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The following are glimpses of my recent trip to the Palestinian Territories, written in the context of an open letter to the Executive Council of Australian Jews. I shall write again when the Prime Minister's policy about Australia's diplomatic presence in Israel and its policy towards a peaceful and just resolution for Palestine and Israel alike is revealed.
I am honoured that you think my contribution to public debate on the situation confronting Israel/Palestine is worthy of your monitoring. I note that you have considerable references to me in your annual report on anti-Semitism in Australia. It is to this I would like now to respond.
I have just returned from 10 days in the Palestinian Territories and would like to give you a glimpse into my experiences.
I visited the military court to witness the parading of young children, shackled, before a military judge for action of civil disobedience, primarily stone throwing. Let me illustrate from the case of a young 15-year-old from Hebron. I met his parents in the waiting area. They were a decent normal couple wanting to live ordinary lives who beside facing the daily humiliation of checkpoints and other restrictions have had their lives turned upside down by military intrusion into their home at 3.00.am in the morning when their lad was dragged from them. I asked the boy’s father what message he would like me to take to the world. He said, please tell the world the settlements are choking us. We have no freedom to live normal lives.
The boy, who has already been in custody for a month, was brought in with three others. It was a charade. The whole matter lasted barely five minutes to find his case was adjourned again. He was handed a document in Hebrew to sign, a document he could not read or understand. I felt helpless and humiliated for them, that by default my government supports this daily ritual. (We are constantly reminded that Australia and Israel share the same values – we most certainly do not). I promised the family that I will light a candle for them every day in my home in a feeble attempt to keep the light of hope alive.
I went to meet the Tamimi family. On a few rare occasions in my life I have felt I have been in the presence of true humanity. I felt it when I walked into a room for the first time to meet Xanana Gusmao. I felt it deeply when Desmond Tutu stayed in my home for a week, and I felt it when introduced to the great Madaba (Nelson Mandela). This family exists in the rarefied atmosphere of those who have resisted intimidation and oppression and have retained not simply their own dignity, but also love and commitment for the freedom of all humanity – including their oppressors. They live in area C the largest portion of the Palestinian Territories which is totally under the control of Israeli occupation with no rights or freedoms, including no right to build on their own property. I was reminded that Bassem had been invited to Australia only to find that when he reached the Amman intentional airport his Australian visa had been cancelled, presumably on advice from you guys to the Australian government. Bassem asked me who was the freest, himself who stands up against oppression or an Australian like me who is afraid to stand up against a Lobby that manages to cower Australian media and politicians alike. The answer is painfully obvious.
I journeyed to Hebron again, the largest Arab city on the West Bank. I understand the city consists of 700,000+ Arabs with a few hundred settlers guarded by a couple of thousand Israeli troops. I stopped outside a home that in the previous 24 hours had been confiscated by Israeli authorities, the Arab family that had lived there for generations were gone and a party was being held by the new settler occupants. Again, I walked past the shuttered and ghost like main street which has been banned to Palestinians for the last several years. But I want most to tell you that I walked down the current market thoroughfare for the second time. It is a bustling and culturally wonderful street, but which has tarpaulin and netting above it to try and protect it from the rubbish that is thrown from the settler dwellings above. I had my photograph taken with a wonderful old man in his clothing shop. He showed me a beautiful dress that had been soiled by urine which had been poured down from the settler building above, all done in clear sight of the military outposts that could act to stop these outrages - but choose not to.
I spent a day in the company of a journalist travelling around the world heritage declared area just outside Jerusalem and Bethlehem which is hemmed in by Settlements and its unique vista of terraces and continuous life style over centuries under threat. Clearly the intention is to cut off Bethlehem entirely from Jerusalem and to make life as difficult as possible for the Palestinians, presumably hoping they will go somewhere else. Most will not.
Some will. I visited the Melkite Church in Bethlehem, one of, if not the only Church still using the Aramean language in its worship. I spoke with the Church elder who in 2019 intends to migrate to the UK where his wife and children already reside. He says it breaks his heart to do that, but he said life has been made so intolerable because of the occupation that he feels he has no alternative. It is important for the Christian community worldwide to know that Christianity under occupation has been decimated. It is estimated now that the Christian population in Israel and Palestine is only about 1.7% from a population pre-1948 of over 20%.
From traders in Hebron to taxi drivers in Bethlehem they were all crying out for business. The Israeli Occupation has done such a good job in destroying any economic opportunity for them. The narrative that it is too dangerous for westerners to be in the Palestinian territories is an absolute lie. I have never felt safer. I am an inveterate walker. I walked at all times of day or night in Hebron, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. Not for one moment did I feel my security was at risk. Palestinians are by nature kind, generous and hospitable.
I had appointments in the Knesset. The one abiding memory of these appointments was feeling the humiliation felt by Arab members of the Israeli parliament that a law has been passed that declares them to be second class citizens. They may in the past have felt this to be true, but now it is enshrined in law. What other country in the so-called free world has enshrined in law 20% of its population can never be full citizens.
These are but a few glimpses, I could give you many more.
I am very grateful to a young Israeli soldier, on duty, who was prepared to engage me in conversation. Following my question as to what future he hoped for he gave a surprising but wonderful response. He said he hoped his children and grandchildren would not be called up for duty as he had been. That they would not have to act against an occupied people as he has had to do and that the time will come when Arabs and Jews will share the same rights and opportunities and live together harmoniously and peacefully.
You see dear ECAJ the occupation is as demeaning to Israelis as it is to the Palestinians. I do not have any sense of antipathy to Jewish people, in fact the opposite, but I have angry contempt for a cruel and evil system that denies common humanity to Palestinians and reduces Israelis to a paranoia of fear and victimhood.
Please keep monitoring me, I would be sad to think my contribution is not worthy of scrutiny. But better still come with me to the Palestinian Territories and see what currently your eyes refuse to see, and your ears refuse to hear.
Nationalism: the world’s greatest threat
We owe President Emmanuel Macron a debt of gratitude for yesterday’s speech in Paris. “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” the French leader said.
“In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”
The first world war was not inevitable in the sense that ‘a great evil’ was being confronted. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 the relationship between Serbia and Austria-Hungary became white hot, but initially at least no other country needed to be involved, least of all Britain. Russian sympathies were with Serbia and Germany’s with Austria Hungary. Piece by piece France, Belgium and ultimately Britain were dragged in, simply because their national pride was tied to the alliances they had formed and the rivalries that existed between them. Lloyd George later remarked that at this time Europe “stumbled and staggered into war”.
