in service of the
Is institutional loss of trust terminal?
Analysis shows that institutional trust is stronger in developing countries than in the Western world. Given trust is the oil that enables human interaction and wellbeing, from family life through social fabric and commerce, to nation building: is western civilisation now in terminal decline? What can individuals do about it?
The season of epiphany came to an end last week with a focus on the transfiguration, one of the few events in the life of Jesus important enough to be recorded in each of the three synoptic gospels. The season of epiphany celebrates the nature of God as revealed in Jesus. In turn, as life in its fulness reflects the nature of God, epiphany is also a celebration of what human life can be like when we reflect our true nature. On the mount of transfiguration the three disciples are challenged to delve into this truth when they hear a voice saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased: listen to him!” True listening is at the heart of trust.
To assist their understanding, two iconic figures stand beside Jesus, Moses and Elijah, the law giver and the prophet. The disciples are to understand these roles are not just emblematic of the life and ministry of Jesus, but they are windows into the nature of God and therefore the nature of life itself.
The law giver: Law requires submission, but to what are we to submit? Jesus’ summary of law is love; therefore we are to submit to love, not mindless rigidity. The law of love acts as the boundary keeper for a bountiful life. Freedom is all too frequently misunderstood as autonomy, the capacity to do as one pleases. Nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom is experienced when all is well in a world of multitudinal and criss-crossing relationships and responsibilities. Law exists to guide individuals and communities along this complex path. Law becomes the antithesis of its intended purpose when it occupies a pedestal requiring obeisance rather than being the towel carrier, wiping the feet of all. Trust can multiply and grow when law is a towel not a weapon.
It is tragic that in the western world, law and religion have become associated with oppression and control rather than liberation and freedom. Conservative or fundamentalist, Christians, Muslims and Jews equally turn what should be a gift into a burden. There are elements of sharia law that safeguard, but equally there are many that oppress and excuse violence. There are elements of Christian canon law with foundations in grace, but equally there are others that unapologetically put the institution first and are prejudicial towards those whose identity and gender do not match expected norms. There are elements of the sabbatical tradition that celebrate life and wellbeing, but equally there are others that are exclusivist, even racist. In these circumstances law is seen as the weapon which protects the powerful and entrenched.
Trust becomes possible when law (life principles) are honoured, and undermined when used as a weapon to protect the powerful and privileged. Biblical law prioritises the good of community,
only honouring individual rights in this higher context. The western world has moved far from this biblical principle. In our world individual rights are permitted to take precedence over common good. When law protects the powerful and privileged there can be no trust.
That law apparently permits governmental action while keeping secret the basis for that action is an abuse of power and undermines trust.
That law confirms that journalists can be raided when doing their job, if the truth is inconvenient to those in power , undermine democracy.
The Prophet: It is tragic that Christians as well as many in the wider community understand prophecy as predicting the future. This may well be an acceptable definition, but it is not the biblical understanding. Scripture understands the prophet to be the truth teller, often the one who holds a mirror to the face of a nation, its people, and its leadership. Truth telling can be very painful, for it is human nature to silence or disparage the truth teller rather than honestly respond to the truth being told.
The New Testament highlights prophecy above other ministries, and yet the modern Church appears reluctant to engage in this most significant task, often excusing itself on the basis that it should remain above politics. The utterances of Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and above all Jesus were highly political. Any intervention on behalf of the vulnerable, the downcast, under-privileged, is by its nature political
We now live in a world where inconvenient truth is often dismissed as fake. This phenomenon is not restricted to the US and its president. It is alive and well in Australia: unfortunately Australian politics is now riven by this spectacle. Because it is alive and well in the political world, it becomes acceptable in other spheres of civil society.
It is quite shameful that whistle-blowers receive little protection, indeed all too frequently they are made to bare the cost of their truth telling, rather than becoming catalysts for change and correction in the matter they have highlighted.
January 2020 has been the hottest ever recorded on the planet: Finland has experienced unprecedented above zero temperatures in its north, Antarctica has had several days that have reached 20 Celsius, Penrith was for a short time the hottest place on the planet, etc. We need no more evidence to confirm the plight we face, and have known we face for decades. Some of the feared predictions of science have now proven to be conservative. Yet a small minority of the Australian government has the power to prevent genuine action on climate policy. It is criminally outrageous.
Foundations for trust are slowly and methodically built. These foundations will withstand occasional mistakes and disruptions. But when greed, self-interest and love of power rather than service become culturally entrenched, then trust becomes a fatality and the essential pillars of a civil and progressive society are very hard to restore.
We are now at that point in Australia. Politics and politicians will not pull us out of this morass. But a strong and robust community can and will. Ironically the bushfires have shown the calibre of regional community life. Trust that is alive and well in local communities can reinfect similar values in national life. It is up to individual Australians to be what leadership in many institutions have failed to be, and show that self interest as ubiquitously demonstrated at the top, will not be tolerated.
Australia turns its back on the rule of law.
Australia’s efforts to block an International Criminal Court investigation into alleged war crimes in
Palestine are inexplicable, given the court’s brief to investigate abuses from all sources, be they
Hamas, Palestinian paramilitary, or Israel.
This intervention takes Australia’s growing, one-sided, support of Israel to a new high. By denying
Palestinians the right to justice, and protecting Israel from justice, Australia undermines the rule of
law as the standard by which international behaviour is to be judged, and if necessary, sanctioned.
Through this intervention we risk further undermining what moral authority we have and provide
comfort nearer at home for the ‘might is right’ approach to international relations.
