute sense. If you believe God and God’s will is delivered through a theocracy; if this has been thwarted, there must be a reason big enough to match the thwarted aspiration.
It is unlikely that this dangerous nonsense with its seditious implications is going to be abandoned any time soon unless or until the ambition that led to it is corrected. The correcting is not the responsibility of secular politics, but of Christian leadership. Where is that leadership? Where is the voice?
It is of course wrong and deceptive to make generalisations, to accuse by association. Evangelicalism is a ‘broad church’. All evangelicals are not Trump supporters or believers in a theocratic ideal. However, it remains the case that evangelicals predominate in the Trump movement, that the name of Jesus was carried by the riotous mob into the congress alongside the name of Trump.
The irony, of which these people seem totally unaware, is that Jesus eschewed power and the exercise of it. When asked to use it he refused, rebuking those who made the request. He made it clear that the only power with legitimacy is the power of salt and light. Without wishing to eulogise Joe Biden, his demeaner, words and influence in the face of relentless provocation has so far been of this kind.
The Christian right have no business condemning attempts to revive a Muslim caliphate, while they embrace language of violence in attempting to enforce their own. In the absence of strong contemporary Christian leadership in condemnation of Franklin Graham and thousands of other self-appointed and theologically illiterate evangelical illuminati, I commend the fifth chapter of one of the earliest extant Christian writings, the letter to Diognetus:
Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity. The course of conduct they follow has not been devised by the speculation and deliberation of inquisitive men. The do not, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of merely human doctrines.
Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them. And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life.
They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.
They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.
They share a common table, but not a common bed.
They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.
They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life.
They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.
They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.
Those who think Franklin Graham and Ted Cruz and their admirers in Australia are somehow followers of the man from Galilee, please read the above letter and become acquainted with real witnesses, first and second century Christians.