The cost of wounded national pride was to be 40 million casualties including 19 million deaths. The first world war is arguably the greatest disaster ever to befall humanity and the greatest ever failure of human leadership, both political and military. What were they thinking when they led the world into such a dark place?
Following the ‘war to end all wars’, in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, Germany was humiliated by the confiscation of many of its territories, by being blamed exclusively for the war and by the reparations demanded of it. Here the seeds of the second world war were sewn, all on the back of arrogant European nationalisms.
After the war there was relief and a desire to put this awful period in the past. There was probably not enough genuine reflection upon what had brought humanity to this point and what needed to be done to avoid a disaster of this magnitude in the future.
Interestingly such reflection was provided at the 1920 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, meeting from all over the Anglican Communion in London at the invitation of Archbishop Randall Davidson. In August 1920 more than 18 months had elapsed since the end of the war, time for sober reflection nd judgement. As recorded in the resolutions and papers of the conference the bishops asserted that the greatest lesson to be drawn from this calamity was that the real danger facing humanity was self-interest and that as dangerous as individual self-interest might be, national self-interest was far greater. They went on to conclude that Christians enjoy two citizenships: that of the country to which they belong and that of the whole human family. Further, if citizenship of the former conflicts with the latter then Christians should be under no misapprehension as to their prior responsibility as global citizens under the sovereignty of God.
These reflections deserve urgent prominence today both within the Christian community and within civil society as a whole as we grapple with the phenomenon of rising nationalism throughout the world. Nationalism is tribalism writ large. It should therefore be no surprise that one of the common features of nationalistic fervour is racist language and behaviour. This article is not long enough to rehearse all the countries caught up in racist language and action, but they notoriously include Myanmar, Philippines, China, Israel and the US. Sadly, Australia is also on the list. Nationalism is forged from an exclusivist identity, in seeing oneself as different to others.
Australian nationalistic fervour has had hundreds of millions of dollars poured into its narrative in the last four years. We are encouraged to see ourselves and our identity forged by war on foreign lands. Why? 60,000 did not return from World War 1. Hardly a family was untouched. Many families had to endure the company of men (and women) who were so bruised by their experience that the rest of their lives were robbed of the joy that might otherwise have been theirs.
There are many competing narratives for Australian identity that are not allowed to properly emerge. Immigration has by any measure had a far greater influence on our identity than war. But more than this the identity of being part of the oldest living culture on the planet, a culture which many of the early white settlers failed to understand and sought to destroy can and should be what makes us so thoroughly unique. The frontier wars that accompanied this struggle find no enduring place in our modern culture of remembrance. Why is there no place for remembrance of these frontier wars in the Australian War Memorial or on ANZAC Parade? Presumably this memory does not suit the nationalistic ANZAC myth we have developed about ourselves through war with foreign nations.
President Macon was right to warn that the perilous clouds of nationalism that were at the heart of WW1 seem once more to be gathering, and particularly so in the language of the so called ‘leader of the free world’. Trump’s voice encourages nationalism in various domains throughout the world, quite apart from his own country, including those that by any measure must be called dictatorships.
I have recently been approached by a consortium of civic leaders to join them in a push to have the constitution change to prevent Australia going to war in the future on the whim of the Prime Minister and his/her cabinet. It will be argued that a decision to take the country into war must be a decision of last resort made only by a joint sitting of the whole parliament.
Nationalism is a cheap and easy clarion call as we have seen by the support those in the far right of our political spectrum can muster. Following the recent Melbourne stabbing the Prime Minister found it easier to go straight to a criticism of Muslims and Muslim leadership than to the disturbed mental health of the perpetrator. In the US many are willing to respond to the racist clarion call; it is dangerously naïve not to recognise the terrible consequences that flow from leaders who would define us in opposition to others.
“Australians are at last embracing Halloween”, blared a recent headline. While not wanting to be a party pooper, I ask whether this is a trend to be lauded or whether it is yet another confirmation of the trend into excluding opposites that increasingly besets Australian political, religious and civil life. Please hang in with me as I try to explain.
Until recently All Saints Day (Nov 1) was a significant festival in the annual Christian cycle, commonly know as the season of ‘All Hallows’. It was a significant festival on the calendar of my 1950’s school days. Church attendance on that day in Singleton (Hunter Valley) in the late 70’s and early 80’s matched Easter attendance and was second only to Christmas, numbering many hundreds.
The festival’s origins can be traced back to the Old Testament where the hoped-for harmony and wholeness expressed in ‘shalom’ would be ultimately fulfilled when, as hoped and longed for, God gathers the righteousness to a ‘high mountain’ (Zion) from where division suffering and conflict is finally banished. Thus, ‘Zion’ expresses a theological/eschatological hope; it is not about geography, although Jerusalem is that ‘high mountain’ , least of all in its biblical context is it an expression of nationalism. Tragically the modern Zionist movement is about the occupation of territory to the exclusion of all others. The biblical concept of a ‘chosen people’ is that they are a conduit for God’s purpose not restricted to themselves, but inclusive of all humanity.
In the New Testament, the question of how and where God is to fulfil the shalom hope for everlasting harmony and peace is famously picked up in the dialogue Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). She asks whether it is to be the Samaritan site of the long gone northern kingdom, or the Judean site of the southern kingdom, Jerusalem. Jesus says neither and goes on to speak of those who worship God doing so in spirit and truth. For Christians the eschatological hope in Zion as a place has been replaced by hope and confidence in Zion as a person, Jesus, who has bridged the gulf between earth and heaven. The Zionist eschatological hope, transferred to Jesus, is wonderfully expressed in John Newton’s hymn:
Glorious things of you are spoken,
Zion city of our God….
See, the spring of living waters, springing from eternal love…
Blest inhabitants of Zion, washed in their Redeemer’s blood:
Jesus, whom their souls rely on, makes kings and priests to serve our God…
The climactic expression of this hope is of course to be found in the opening verses of Revelation 21. Zion, new Jerusalem, is nothing less than a new creation. Because God is completely immersed in the created order in Jesus, division between material and spiritual is abolished, division is gone. God is not to be thwarted, the harmony that was intended in the diversity of creation from the beginning is accomplished. Nothing that is of God is wasted or lost. The frailties and imperfection that inevitably accompany a transient world are gone. The Tree of life which is teasingly mentioned in the Genesis creation narrative (Gen 2:9) finally flourishes and all are gathered around it. In as much that Zion gathers the righteous, it is the righteousness of Jesus shared with all humanity that turns ordinary people into participating saints.