Australia is a signatory to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC and ratified that statute in 2002.
Since that time Australia has supported many of the investigations and prosecutions undertaken by
the ICC. Australia has used or called on others to use other International legal systems to reach
agreements on contentious issues such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS) under which agreement on a sea boundary between Timor Leste and Australia was
reached. Australia has made calls on China to follow a similar process in solving the territorial
disputes in the South China Sea.
In December last year the ICC announced that a five-year preliminary examination had found
sufficient evidence of war crimes committed in Palestine to proceed with a full investigation.
The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda said, “In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have
been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip”.
The alleged war crimes that were the focus of the preliminary investigation include the Israel
Defense Forces (IDF) intentionally launching disproportionate attacks in Gaza and the transfer of
Israeli civilians into the West Bank. It also indicated it may expand the scope of the investigation to
investigate IDF lethal and non-lethal means against demonstrators since March 2018 – in actions
to oppose the Palestinians Great March of Return.
The alleged war crimes that Palestinian armed groups are being investigated for include
intentionally directing attacks against civilians, using protected persons as shields; wilfully
depriving protected persons of the rights of fair and regular trial and torture and outrages upon
Not surprisingly Israel (along with the US) is not an ICC member and has disputed whether the
court had jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, on the basis that Palestine is not a state. The
ICC prosecutor indicated that she believes that the ICC has jurisdiction, but given the complexty,
has requested that the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber confirm this opinion.
Australia filed an amicus brief on Friday 14th of February, indicating Australia does not recognise
Palestine and requesting permission to make full argument. Statements by the Prime Minister
indicates that this Government asserts that the ICC lacks jurisdiction to conduct an investigation
because Palestine is not a state. Following Palestine’s admission to the UN as a non-member
State, Palestine was admitted as as a state member of the ICC in 2015. Although Palestinian
groups are also being investigated, the Palestinian Authority is clear it wants the investigation to
proceed and for justice to be done. Australia is in a minority of countries that does not recognise
the state of Palestine. Only a handful of other countries (Austria, Germany, Brazil, Hungary and the
Czech Republic) have intervened to file similar briefs contesting the court’s jurisdiction.
As a signatory to the ICC and as a past supporter of its investigations, why has Australia
suddenly decided to intervene to oppose the ICC’s jurisdiction over alleged abuses and war
crimes in Palestine?
Questions need to be asked of the Australian government.
• Why cannot Palestinians look for legal recourse to the abuses, theft and violence they have
• Why should Israel not be held to account for any war crimes it may have committed? Why is Israel
exempt from standards that apply to other countries?
• Why, given that both Israel and Palestinian groups are being investigated, is Australia opposed to
the investigation proceeding?
Palestinians recourse to the ICC for abuses and possible war crimes to be properly investigated
should not be opposed. Australia should let the ICC do its job – investigate, and if necessary,
prosecute perpetrators of grave crimes, no matter their source.
No Australian interest is served by taking such a partisan position on the issue of Palestinian
human rights. This intervention by the Australia government is promoting a culture of Israeli
impunity. Further, through this action the Australian government encourages and promotes the
most extreme elements of the Knesset and Israeli civil society whose racism, prejudice and
exclusivity make any proposition for peace based on fairness and equality the most forlorn hope.
As a responsible middle power and known close friend of Israel, Australia should be using its
influence to encourage voices on both sides of this long struggle who wish to reach out in respect
and reconciliation across the divide and build bridged of mutuality and concord.
The Australian government and the Australian people face major international grievances much
closer to our shores. We need to be known as a country that unwaveringly stands for international
law and justice, otherwise we put our own more immediate interests at great risk. Where trust
exists, even the improbable is possible. Without trust nothing is possible. International law and its
observance lays a foundation for trust.
Finally, Netanyahu and his fellow ministers in the Knesset, constantly insist the Israeli army is the
most moral in the world. They should then submit to the investigation and prove it.
Trump’s definition of Peace: The strong prevail – the rest submit
The so called ‘peace plan’ now made public from the White House is no peace plan at all. There has been no attempt to camouflage its support for Israel’s most ambitious, expansionist, plans. It lauds Israel and blames Palestine for aggression, indeed making it clear than any part of the plan that accedes anything to Palestine will be contingent upon Israel judging that Palestine is compliant and servile. In other words there is no guarantee that even the crumbs on offer to Palestine would ever be delivered. It is improbable that a Palestinian State would ever be granted, even under these Swiss cheese conditions. It is a plan for Israel to take as much of the West Bank that it can with as few Palestinian residents as possible. It is, as many commentators have said, a plan for permanently entrenched apartheid.
The Australian government has ‘welcomed’ the plan. What was in its head in doing so? It is inconceivable that Australia, which fought so hard for the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, would now endorse apartheid in Palestine/Israel.
Let me try for a moment to put the best (if it is possible) interpretation on this unfortunate message. Clearly the prevailing situation, which enables Israel to incrementally take over the West Bank in a thousand cuts, is unacceptable, cruel, humiliating, a source of continuing violence and the cause of on-going security problems. This status quo, enabling Israeli aggression and colonisation has prevailed for far too long. Every year less and less Palestinian land remains while more and more Palestinians are imprisoned for objecting to this outrage. Hope is progressively snuffed out.
So, what is the alternative? There must be a circuit breaker. Perhaps the best light that can be put on the government’s response is not that it is welcoming the details of the plan, for any government interested in peace and justice could not welcome them, but what is being welcomed is an intervention which calls for a different way forward.