All Saints then is a celebration of life, a celebration of the Giver of life and the eschatological hope for harmony and peace which find their OT origin in Shalom and Zion. In this context it is a celebration of those lives who have gone before us, whose example and influence has shaped us and whose company we continue to share in the Communion of Saints around the Tree of Life.
Now, what of Halloween? There is much speculation about its origin. Is it connected to a northern hemisphere pagan festival associated with the impending darkness of winter? Is it associated with the end of harvest and of the poor going from door to door with a poem or song begging food from the more fortunate who have had a harvest?
As a boy who grew up in the UK, I have no recollection of Halloween. So, what has it morphed into and why is its popularity seemingly on the rise? For many, especially amongst the young, it is simply an excuse for a dress up party and there can hardly be any harm in that, other than the harm associated with excessiveness which can occur at any party.
The more macabre side of Halloween is almost certainly not taken very seriously by the vast majority. It presents as a fascination with death, with ghosts (souls that have found no resting place) with fear, with darkness and a right to play a less than pleasant trick on those who have not favoured you.
Given what we now know of sugar and its connection with childhood and lifelong obesity one might wonder how long the ‘trick or treat’ custom will remain in favour, especially as children appear to make no effort with costume etc, but simply walk from house to house with a plastic shopping bag in the hope of picking up as many sweets as possible.
No, the loss is not so much in what is done, but in what is not done. A tradition of hope, celebrating a life of inclusion and the abolition of conflict and division has been supplanted by something much less. Dr Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream speech” could be described as a modern song in veneration of Zion. So where is our dream to-day, of what do we dream? What idea do we hold of Zion or is it all lost in mindless materialism?
All Saints Day this year, need not have been reduced to the rather banal if not slightly macabre party time and could have been celebrating shalom in our current context:
· Indigenous culture and its oneness with creation
· The offering of safe-haven for refugees and asylum seekers and a repudiation of the culture of fear that has allowed Nauru and Manus to blight the reputation of all Australians
· The commonality we share with all human beings across the boundaries of wealth, ethnicity and religion.
· The lives of significant contributors to harmony and wholeness who once lived in this street, this suburb across the continent.
I find it particularly tragic that this All Saints tide a significant item of news has been that Australia might join the US in moving its embassy to Jerusalem and in doing so support Israel in its diminishing of the biblical aspiration of Zion’s inclusiveness and shalom, to a nationalistic aspiration for exclusion and superiority – the guarantee of generational suspicion fear and hatred for years to come.
Odd bedfellows: Political Conservatism and Christianity
Right wing conservatives have become increasingly dependent upon Christian support at the ballot box in Australia and the US. But what does political conservatism as expressed by Donald Trump in the US, or Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz or Cori Bernardi in Australia, have to do with Christianity?
To conserve, from the Latin conservare means to protect or conserve. This simple definition can be readily accepted as an expression of core Christian values. But what is to be conserved and how is the conserving to be achieved? It is not good enough to simply preserve the past, understand why institutions or practices evolved and preserve the good in them in light of the present. When I took up my appointment as Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn the magnificent Cathedral in Goulburn was in a state of considerable disrepair and was not a space easily given to engagement and creative expression. The modest plans to address this issue were vehemently opposed by those who considered its internal configuration to be sacrosanct and unchangeable. What I and those responsible for the Cathedral desired was to preserve and protect the reason for the Cathedral’s existence, a space available and adaptable for the creative and worshipping life of both the local congregation and the wider community.
Real conservatism has little to do with externals and everything to do with the ‘heart of the matter’.
There is ongoing debate in Australia about sexuality and gender. The debate is fundamentally about identity. The biblical view is that our identity is an expression of the company we keep, or to whom we belong: i.e. we are children of God and severally sisters and brothers of one another. The bible knows little of an individual, but of a brother, sister, parent, child, neighbor, employer, friend etc. While the bible knew of same sex behavior, it was assumed to be deviant activity of heterosexual people. Understanding that a percentage of the population does not and cannot identity as heterosexual is a relatively recent understanding. So, what is to be conserved? First and foremost, what must be conserved and protected (treasured) is the life of each as a whole and wholesome human being. Secondly what must be protected and honored are relationships which enable intimacy, commitment, virtue, and fulfilment; all fundamental ingredients of human flourishing. Christianity cannot be about conserving an identity which is possible for some but impossible for others.
Now to the most obvious arena for conservation – the natural environment. It is astonishing that those who identify as political conservatives, or indeed as religious conservatives, behave in such a cavalier manner to the natural environment, an attitude that is the very antithesis of Christian insight. Even the cautionary principle is eschewed in a stampede to exploit. The biblical insight is unequivocal. The whole created order, inclusive of humanity, is a relational world. Everything and everyone relates to everything else, no action is without consequence. A consumerist view of the natural order, exploits without consequence and turns anything and everything into currency – wealth. Walter Brueggemann the great New Testament scholar contrasts consumers with citizens thus:
Consumers are those who, after they eat and are satiated use as a third verb variously ‘exalt self’…self-sufficiency, self-indulgence, self-reference – an ocean of self. Citizens are those who after they eat and are satiated have a third verb ‘bless and remember’, that is they turn life back to the Giver.
How is it then that political conservatives, so diametrically opposed to conservation at the heart of Christianity, are embraced by a Christian subculture? The answer probably has to do with individualism – with the wrongful prioritising of self.
The Anglican divine Richard Hooker (1554 – 1600) is supposedly one of the fathers of political conservatism, but his concerns have little if anything to do with those of today’ political right. He argued that a citizen of Britain owed loyalty to the crown (Elizabeth 1) and that this loyalty was in part expressed through commitment to the Church of the crown. He was opposed to both Puritanism on the one hand and Roman Catholicism on the other, arguing what needed to be conserved was unity of Church and State – a divine institution. It was the Anglo-Irish philosopher of the enlightenment, Edmund Burke (1729-1797), however who is credited with conservatism as a political force. He opposed the French Revolution and emphasized property rights and the free market.
But what is political conservatism today? Many deny it is an ideology, or even a political philosophy, regarding it instead as a disposition that resists theoretical expression—a “non-ideology” that attempts to avoid the errors of ideologies. Is it an ancient attitude, or a proposition that developed in response to Enlightenment rationality and its political products, liberalism and socialism?
Without ideology it may have been in its infancy, however, there can be little doubt that political conservatism is now deeply entrenched in its own ideology, an ideology that I assert to be stubbornly irrational.