The problem is that the way forward being offered is totally unacceptable, it is known to be unacceptable, Netanyahu and Gantz are almost certainly relying on it being rejected by Palestinian authorities, in order that they can continue their slow strangulation of the Palestinian people and in the process claim they offered a way forward which was rejected.
So what can be put on the table.
Palestinians and Israelis have one unpleasant reality in common, they are both badly let down by their political leaders: the racist, extreme right-wing government in Israel and the fractured and in-effective Palestinian Authority in Palestine. These politicians serve their own political interests and power rather than the peaceful future of their people.
It is my contention that if an independent, non-political, anonymous, poll was taken about the future of this much torn corner of the planet, a considerable majority of Palestinians and a not insignificant minority of Israelis would vote for one state with equal rights for all. Any sane person should agree that this is the most desirable outcome for all, given facts that now prevail on the ground. The problem with such a plan is that it faces hurdles that are as high externally as they are internally. The external hurdle is the rise and rise of dangerous nationalism that threatens the peace of the world. This nationalism crosses all political, religious, and ethnic boundaries. Its frightening face is Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Janos Ader, Jair Bolsonaro, Xi Jinping, Mohammad Bin Salman, Ayatollah Khomeini, Vladimir Putin etc. all of whom interfere in one way or another, on either side of the Israel/Palestine impasse. Palestine is the pawn of other’s agendas as well as Israel’s ambition. Even more insidiously, the Christian evangelical right of the US to which audience Trump constantly plays, is opposed to such a plan, willing the dominance of a Jewish theocracy that simply does not exist.
What needs to be agreed by the free world is that when human rights prevail, when justice is given prominent place, when diversity is seen as strength not weakness, then peace will prevail, and prosperity will replace conflict.
As a first step the Palestinian community, on their own, or with the help of Jordan, (Jordan has as much right as the US to put forward a ‘peace plan’) should put forward a version of such a bold plan, or another plan which the international community can support, as a counter to the Trump takes over proposal.
This could include:
If such a plan were to be presented by the Palestinians then it should be welcomed by the Australian government in the same way, in the same spirit, and for the same reason that the present plan has been welcomed – but more honestly and vigorously.
What cannot be allowed to happen is for the current status quo to roll on year after year, decade after decade, for this will simply corral Palestinians in Bantustans and cement Israel’s place as a pariah state. This fate is as serous for Israel as it is for Palestine.
In the meantime the most able young Palestinians and Israelis should be given the fullest possible exposure to each other and to their peers in the global community. Restrictions should be lifted for travel, and opportunity given, especially to the most able young on the Gaza strip, for overseas education and opportunity.
People who have been exposed to and communed with those who had previously been thought of as foes, can never turn back. What had been assumed to be true is proved to be false through dialogue and friendship.
The current and prospective leadership of Israel, who have stated there will never be a Palestinian state on their watch, will never agree to such a proposal, but that is not a reason for withholding it.
The Trump proposal is shameless. Israel must choose. It must either choose a magnanimous future with Palestinians as equal partners in a prosperous and harmonious future, or it will have chosen a path that necessitates its children and their children maintaining an apartheid regime by military might in perpetuity. Not to choose is always to choose.
Australia Day – For some
The Prime Minister has made it clear that any conversation about a changed date for Australian Day is a distraction not to be tolerated. Why? Given the ‘statement from the heart’ and a more broadly accepted understanding that white possession following 26 January 1788 led to dispossession of the indigenous people, why would fair minded Australians not agree that another date is more likely to lead all Australians into a more nuanced understanding of our past as well as a more unified and respectful future?
It seems as if I am always picking on the Prime Minister. I sincerely wish it were otherwise. Not that it would be worrying him, for I am sure he has not read anything I have written, and like the unfortunate Matt Kean, has never heard of me.
I would love to understand where he is coming from, but this insight completely evades me. We share the most basic of narratives, the Christian faith, but where this has led him and where it has led me are two totally divergent paths. It is not that I think he sits more lightly to his faith than I, or that I sit more lightly than he, but while my faith has led me on a path of acknowledging good in what is shared or common, his faith appears to have led him on a path of understanding good in term of what is cocooned personally or privately. My understanding is that life is the sum of all other lives that have intersected with me – lives for which, as a consequence, I have become accountable and responsible. This is where Australia Day comes into my purview.
I came to Australia from Britain as a young 18-year-old to work on the land. I rode to work each morning past the Aboriginal settlement in East Armidale NSW, a reserve, home to the city’s indigenous community, the Gumbaynggirr. It did not occur to me that the people deserved more than pity for their circumstance: that their dignity, self-sufficiency, rich culture, and extraordinary knowledge had been painfully and systematically stripped from them over one hundred years and more. Added to this, I was later to discover the ancestor of my boss, Henry Dangar, had owned Myall Creek at the time of the infamous massacre and had shown zero empathy for the Kamilaroi people slaughtered by his stockmen. Further, he did his best to ensure justice was denied on the assumed basis that a white life was worth more than a dark one. I have been on a very steep learning curve during my 60 years as an Australian, which has meant a completely different attitude of mind. My argument is that while Australia has also been on this steep learning curve, our institutions, symbols, and iconic celebrations, have yet to catch up.
The annual pilgrimage to Myall Creek is now a rite of passage for Australians who wish to understand and absorb the complex narrative of white occupation. It is not a matter of having a ‘black arm band’ view of Australian history, as John Howard once described any attempt to better understand our troubled past. It is a matter of wanting to understand elements that shape our present, that we might be better equipped to forge a more inclusive, just and prosperous future for all. Why is it acceptable to live with consequences that have caused between a third and quarter of all incarcerated people in Australia to be indigenous? Almost every indigenous family has or has had a family member in gaol.