It is an ideology that seeks to commoditize everything. This is stubbornly irrational because life, both human and nonhuman, clearly depends upon a high level of communal sharing. Without an appropriate and necessary sharing of the natural order, nonhuman species will increasingly become extinct, and humans will experience escalating inequality. Indeed, critics of political conservatism argue it has become an ideology in general defense of social and economic inequality.
It is an ideology that stubbornly prioritises the free market, resisting any form of regulation. This is irrational because the market is not free. It is manipulated by those who trade on currencies, it is weighted by the trillions held by hedge funds, and it is dominated by a financial market which is not interested in trading one commodity for another, but solely in financial gain.
It is an ideology which is wedded to the idea of trickledown economics, that is to say in a growing economy wealth trickles down to everyone. This is a proven deception because those who gain from a growing economy are those who have positioned themselves to take advantage, the rest do not.
It is an ideology besotted with economic growth. However, it is an unarguable fact that economic growth is an illusion without population growth. The economy grows in size, but not in depth, as illustrated by the long-term stagnation in wages. Australia and the globe generally are on a lemming run if our future is dependent upon population expansion in a finite world.
Why do conservative Christians find any of this so attractive and why so forgiving of the obvious frailty and often outright scandal of the purveyors of this lunacy?
Sadly one of the reasons is that there is a certain symbiosis between political conservatism and religious conservatism. The former provides the latter with a political platform and a power base to pursue its narrow moral agenda while the latter provides the former with a numerical base and an assumed virtue of righteousness.
More worryingly, both wear a mantle of certainty, an elitism that eschews ambiguity, even dialogue. The political right treats those who challenge their assumed claim to the high ground and destiny to rule, as the enemy, as we have seen in the relentless attack on the ABC and Trump’s ‘fake news’. Of equal concern is the arrogance of not needing to engage with people with greater knowledge, demonstrated by the Prime Minister’s thought bubble on the Jerusalem embassy, or the ignoring of environmental advice.
It is past time for Christians, not seduced by this agenda, to find their courageous voice and engage in debate about the world we would like our children to inherit. Please do not let the world assume Christianity is as portrayed by the right. The foundations from which we are rooted are good news for all, and lived well will lead to a peaceful, just and harmonious world. With John Macquarrie we can confidently proclaim:
The self-emptying of Jesus Christ has not only opened up the depth of true humanity, but has made known to us the final reality as likewise self-emptying self-giving and self-limiting.
Does Australia support peace in the Middle East?
To contemplate moving the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to shore up the chances of the Liberal candidate for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, is a small but very significant example of what is horribly wrong with Australian politics and why so few Australians now have any trust in the political process. That the Prime Minister denies any connection between the thought bubble and the weekend byelection stretches credulity and pokes fun at the electorate’s intelligence. What is it about our present government that it would even contemplate such a course? Please Mr Morrison you can do better than this, Australia certainly deserves better than this.
Dave Sharma’s partisan support for Israel while Ambassador, and his seeming contempt for Palestinian rights, is best illustrated when as Australian Ambassador he met the Israeli minister for Jewish expansionist settlements, in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem being notionally a core component of a hoped-for Palestinian State, it is hard to imagine a more inflammatory action. Mr Morrison claims that this latest thought bubble has arisen because of a conversation with Dave Sharma. Would it not have been more appropriate to seek advice from DFAT, or perhaps the current Ambassador to Israel? Why would you take advice from someone who is on the record as behaving in a counter-productive manner to the flagging peace process? Of course such a move would have the most severe consequences for Australia’s espoused two-state policy – it would be an admission of its end. Then Mr Morrison, with what policy are you intending to replace it?
This thought bubble also needs to be set within the context of the most bullish behaviour ever seen from an Israeli government, supported by the most bullish and irrational US president in history.
The US and Israel are pushing inexorably towards their imposed ‘final’ solution on the Palestinian people. Is it our intention to be unthinkingly aligned? Warming up to this solution they have:
· Discredited and defunded UNRWA to squash any possibility of a right of return and in the process left thousands of children in refugee camps without schooling.
· Discredited and defunded the Palestinian Authority on the spurious and unproven grounds that monies have been used to support terrorism.
· Passed a State law which entrenches inferior citizenship on non-Jews in Israel.
· Made Jewish outpost settlement on the West Bank legal.
· Continued to demolish Palestinian homes and in some cases entire villages.
· Escalated the building of Settlements in the Palestinian territories.
In the light of this behaviour we wish to reward Israel? These are values we share?
But there is an even broader and potentially more catastrophic context in which Palestine and Palestinians are but dispensable pawns. The two great Middle Eastern powers are Saudi Arabia and Iran, both desperate to extend their spheres of influence and counter the influence of the other. That Iran exercises influence through Hamas and Hezbollah should not be a reason to punish the entire Palestinian civilian population who simply want to live as others live, in freedom and relative prosperity. We are choosing to unequivocally side with Saudi Arabia in this struggle, largely because of Israel. It is not surprising therefore that Mr Morrison raised his other thought bubble of withdrawal of support for the Iran treaty in the same breath.
Israel cannot achieve its expansionist goals at the expense of the Palestinian people without the support of the house of Saud. In the past the US has always been best friends with Saudi Arabia because of its oil dependence. That is presumably the reason why following the 2001 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre conducted by Saudi terrorists, no meaningful action was taken against Saudi Arabia, instead a disastrous war was fought in Iraq. Oil dependency is no longer as acute. Now the house of Saud and its Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the US and its Crown Prince (Jared Kushner), are best friends because of Israel and its ambitions.
But, being best friends with Saudi Arabia requires a certain moral amnesia.
· It appears almost certain that Saudi Arabia has killed the journalist Jamal Khashaggi in its Istanbul embassy for daring to be critical of its royal family and perhaps threatening to reveal past skeletons.
· Saudi Arabia is an oppressive society with severe human rights violations
· Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a brutal civil war in Yemen in which atrocities against civilians have occurred with impunity.
· Wahhabism, the theological underpinning of movements such as ISIS has its origins in Saudi Arabia.
· Saudi Arabia funds Madras throughout the world, including our neighbour Indonesia, from which hundreds, thousands, of young minds are radicalised.
· Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens.
History tells us that picking winners and losers is a very fraught business. Why are we picking Saudi Arabia against Iran and Israel against Palestine? We know that ‘winning and losing’ is deeply rooted in the Trump DNA. He cannot think outside this paradigm. But we join him on this path at our peril. The treaty of Versailles should be a sufficient history lesson to teach that creating losers totally undermines ‘winning’.