On16 August 1975 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured a handful of Daguragu soil back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. He was reflecting the reality that Australia’s indigenous people have, and always will have, a place in Australian life that later comers can never assume.
I am firmly of the view that January 26 is not, and can never be, the best date to celebrate Australia Day. I will no longer participate in events slated for that day.
I have just read James Cook by Peter Fitzsimons. Despite being very well researched I am conscious that Fitzsimons loves to use imaginative flourishes in his telling of the story. Nevertheless, his depiction of the Maori deploying strong and at times violent resistance which ultimately led to the NZ treaty of Waitangi, is in stark contrast with Australia’s indigenous, largely drawing back from engagement thus allowing early legislators to erroneously base ownership laws on the lie of Terra Nullius. That this presumption was not overthrown by the High Court of Australia until the Eddy Mabo Case in 1992 indicates how slowly a proper understanding of indigenous rights and the honouring of indigenous culture and history has taken and continues to take.
It is no longer tenable for iconic occasions such as Australia Day to celebrate what amounts to the dispossession of the indigenous people. I know we dress the day with welcome to country and other overlays of indigenous culture, but the fact remains this is not the right day and never can be. Many other days would be more appropriate, such as the celebration of federation. But a simple solution could be no particular day, but one empty in the calendar such as the fourth Friday of a given month that can then be dressed with all the meaning that a modern, reconciled, multi-cultural Australia would like to clothe it.
I am not the only one who puzzles over the fact that the Prime Minister chooses not to be leader and prefers to stay in his old trade as a marketer. If you or I were Prime Minister, why would we not want to lead? There are several opportunities. Climate change is one, there is a wonderful opportunity to lead Australia into a technologically modern, green energy exporting, new job providing, vibrant, forward looking society. But no, he wants to keep us in a fossil dependent, asset stranded future, lagging behind the more creative new economies of the world.
The same applies with indigenous affairs. He has the chance to step beyond Gough Whitlam in leading us all into a future through which Aboriginal knowledge and culture enriches non-indigenous Australians: and autonomous, indigenous Australians benefit from all the resources of wider Australian life.
So Scomo, why don’t you lead? Is it because you lack the skill? In which case you should not have become PM. Or is it because your party does not want you to lead, requiring you simply to market a narrow and increasingly irrelevant ideology? If the latter, you are a captive not a leader. Civil society will increasingly need to fill the void until such time as a political leader from either side of politics attracts the imagination of the Australian electorate.
Conservatism, Beauty and Sir Roger Scruton,
The philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton, the darling of contemporary conservative politics died on 12 January 2020 aged 75. Tony Abbott is reported to have said that if John Locke is the father of western political conservatism, Roger Scruton is its contemporary intellectual son. However, from their words and actions, it appears Tony Abbott and presumably his fellow right-wing fanatics never read, or perhaps understood, much that Scruton wrote or thought.
As Elizabeth Farrelly eloquently wrote in A beautiful life: this Tory was my godsend (SMH 18 Jan 2020), Scruton’s lifelong vocation and passion was his advocacy for, and love of, beauty. He judged beauty to be more than subjective aesthetic opinion, but an objective reality which redeems heals and feeds the soul. To Scruton a life without beauty is no life at all. The reason why Notre Dame is to be rebuilt, ISIS’ destruction of archaeological treasures in Iraq and Syria are so shocking and Trump’s threat to knock out some of Iran’s cultural treasures is so crass, is because such action destroys the very soul of individual and corporate humanity. In like manner the loss of Australian bush following the catastrophic bushfires is going to prove far more costly to Australian life than the loss of homes, shops and infrastructure, which can and will be rebuilt. Scruton’s view, for example, thoroughly justifies the courageous and successful attempts by RFS specialists to save the ancient Wollombi Pine grove in the Blue Mountains. Farelly’s example, as banal as it may sound, of table settings and the use and cleaning of grandma’s beautiful silver being as important as the food being served, makes the same point.
In contrast, when one looks at the lives and words of conservative luminaries such as Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Craig Kelly, George Christensen et al, one might be forgiven for asking “wherein does beauty lie”?
Scruton began his life as many (most) young intellectuals do, as a committed leftie. What changed his mind was the Paris revolution of 1968 which he judged to be ill-tempered and undisciplined anger, disconnected from rational thought, bent on tearing down what had been because of its failures, without knowing what to put in its place. Consistent with his passion for beauty, he wanted to conserve the best of the past that it might be sustained into the future.
This is the hub of the matter and where Abbott and his coterie of admirers have so misunderstood Scruton. He was a true conservative, and they are not. This can be clearly illustrated by Scruton’s environmentalism and his abhorrence of economics being given the seat of honour in political discourse.
Those who have read his Green Philosophy: How to think Seriously about the Planet (Atlantic Books 2012) will know that his commitment to beauty shines through, as does his understanding of oikophilia (p253ff). Roughly translated, oikophilia means love of house or home. Oikophilia, he argues, is the appropriate response to the challenges presented by climate science, which he accepts as a given. There is none of the energy sapping, nonsensical, intellectually moribund, ideologically driven, mining industry funded, stalling and undermining of policy which so tragically identifies the right of current Australian politics. Where I personally differ with Scruton is his putting of all his eggs in the basket of national patriotism. He argues that all human beings share an innate love of home, of place and that this natural love and desire to protect can best be activated by citizens working to protect that which is precious to them at home. He decries International treatises as worse than useless because, he argues, only those who have inherited centuries of law making (the Europeans) will honour them.
I strongly disagree. It is now clear that the Australian continent is more open to the excesses of climatic change due to global warming than almost anywhere else on the planet. To love Australia its beauty, its flora and fauna is not enough. If Morrison has anything right, it is his insistence that Australia, on its own, will not make much difference to the warming impacts that await us. Therefore we must use every lever available to us, to influence the rest of the world into accepting higher and higher emission standards. In recent years of Australian coalition government, we have done the reverse, used our best resources to weaken those aspirations. The love that very citizen of the world has for their native home is crucial, but it must be expanded into an equally passionate love of the whole planet, for like any organic entity we are as strong as our weakest point.
This brings me to Scruton’s understanding of freedom. The Australian right is besotted with the idea of individual freedom and rights. “Any form of authority needs to get out of the way to let the individual ‘get on with their life’”: as less than eloquently put by Barnaby Joyce in his bizarre Christmas Eve video message from his cow paddock. Scruton’s view was that freedom cannot be understood aside from authority. According to Scruton, conservatism is not about freedom, but about authority, and freedom divorced from authority is of no use to anyone — not even to the one who possesses it. To Scruton there were various levels of authority of which government is one, and not necessarily the most important. Authority is wielded in the context of family. No individual can properly enjoy the wonderful freedoms and fulfilments that family loyalty provides without understanding the authority that family necessarily demands of all its members.
The same applies to the natural environment. As long understood by the world’s indigenous people, the natural order has an authority which is ignored at our peril. This is what it means to be conservator, recognising the authority that history, legacy, family, beauty, the natural environment necessarily holds over all human life. The right wing behaves as if none of these authorities exist and that exploitation can and must happen, because economy (meaning wealth generation) must always reign supreme.
This brings me to the third point. Scruton was aghast at the right’s exultation of economics and the free market as the pinnacle of all human endeavour. He understood that all societies are bound by the laws of supply and demand. But he argued that what makes a society worth conserving are those elements of life that are outside pure economic understanding or valuing. This fact was again clearly illustrated by the recent bushfires. What evacuees took with them were not items of economic value, but items of personal memory and family identity. Scruton’s point is that an appropriate political mode of understanding and conserving the essential ingredients of societal life has been subverted by the language of economic theory - neo-liberalism. He argues this has led to a narrow, utilitarian understanding of politics, inimical to the more expansive organic conception of politics and society which is necessary if a society is to constructively evolve within a vastly dynamic and changing environment.
Sir Roger Scruton was an old-fashioned conservative, worthy of that name. Those who currently march to the conservative drum appear not to have read him or understood him. It is therefore fair to ask, who or what have they read? Where is their intellectual base? One can only hope that there is a more solid base than that of conspiracy theorists who label serious conservation, a left-wing plot.
How good are the fires
The country clearly owes a debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government for their sterling leadership, their visionary approach in vastly changed and challenging circumstance and for their assurance that under their leadership all manner of things will be well. There is no need for concern. How good are the fires!
Let me try to summarise the reasons why the nation should be grateful:
Thanks to the Prime Minster for coming back from his Hawaiian holiday. It is so reassuring to hear words of comfort like “Australians are resilient people, we have had bushfires before and will have them again, nothing to see here, this is all part of a normal cycle”.
Thanks too for linking the efforts of firies and a host of volunteers to the magnificent effort of the cricketers. The connection must be obvious for all to see.
Thanks for making sure that everyone is comforted whether they want comfort or not. Shaking hands or giving a hug to those who clearly do not wish to be touched might be considered assault from anyone else.
Thanks for the continuing assurance that while the government has always made the link with emission and climate change this is far too complex a crisis for any legitimate link to be made to the fires. Well, that is very reassuring. Of course fires are caused by lightning strikes and arsonists. Where I live on the coast it has refused to rain for months. Australia has been burning since the beginning of spring and where I live, we have been sucking in smoke every day for the last five weeks or more. Thanks so much for reassuring us that this is normal. I will probably fall off the perch before the long-term health implications affect me, so no need to worry here, let the younger generation look after themselves I say.
Thanks to minister Angus Taylor for complimenting Australia and Australians on how we are exceeding all expectations on emission reduction. It is so reassuring that he is minister for something that is clearly so important to him. The fact that we have recently done our best to sabotage a broader and more effective global alliance is clearly a misunderstanding and we should have every confidence that the minister who has a Rhodes scholarship reputation for fiddling facts on almost everything, is thoroughly trustworthy here.
Thanks for confirming what we feared, scientists, the reserve bank of Australia, fire chiefs, global consensus, the insurance industry, defence force chiefs, the business council of Australia, are all wrong. Climate change and global warming do not need to concern us, the little we might do will make no difference, so keep to present policy I say (in fact no policy at all), don’t worry about wiping out the tourist industry, or large sections of agriculture, or even Australia’s reputation internationally, all good here. (My overseas friends are saying international press are ridiculing our Prime Minister – how dare they).
Mr Morrison let me bring you up to speed with life where I live. On New Year’s Eve fires swept through our community with even more devastating consequence than three weeks ago. At midday with no power and no telecommunication we needed a torch to get around the house. Many of our friends have lost their homes, whilst business after business has lost their livelihood. The devastation is beyond words and almost beyond belief. And now the community faces the same reality all over again tomorrow. We are of course but a small microcosm of the whole nation.