We should be doing all we can to support policies that allow for the dignity and prosperity of both Iran and Saudi Arabia while calling both equally to account for the human right violations of their own people. We are currently a long way from this position. Were we to walk away from the Iran deal we would be dangerously backing one side in a power struggle and thus escalating the risk. (Apparently we already have a non-transparent arms deal with Saudi Arabia).
Similarly with Israel and Palestine: to so obviously reward bad behaviour on the part of Israel and act to destroy hope and dignity to the 5 million+ Palestinian people is to strengthen a tinderbox of frustration and hopelessness from which violence is the only guaranteed outcome.
Mr Morrison, let Australia be known as a country that treats all humans with the same dignity, that believes removal of oppression to be as necessary for the oppressor as for the oppressed, and that believes people with difference cannot only live together harmoniously, but are all richer because of it. Let us be known as a people who support peace in the Middle East and justice for the Palestinian people, not at the expense of Israel but because this is in Israel’s best interest too.
There are crucial moments when individuals, families, and nations must decide whose side they are on. Now is such a moment in relation to the future of the planet and its climate. It appears that our government has decided not to be on the side of future generations and their right to economic and social stability, stability dependent upon climatic stability. For this reason, John Hewson, previous leader of the Liberal party, is absolutely right to have entered the Warringah bi-election with the mantra ‘vote for anyone other than the Liberals’.
No matter what policies the Coalition might have that can be deemed superior to their opponents, their abject failure to secure a climate policy renders them unfit to govern at this crucial juncture of human life on this planet. The Prime Minister’s claim that we will ‘meet our Paris commitment in a canter’ would be comical if it were not so serious, - it is even at odds with analysis he will have received. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to back that claim, indeed the evidence is clearly the reverse.
Of course, if we achieved zero emissions tomorrow we would not, on our own, save the planet: this is absolutely true. But that is to entirely miss the point. The globe will meet the necessary goal if and when there are enough nations pulling in the right direction and putting pressure on those who are not. By our inaction we are giving solace to all who are not pulling their weight, and we are doing it from one of the most advantaged positions on the planet. We have the skills and resources to more than pull our weight and we can do it without placing an impossible financial burden upon our citizens. Why do we scare people with the thought of legs of lamb costing more than $100 etc? Because politicians are obligated to powerful and cashed up lobbyists – that’s why.
The latest IPCC report, released this week, should scare everyone. That it does not is due to several factors. Chief amongst whom is that the mining industry, like the tobacco industry before it, pours enormous amounts of money into ‘think tanks’ that demand their arguments be taken as seriously as the overwhelming weight of the world’s scientific community. This is trading on the important principle of there being ‘two sides to every story’. But this principle is not universally applicable. We rely on a justice system that weighs evidence. If an alternative view were allowed no one would ever be convicted. A person is found guilty or innocent on the basis of evidence. The world’s scientists, from a range of disciplines, examining the evidence before them have consistently come to the same diagnosis in relation to the climate, and have provided ameliorating options. To ignore, or worse belittle, their findings, or suggest there is an alternative view, is recklessly irresponsible.
From my days as a theological student in the 1960’s I have sought to comprehend what is meant by truth and how its application shapes the direction of one’s life. I have come to understand the notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to be ethical applications of universal or absolute truth. Universal human rights depend upon this principle. We cannot pick and choose. These rights apply to people of all ethnicities, all religions, all cultures. What is life giving must be life giving for all, what is life denying diminishes all. For good to be good it must also be common
It is this fundamental understanding of good and evil that makes populist nationalism and patriotism so dangerous. While tyranny and dictatorship are on the increase, not in decline, just as serious is the increasing trend in western democracies to put ‘America first’, put ‘Australia first’. Such rhetoric emanating from the president of the United Sates and mimicked by others including members of our own government, works on a false premise. It is entirely wrong to assume that Australia’s best interest is somehow different to, or independent from, global best interest.
We human beings are utterly dependent upon the health and wellbeing of the planet we share with 7.7 billion others. It is extraordinary that politicians like Craig Kelly can be so utterly dismissive of this fundamental reality. It is a universal good to put the health of the planet above most other considerations because (apart from the rights of the nonhuman world) the continuation of our species depends on it. Climate action is not lowering priority for human need, it is taking human need, dependent on climatic stability, very seriously.
The flip side of truth as an absolute verity is its relational application known morally in the expressions ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Right and wrong are not absolutes but circumstantial. Let me give an example from Australia’s ‘unfinished business’. All Australians are equal, and all have the same rights under law. However, the circumstances of Australia’s indigenous people are such that it is right that provision be made constitutionally to address that uniqueness. Equally it was very wrong of the government to be so dismissive of the Uluru statement from the heart.
There are several circumstantial factors in relation to climate that make Australia’s position morally indefensible - wrong.
· Per capita we have been amongst the world’s worst polluters. This is coming down. It should.
· Our continent is very vulnerable. Climate change consequences to farmers alone are almost incalculable. The long drought is warning enough. We cannot fix this on our own, but not to be in the front line of those who want to is inexcusable
· Our most iconic natural asset is the Great Barrier Reef. It is World Heritage listed, meaning we are this asset’s custodians for the whole world. While science is about diagnosis not prognosis the writing is clearly on the wall. That the government is so non-committal (notwithstanding the very controversial $.5B splash) and seeks to support a provenly corrupt Indian mining company, is beyond the wit of my limited intellect to understand. Barrier Reef dependent employment will always outnumber employment in an increasingly automated industry by multiple factors.
· Sources of renewable energy in Australia are abundant and the technology necessary to develop them is both proven and cost effective in comparison with fossil fuel. In addition, renewable energy will provide a flood of employment opportunity in regional Australia.
· Climate sceptics bang on about the need for base-load which, they argue, only coal can provide. In an energy sector which is increasingly diverse baseload is no longer the key, dispatchable energy is the key. SA’s mega-battery and the development of stored hydro will provide this flexibility far more cheaply than previous reliance on costly baseload.
· We have the intellectual, economic and technical capacity to move much more quickly in the right direction. Not to do so is morally wrong.
Australia has never been in greater need of genuine leadership. Malcom Turnbull did not lose the Prime Ministership because he wanted to move on climate change, he lost the leadership because he did not act and as a consequence allowed a conservative rump to fill the space. It seems most unlikely that Prime Minster Morrison or Premier Berejiklian will offer any leadership. (When given the chance Premier Berejiklian recently and notoriously backed the State’s biggest bully. It is up to the Australian people, especially people of faith, to take the lead and to express it at the ballot box.