The team of volunteers at our local evacuation centre that my wife coordinates comprise those who have themselves lost their homes. They struggle to cope. With the roads impassable, others willing to help cannot get in. With deepest respect, some members of the government department overciting the centre are beyond their capacity level in these circumstances. Too often the fall-back position is to rely on rules which should guide principle but not override need. We serve people not rules. Rules are of no value if they get in the way of service. More often than not needs fall outside ‘rules’. Meeting need is more important than rules.
One who has stood up as a leader is our local State member, Andrew Constance, he has had no smart words to offer, he has simply cried with his neighbours and is deeply respected.
Do I have hope, Yes, I have hope that young liberals, (who genuinely believe in and want to address the very serious situation we face), will oust the present crop of politicians and offer leadership which will restore respect and trust and take us down the path of new industry, technology and capacity. The time for fossils (human and mineral) is over. Those who occupy positions beyond their skill level should stand aside.
God so Loved the world
Looking back on the year 2019, one could easily be forgiven for being somewhat disappointed in global humanity’s lack of commitment to a harmonious future. Sure we have drawn more people out of poverty into an ever expanding global middle class, but as if to prove that economics or material wealth do not guarantee wellbeing, we seem again to have slid backwards on almost every conceivable measure of ‘peace on earth amongst people of goodwill’. In Australia it has been necessary to call a royal commission into almost every arena of the human enterprise, because of abject moral failure.
But amid a world which remains depressingly the same, just a little more sophisticated – the light of Bethlehem continues to shine – if only we have eyes to see, or ears that are keen to hear.
We are here tonight not simply to celebrate the most famous human birth in history, a birth upon which history pivots, but to immerse ourselves in the light first recognized by shepherds and Magi, and the truths it conveys. Summing it up, Paul was to famously write ‘there is much in life that is and will remain a mystery, but in light of Jesus three ‘pillars’ or virtues remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of the three is love.
For a short while tonight I want to focus on hope, that virtue without which the human enterprise collapses – for without hope there is only fear. Is there a reason for hope despite all the evidence to the contrary, well, yes? The fact that the birth of Jesus demonstrates that God is, was and always will be on the side of humanity, is itself enough reason for hope. This birth informs us that despite all the evidence to the contrary, every human life has equal value, that power ultimately lies in the hands of the just, that truth ultimately prevails, and as demonstrated by Greta Thunberg, a little child shall lead them.
This is where our hope lies and this is the gift not only that Christ’s birth brings, but that the Christian community is obligated to carry into the world.
So, what has gone so terribly wrong? Conflict or disharmony usually arises out of fear: most commonly that resources are too meagre to go around. Either those with more than their fair share initiate conflict to protect the advantage they enjoy, or those with little, engage in conflict to secure their basic needs; usually without success. Ironically as more people globally join the middle class, the greater becomes the prospect of conflict over resources which are, and always have been, finite.
In 1949, the year before he died at age 46, George Orwell wrote his prescient novel, ‘1984’. Orwell enjoyed a privileged childhood, being educated, like Boris Johnson, at Eton College. Unlike Boris he was a social democrat, fearful of power that can so easily slip into oligarchy - power exercised by a few through a deceitful populism. In his novel he imagined a time when every moment, almost every thought, of civil society would be monitored by the state – ostensibly for the peoples’ security. The state, Orwell imagined, would build and retain a constant state of fear by constructing and waging continual warfare in which there would be no distinction between international conflict and domestic considerations, for the former would be waged with the latter in mind. While I am the first generation not to have been called up for war, nevertheless we live in a constant state of warfare. Australia has been involved in almost every conceivable conflict going around for most of my life-time; and in addition, we frame domestic policy as war – war on terror, war on drugs, in doing so we justify what would otherwise be inconceivable, the incarceration of those seeking asylum and the criminalization of whistleblowers.
Western democracies, not just dictatorships, are framed by fear. Political victors this century have not been those who have convinced the public of the need for transformative change, but the party that has most ably convinced the electorate they should be fearful of the other side. We can budget for a billion dollar extension to the war memorial or multibillion dollar expenditure on submarines that may or may not be delivered in the 2030’s, but we are not able to find money to better manage our national parks or care for the elderly in our society, or transition to sustainable future.
Into this morass of fear induced ineptitude a remarkable and enduring shaft of light drills through the darkness. The light is clothed in love and inspires hope. Hope is the opposite of fear and dispels it, as light dispels darkness. A naked, vulnerable child is born in a stable. But this is no ordinary child, in him truth becomes incarnate, an invitation is extended, life is on offer. If material existence is all there is, as the commercialism of Christmas seems to suggest, life in its naked meaninglessness is laid bare. But the birth of Jesus says no, life is about relationships, connections, beauty, love and self-giving. To miss this is to miss everything
Here for a moment the invisible becomes visible, there is and always has been a plan, an intention, a purpose. Life is not simply a matter of fickle chance in the midst of which survival depends upon getting to the trough before others. No, life is about intimacy, vulnerability, generosity, hospitality and service. Those of you, like Margaret and I, who had for a while to evacuate our home because of the fires, had to choose what we took with us. Almost everyone would have chosen the same things, things of little or no monetary worth, photographs, journals and diaries, mementos of family and symbols or reminders of significant moments in life’s journey. The rest could be left to the flames, as ultimately it will be.
Because Christian hope is firmly fixed on the destiny to which we travel, it shapes the way we journey. Glimpses of this have been clearly on display as amid tragedy or disaster human beings have risen above their circumstance in selflessness and service. Glimpses will also be on display today as we gather with family and friends at a meal. While the exchange of gifts has its place, far more important are customs and rituals that deepen bonds of kinship and belonging.