Along the evolutionary trail we have somewhat ambitiously called ourselves homo sapiens, or humans who are sapient – knowing or wise. The truth of the matter is tragically far from this: we seek to resolve difference through violence rather than dialogue; we give greater weight to possessing rather than being (our other species name); we assume winning to be an achievement of the individual rather than the community, thus imposing losing on others; we claim exceptionalness for our momentary place in history and we constantly appoint leaders who show absolutely no aptitude for the task.
In the Judaeo/Christian tradition wisdom is the foundational building block of life, the skeletal form which makes order possible, it precedes everything else in creation. Wisdom is chaos’ antidote. The pursuit of wisdom defines human vocation. But what is wisdom? I have often said wisdom is the understanding of how things work. Socrates is not so sure, he thought that understanding was possible, but that it is only known to the gods - let me come back to that. Socrates taught we are only as wise as the awareness of our ignorance. From a biblical perspective, as well as from a Greek sapient perspective, we can say that wisdom is knowing one’s place, a place which is always part of a far greater whole.
The context of this blog is twofold; first that in the common lectionary on Sundays we are currently reading from Proverbs, a key component of biblical wisdom literature, and secondly because so much has been happening of late which defies logic, let alone wisdom.
First to the wisdom literature. She (wisdom) is not defined, no definition would be sufficient, like the wind, she breaks through any human attempt for containment. My favourite literary flourish is from the Apocrypha, the Wisdom of Solomon 7:22ff
There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether, subtle.
For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all thing.
For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore, nothing defiled enters her.
She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one she can do all thing, and while remaining in herself she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls……
Now, to refer back to Socrates and his notion that “only the gods can know how things truly work”; for the Christian community knowing, or the wisdom of God, has been made known to us in the person of Jesus - the incarnate wisdom of God. To be one of his followers is to be a follower of wisdom. Is wisdom clearly defined? No, of course it is not, it is laid before us in parabolic form through Jesus’ teaching and through his death and resurrection. The Parables of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan, for example, are wisdom parables. So also is his death. The life-giving power of unconditional love through sacrifice is wisdom in its most confronting.
Given we know all this, how then is it that this ‘enlightened’ generation is so unwise? Well, there’s a question!
Perhaps it is that we are increasingly unaware, that understandings that were taken for granted in the building of western civilisation have been forgotten, rather than abandoned. Today it is easy to parody mock or otherwise belittle Christian faith and Christians generally, but would it be so easy if it were known that here lurks true wisdom. And is its disappearance into the fog of lost memory partly attributable to the fact that what now so popularly passes for Christianity is no more than simplistic, cheap, unintelligent jargon?
Perhaps it is because we have ceded wisdom’s place to technology. If it is possible to build it - we do, without asking is it needful or appropriate. Start up tech companies make instant billionaires, but their technology also enables POTUS to spew out bile and nonsense in equal measure and it enables trolls to bully the young and even the not so young at an unprecedented level.
Perhaps it is simply that the real enemy of wisdom has always been wealth or at least, as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, Bishop Curry, put it on the 7.30 report – “the unbridled desire for it”. We have reached a point in Australian political life when any attempt to question let alone bridle
the unbecoming desire for wealth, which brooks no regulation, is mocked as a ‘culture of envy’. No, it is not. The Royal Commission looking into the behaviour of banks, superannuation and insurance agencies has revealed a culture that no one would envy, a culture that values profit above ethical behaviour. Even our new Prime Minister in his attempt to sound ‘cool’ this week, produced a cringe worthy stunt that had his side of the house wave their hands every time a dollar bill of any nomination was mentioned as a Fatman Scoop social media post was played in the background.
This last week has seen some spectacular moments that have defied any connection to Wisdom.
· Bolton, the US secretary of State has sought to destroy credibility to the international criminal court. The US clearly believing it has a specialness that puts it above international law.
· In similar vein the US has sought to discredit and defund UNRWA, leaving Palestinian children without educational resources and leaving the space for extremists to fill the space with radicalising ideology.
· Serena Williams spat the dummy at the US open making out she was the victim and in a superhuman manner was standing for female rights, when in fact she was the one who owed the umpire, Naomi Osaka and the adoring public an apology
· Everything that has occurred before and after the curtain call of the muppet show, especially the shameful use of abusive tactics, have lacked any credible wisdom.
While all this wisdom-less activity prevails and the unbridled desire for wealth rushes headlong:
Wisdom cries out in the street: in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out: at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
How long O simple ones will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? (Prov. 1:20-22).
The Prime Minister: personal faith and public values
On 29th August the comedian, Tom Ballard, chose to parody the faith of the new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, on the Tonightly ABC series by contrasting his perceived lack of love or concern for refugees with his espoused love of Jesus. The ABC has come in for criticism for putting this sketch to air.
However, given belief shapes values, choices and actions, it is appropriate to examine Mr Morrison’s belief structure, with the reasonable assumption that this will play a part in shaping his preferred social and economic choices. This can be done with some objectivity through the statements of belief issued by the Church he attends, and through his own statements about belief and values. If, for example, the Church is one of many outlets for the populist ‘prosperity gospel’ then yes there are implications for the shape he may want to give to Australian social and economic policy. More of that later.
Mr Morrison is our first Prime Minister to be an active member of a Pentecostal Church. Horizon Church is part of “Australian Christian Churches” (formerly known as Assemblies of God), a movement of more than 1000 Australian Pentecostal churches in voluntary cooperation. Its website states: “Each church is self-governing but commits itself to work together with other churches in the movement for the purpose of mutual support and the spread of the gospel in Australia and the world”. Each of these Churches will be shaped by the charism and giftedness of their pastor. Common to all will be an emphasis on the individual and family life; on renewal through the Holy Spirit of which speaking in tongues is deemed to be an affirming sign; and on God’s desire for each to enjoy health and prosperity. The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), which has had considerable influence on conservative politics in Australia is open to all Christians, but is specifically an arm of the Pentecostal Churches. Its emphasis on gender and sexuality are well known. While no assumption can be made as to the extent to which Mr Morrison personally adopts these generic values (he voted against marriage equality), we do know a little of the values that shape Mr Morrison’s life, because he spoke of them in his maiden speech to parliament in 2008:
So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:
... I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.
From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil. Desmond Tutu put it this way:
... we expect Christians ... to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.
Given these are clues to the values that Mr Morrison holds dear, we have the right to be somewhat surprised by the stand, or lack of it, that he has taken on several issues. The first and most obvious being refugees and asylum seekers.