“We brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” is solemnly intoned at funeral services. It is true - in part. It is true of wealth and material possessions, despite all the emphasis advertising and political promising place upon them. But we do not come into the world empty handed, we bring the DNA of our common ancestry, the striving, living and dying of all who have gone before us. We will leave behind our own footprint for those who come after. Who we are, what we do, what we become, matters. And that is not all, accepting the invitation inherent in the birth of Jesus, the child in Bethlehem, we journey into eternity embraced in the love of all those who have lived before us and who will live after us.
And now 2020 awaits. Its shape is not predestined, that is the remarkable thing about divine grace, we are left with the opportunity of our own shaping, for good or ill. May this light, which darkness cannot put out, keep us on a path that enables life to be celebrated in all its fullness.
Madrid, Christmas and Angus Taylor
Angus Taylor, now somewhat infamously, claims to have been a polemicist for the celebration of Christmas in his Oxford days, against the forces of political correctness that apparently permeated those hallowed halls. He was apparently a little hazy on the timing of Naomi Wolf’s residency, but is he any clearer about the message of Christmas?
The shaft of light that is Christmas makes visible in time and space, truth that we might previously be forgiven for not knowing. The truth is that giving, or sharing, or going beyond, maximises abundance whilst exploiting, conniving and taking, expands scarcity.
In Madrid, Australia has ignominiously joined a small group of self-serving nations to have voted for scarcity. We have successfully prevented an agreement that would have expanded the possibility of global trade based on lower carbon emissions, out of a desire to protect an accounting trick and not seriously commit to the minimalist target we have set under the Paris agreement.
What is doubly galling is that the Kyoto ‘credits’ (upon which we are relying) were achieved because of a Labour policy that the present government despised. Under conservative governments since then, emissions have been slowly increasing, as have global emissions
That we are not performing even more poorly is entirely due to private enterprise that sees market advantage in renewable investment and in States and Territories setting higher benchmarks, to the chagrin of the federal government
No longer can the federal government claim that we are of little account because our emissions are ‘only’ 1.3% of global emissions, our performance at this and other international forums has meant that global emissions remain infinitely higher than they would otherwise have been – and all in the face of Australia being on fire.
The more religious interests seek to protect the prejudicial and ridiculous, the quicker Australian religious identity will slip into a quaint niche minority.
Australia is a reasonably harmonious multi-cultural, multifaith society. We have not always been this way. We began as a white supremacist society heaping terrible prejudice and suffering on an ancient culture and its people, with consequences that remain unresolved. This was done out of arrogance, wilful ignorance and all too often abetted by religious small mindedness .
It is true that our inclusiveness has nurtured a culture of political correctness that lessens our capacity to celebrate difference. Signs that encourage the public to choose the bathroom that best suits their understanding of gender, and discouragement of language and symbol that define seasons such as Christmas are examples. But misplaced pc aside, what discrimination do people of faith need to be protected from?
It is useful to start with a distinction between faith and religion. They are not the same. Religion is a framework in which faith is nurtured. Religion is not the real thing – faith is. I am a Christian and a cradle Anglican. I am profoundly grateful for my Anglican home which has nourished me for nearly eight decades. I am the first to recognise that this home has strong cultural affinities, grounding me in literary, liturgical and historical roots that provide a deep sense of identity. If you like, Anglicanism is my ancestral home. But it also links me into a Christian community which is inclusive of other cultural identities, be they Ethiopian Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Arminian Catholic, or Scottish Presbyterianism.
Like all other human institutions, all religions are fallible. Terrible errors and mistakes have been and continue to be made. Charlatans abound. All human beings are flawed, the flaws of some are more obvious, or made more public than is the case with others.
Almost all religions rely upon sacred writings to ground their authority. For Christians this authority is the Bible, for Jews it is the Talmud and for Muslims, the Koran. These texts, not to mention Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian writings, hold some common themes as well as irreconcilable differences. To impose values from one or more of these texts on those outside that adherence, should be unthinkable – unless it can be shown that those values have become foundational to common human identity. An example might be the ten commandments, the last six of which have long been accepted as a necessary moral framework. Another would be “do unto other as you have them do to you” (Mtt 7:12), a variation of which is seen to be particularly Australian. Jewish sabbatical requirements, Islamic requirements of dress and eating, or a Christian understanding that a tenth of all income should be charitably given away cannot be imposed.
Great religious leaders have the capacity to speak to common humanity. Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu have this capacity as does the Dalai Lama. Popes in the immediate past have lacked this capacity. When these men, or those of far less wisdom, speak to an issue specifically out of their distinctive tradition, then authority beyond the boundary of that tradition disappears. Difference arises because text offers difference in interpretation. It is not just that Protestants might read scripture differently to Catholics, it is that members of the same religious group can and do read text differently to each other. It does not help when some protest that text is infallible and therefore there is no room for interpretation. Spoken word, let alone written word, is open to interpretation. Some biblical texts stand in direct literal contradiction to others. The best way of checking meaning within the Bible is to read a specific text in the context of all other texts.
Religious freedom cannot mean a person has the right to quote religious text as if it is authoritative for the general public, especially when it is disputed by the speaker’s own adherents. This is plain nonsense. In relation to the Folau case, Mr Folau, was not even properly quoting text, he was reciting his version of a text. Religious freedom should not allow an adherent of any religion to speak or act in a prejudicial manner towards another Australian who enjoys protection under Australian law and custom Any text that implies or justifies discrimination against the LGBTQI is in this category.