The first statement of belief of the Australian Christian Churches is: We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our everyday lives. On the matter of ‘strangers and aliens’ the bible is unequivocally clear – we are to welcome and embrace them. Now of course Australia cannot receive the approximately 68million displaced people in the world, 25million of whom are recognised as refugees (approximately 50% of the refugees come from South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria). But it is a matter of national shame that we have mistreated so terribly those who have come to our shores. Those still incarcerated on Manus and Nauru are prisoners of a political ideology that has very little to do with the ongoing security of Australian borders. (If the asylum seekers were all released tomorrow, border force has demonstrably shown its capacity to stop people smuggler boats that may then try again to run the gauntlet, notwithstanding the little Vietnamese fishing boat that recently arrived). Given what we know about the unbearable suffering of these people, and given Mr Morrison claims to hold the values that he does (quoting Desmond Tutu), an almost unbridgeable gap is left between the words spoken and the action (or non-action) taken as one of the government’s most influential politicians.
Secondly, he says Christians are expected to stand up for truth. The world is facing climatic change on an unprecedented scale. For three decades we have known the link between human industrial activity, and climate change/global warming. Scientists during this period have not simply given us dire warnings about changes likely to occur in the future, but have given us encouraging information about what can be done to prevent the worst outcomes. That the Australian government has abjectly failed to produce a policy to address this truth is quite shocking. But to make it worse, those in the energy generating business have made it clear that the high cost of electricity is not related to new forms of generation, but the lack of policy necessary for confident investment. To blame renewable energy sources for the high cost of electricity is shamefully untrue. Until now Mr Morrison has shown no sign that he will support truth in this debate, truth that would simultaneously address cost and emissions.
Thirdly in using the quote from Desmond Tutu, Mr Morrison nails his colours to the mast of a preferential bias towards the poor and needy. This is of course is the bias of Jesus himself. Is this bias demonstrated in successive budgets over which Mr Morrison has had the responsibility of shaping? It is hard to see it. Pressure to make the new start allowance a more liveable safety net has been resisted. Generous provisions made to the already well off by the Howard/Costello government during the mining boom, like negative gearing, have been left intact. Penalty rates for the poorest paid, particularly in retail and hospitality have been lost. There is no evidence that the value upon which Mr Morrison claims Christians are to be judged is being implemented in his political decision making.
How then are we to make sense of this apparent credibility gap? Is it that deep down he is a devotee of the ‘prosperity gospel? It appears so. This gospel assumes that health and prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing and sickness or poverty a sign of divine disapproval – even punishment. The social and political implication of this gospel is that those who are poor only have themselves to blame: turn to God and your fortunes will turn around. This gospel does not give space for generosity to the poor, for this only encourages their laziness, or lack of personal responsibility. It is important to keep pressure on the poor and unemployed in order that they will sort out the problem which is essentially theirs. The prosperity gospel also seeks to remove any impediment to personal gain and prosperity. The goal of government is therefore not to regulate for the common good, but for the prosperity of the individual, even to the detriment of common good. The attitude of the conservatives in the present government on environmental issues is evidence enough of this stance.
All Australians should feel obligated to wish Mr Morrison well as our newest Prime Minister, on the other hand he should expect Australian Christians to vocalise their distress if the values he has espoused as a Christian, and which they support, are being ignored - which they appear to be.
Father of Lies 3
Alternative Facts and Fake News – the lubricant of conservative politics
We are spending an inordinate amount of money on ‘defence’ and ‘security’ to protect ourselves from an enemy without, but it is now clear that we face a far greater threat from the enemy within, revealed through ‘alternative facts and fake news’, the lubricant of conservative politics. In the disgraceful power struggle between so-called conservatives and liberals in federal politics we have seen a championing of the Trump brand and the heinous connection between evangelical Christianity and individual rights. A right-wing commentator has revealingly lamented that the trouble with Turnbull is that his natural home is within the ABC not Sky News! What more needs to be said about the extraordinarily destructive and binary world into which we have fallen.
‘Alternative facts’ first made its unwelcome intrusion into our vocabulary via a spokesperson for Trump, following his inauguration, to explain how he could claim it was the largest inauguration ever when photographic evidence clearly said otherwise. That the population at large can be led to accept ‘alternative facts’ as authentic, is a dangerous and undermining reality for democracy and the survival of civil society. There can of course be a variety of opinions, but facts are verifiable truths. But where does truth lie? Pilate asked: “what is truth”?
Funnily enough this issue was wrestled with in the Genesis creation narrative, the first chapters of the bible. The narrative begins with the naming of all humanity - Adam - from the Adamah - the earth. We are all relational beings, we live in relationship with the whole created order, not over it, or apart from it, but within it. The narrative then goes on to focus on the individual, (Adam of the garden), and the terrible mistake made when the individual decides he, or she, has rights above or inconsistent with the order of the whole. Our problems begin when, as individuals, we decide self-interested rights can prevail without cost to common order: wrong, harmony and equity upon which we all depend is then lost.
The narrative then flows into the story of Cain and Abel. Like the Adam narrative, the story of Cain and Abel is not an obscure and childish pre-history folk tale, but a narrative about each one of us. We are all Abel, while Cain also lurks within each of us. ‘Abel’ takes us a step beyond ‘Adam’ in defining human nature. The name infers we are to be life focused -relational; we are not simply flesh and blood but share the spirit of the creator. “The wind blows where it chooses, you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8).
‘Cain’s” etymology is connected to ‘Canaan’. Canaan in biblical narrative is about possession, control, manipulation, exactly what fake news or alternative facts are all about. This creation narrative concludes that when Cain takes over, Abel dies. Unfortunately there are many prevailing examples of the death of Abel in Australian national life, as well as in the tragic lives of many individuals. Alan Jones has recently visited western NSW with the message that foreign aid should stop and the money be redirected to drought affected farmers, as if these are alternatives. Peter Dutton continues to insist that holding refugees on Manus and Nauru despite the appalling damage being done to their physical and mental health, is a matter of pride in the security of our borders: as if somehow proven capacity to prevent unwanted maritime arrivals would then be lost. The Murdoch press gives print space to the view that climate science is a fiction and refuses to countenance any connection between the existential reality of extreme weather conditions all over the world and human induced global warming. Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells resigned this week from the ministry to put pressure on Turnbull on the basis that the coalition has swung too far to the left, without providing logical examples to justify her claim and despite the view of most Australians that the opposite is the truth.
This is the sad and frightening reality. Sheeplike we have followed the US pattern. How has it become possible that the controlling, manipulative and wrecking views, of Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, Alan Jones, Ray Hadley, Andrew Bolt, et al could become acceptable, even mainstream and be called ‘conservative’? Simple: they have nurtured a populist view that living in a self-interested bubble we can somehow be isolated from the problems that beset others. Conservatism has become the art of self-interest and disengagement, while at the same time claiming a Christian pedigree. Christianity is about relationships, engagement, about understanding and serving a good that is common. What now passes for conservatism is the very antithesis of Christianity and should be exposed as such.
Following the end of the Great War, Archbishop Randall Davidson of Canterbury called the 1920 Lambeth Conference. Europe had needlessly lost a whole generation. Loss of life was on an unimaginable scale. Brutality in the name of pride for king, empire or country was quite shocking. The Bishops, gathered at the conference, were understandably in a very sober mood. Their salutary refection on the war is as much, if not more relevant to-day than it was then: “national self-interest is more dangerous than individual self-interest”. The pigheaded pride and self-interest of European leaders had resulted in this utter devastation; needless devastation that because of the Treaty of Versailles would not be over until the end of WW2.
And yet, refusing to learn from history the ‘conservative’ element in politics is taking us down the same track. Erdogan in Turkey; Trump in America; Netanyahu in Israel; Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia; Dutton, Abbott and their entourage of media supporters in Australia are taking us down this most dangerous route on the lie that in a global world it is possible to follow national self-interest without doing great harm to the global best interest upon which the prosperity let alone survival of all humanity depends.
Fake news and alternative facts must be called out, as must those , like Trump, who use this tag to challenge reality that should be beyond challenge. Christians must also call out the conservative narrative for what it is. It is not a defence of Christianity, it is a misrepresentation of Christianity and a 21st century consequence of Enlightenment thinking that disavowed relevance to meta narrative and allowed for the possibility that right could be whatever an individual decides it to be.
Father of Lies 2
Timor L ’Este, Witness ‘K’ and Bernard Collaery
That Australia had cheated on East Timor, one of the poorest and newest countries in the world was revealed by Bob Carr and Mark Dreyfus in 2013, but it was not until Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege, that we learned that those who have made this grubby secret known are to be prosecuted, rather than those who sanctioned the grubbiness. Apparently, ethics and morality apply everywhere except to economics and the making of money.
Lying between East Timor and Australia are considerable fossil fuel reserves. Australia was keen to secure most of these reserves within its territorial boundaries. To do this it was deemed necessary to draw a boundary, not midway between the two countries, but much closer to the East Timorese coast.
We now know that when negotiations were underway, in the time of the Howard government, and when Alexander Downer was foreign minister, officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Services were passed off as aid workers to spy on members and officers of the Timorese government.
This information raises several issues:
· Under what criteria can East Timor be deemed a threat to Australian security? Why were ASIS officers deployed in these circumstances? Are ASIS officers regularly deployed in matters to do with trade and economics? Has ‘security’ been redefined, and if so is it the right of the Australian public to know this?
· Why was it thought ‘ok’ to unreasonably and unfairly take economic advantage of a very poor country? What Australian value is being employed to take from the world’s poorest to further advance the prosperity of world’s most wealthy? Was this the underlying reason why we used our Defence Forces to secure Timor’s independence in the first place?
· Why are Bernard Collaery and ‘Witness K’ now being prosecuted? We are told this has nothing to do with ‘politics’ but is the normal processing of justice through the courts. In other words, Collaery and ‘Witness K’ have committed a serious crime and therefore should be prosecuted. If this is the case, then there must be something wrong with the legal system. Why are whistle blowers guilty and not those who have manifestly done something unethical, in this case in the name of all Australians? Apply the pub test: it is those who ordered this unconscionable action against the Timorese, not Collaery and witness K, who should be before the courts. If ‘a fair go’ is the quintessential Australian value, this clandestine activity is its absolute antithesis.
· That Alexander Downer subsequently became a well remunerated advisor/consultant to Woodside petroleum has apparently not been denied. Directors of companies must declare any possible conflict of interest, why are so many politicians allowed to assume positions that are advantaged by their previous political lives?
· Why is it that both the Government and the Opposition are in lockstep in their reluctance for this matter to have a public hearing? One could reasonably have thought the Opposition would use this episode to score points off the government – apparently not.
So how do we make sense of it all? It is hard not to conclude that in the name of national economic or financial advantage, there are to be no moral restraints, no limits, no boundaries that cannot be crossed. Is there any difference in substance between this action and the actions of AMP and the banks, recently so shamefully exposed? I don’t think so. In the case of the banks, they had to be brought kicking and screaming to accept accountability; but in a global culture where money is king, will they behave differently in the future. While business is built upon financial incentives, - probably not.
In the case of these energy reserves, like the banks, our national government could not help itself. Dealing with a gullible, new and impoverished nation, nothing could be easier. Like the banks, it is clear that our government feels no shame. When dealing with economic advantage, morality does not come into it. Those involved, especially Mr Downer, appear proud of what they did. Nothing is going to change in what is obviously now considered a matter of ‘national security’. Human dignity has come to be defined in economic terms rather than economics being but one of the factors that serves human dignity and worth. We clearly have a cultural problem.
Will we have any guarantee that those who act in our name in government will not behave in this manner in the future? If the prosecution against the whistle blowers is any guide - no. It is likely we will act like this again – given the chance.
So, committed are we to the absolute supremacy of economic advantage we are happy to sign trade agreements which potentially allow corporations to sue the government if national policies are enacted which restrict their global operations, even if these operations are judged to be socially or environmentally, detrimental.
The underlying lie is that economic growth is for ever desirable or even possible in a finite world. This is of course a contradiction, it isn’t, and it can’t.
What happened between Australia and Timor is now being played out on a much larger stage with the combatants being the most powerful nations on earth, The US, China, Russia, Iran the European Union etc. When an unjust advantage is sought, the ripple effect stretches all the way to the edge of the pond. Proper trade is based upon an exchange which is mutually advantageous. The future of humankind on planet earth resides in mutuality, not competitive advantage. If we are survive, let alone prosper, our actions must serve good that is common.
It is said that Margaret Thatcher’s bedside table was adorned with the Bible and the thoughts of Friedrick Hayek. Hayek espoused the supremacy of the individual and spoke of social justice as a ‘mirage’. Since Thatcher, neo-liberalism has become the ubiquitous and politically unchallenged standard. It has endowed us with a legacy that is intellectually bare, but remains politically dominant. Whether individualism be national or personal, it must be immersed in the mutually of interdependence if the 21st century is not going to be a disaster for human beings and diverse nonhuman life upon which we all depend.