Those promoting religious freedom protection look as if they are wishing to preserve perceived rights of discrimination in publicly funded institutions. (Within their own walls there is no restriction on saying or doing whatever they wish). These demands are in direct conflict with the obligation of the state to ensure that public monies are expended in a context where the rights of citizens according to Australian law and custom are upheld. An institution which refuses to enrol or admit a member of the LGBTQI community should cease all public funding. Similarly, an institution which provides health care and refuses treatment that would otherwise be available under law, should not be registered as a publicly funded institution. I would go further and say that an institution that teaches nonsense, like a short history of the world, or that children should not be vaccinated, or that there is an alternative to climate science, should be deregistered on the basis that these teachings are dangerously detrimental for all humanity.
Religious freedom must not entrench freedom to discriminate.
On the other hand, faith, that personal kernel and inspiration of life is not capable of being discriminated against. There are more than ample examples of those who have been imprisoned for their faith, suffered persecution for their faith, who have found strength even an enlargement of their spirit through such persecution. Nothing in Australian law or custom discriminates against my faith. I can worship where I choose. I can assemble as I please. As long as it is not defamatory, I can argue and write as my conscience directs. I can protest. I can march.
As I wander in God’s natural cathedral, the created order, there is no imposition that can restrict my sense of awe and wonder. If I want to stand on a soapbox in the city mall and express my voice, I can. Most important of all, nothing can restrict my personal times of prayer reading and thought. As faith grows stronger with years, but confidence in religious institutions declines, I see nothing that needs protecting, indeed, I can only see discriminatory protection of religious institutions being ultimately detrimental to their longevity. Religious institutions should rely on God’s grace and their own integrity as the only necessary protection.
Morrison Government you are a disgrace
NSW is alight, and it is still not the right time to talk about Climate Change!!!!!
What message of commitment did we have to give the world community in Madrid? - nothing.
Yesterday you said Australia is reducing its emission year on year. Your own department’s graphics shows this to be untrue. Asserting untruth does not make it true. How is it possible to believe anything you say?
This morning Margaret and I followed RFS advice and evacuated our home at Long Beach in the face of a large fire which will not be extinguished unless it rains. I am finding this emotionally such a challenge. Shouldn’t we stay and fight? At least should we not have stayed alongside neighbours? Most have left but some have stayed. For days we have watched the water bombers fill from the Bay, the air is constantly full of smoke and as I type all the fire sirens are going.
Let me tell you some stories.
One (widow) is staying because her husband built her the house and she wants to defend it.
Another neighbour, an Italian migrant, is choosing to remain. He left Italy because of the disgraceful leadership of Berlusconi. He is surrounded by trees under which nestles his beloved aviary. He will not leave his birds. He has contempt for Berlusconi but his contempt for Morrison is palpable. How is it possible, he asks, that Australia could elect as leader one who must surely know the scientific reality of climate change as well as absorb observable data, but still chooses to pacify his self-serving denialist supporters.
Margaret coordinates volunteers at the recovery station. (Our evacuation was in part to enable her to do this). When I arrived yesterday afternoon, I was almost knocked over by a woman leaving in tears and deep distress. She had apparently offered assistance to a woman who believed her home to be lost, but was unprepared for health and safety rules required of her in doing so. So often rules stop us from more flexibly meeting the needs of people in distress. I was so proud of Margaret for standing up for the woman. I can hardly blame Morrison for this, but what kind of country have we become that bureaucracy wins over compassion. I can blame Morrison for this principle in relation to medivac.
Yes, we are a country of droughts bushfires and flooding rains, but what is happening to us must almost shock scientists who may now feel their predictions are proving to have been on the conservative side.
Over recent years I have been sending messages of support to friends in various parts of Australia when faced with unprecedented climatic conditions. In 2003 we lived in Canberra and I became joint chair of the recovery appeal following the devastating fires. Observing the plight of others, you think you know what it might feel like, but until you are forced out of your own home, you do not really know. What must it be like for the hundreds of thousands world-wide for whom this is a reality, either because of natural disaster, or because of inhumanity?
As a Christian should I be more charitable to Morrison and his government, - less angry. No I do not think so.
Jesus was angry when he entered the temple and was confronted with the money changers, for they were misleading and diminishing the people. Our government is a motely group of money changers. They appear more interested in supporting financial enterprise, no matter its morality, business dealings no matter their environmental impact, trade no matter human rights violations, or budget considerations regardless of social outcomes: that is why it is a disgrace. To add insult to injury the department of environment has now been absorbed into the department of agriculture. If this is too harsh, Morrison, or one of your ministers, give me evidence worthy of an apology from me.
Government continues to insist its major responsibility is to keep Australians safe. Hey, wake up - climate change is our greatest existential threat. It is a far greater threat than terrorism. It is a social threat, it is a grave economic threat and yes, it is an environmental threat. How about you deviate a fraction of the cost of one of your never never submarines to fight a real threat?
We are appropriately lambasted at international forums for our apparent indifference. Morrison you are a disgrace for claiming we are doing much – in the context of our ability and size we’re not, and because we are perceived not to be, we have absolutely no influence in encouraging others to be more responsible.
If the evidence were not in. If we were too poor and therefore could not choose. If action meant putting thousands of Australian jobs at risk. If the task were beyond us for any reason. -------- Then I would understand.
But none are true.
We are in a better position to act than almost any other country in the world
Our not acting, and the world not acting will impact our continent more than any other
The long-term effect of not acting is economic idiocy.
All of this is a disgrace and an indignity inflicted upon all Australians
If my house burns Mr Morrison, you most certainly will be on the end of another blog, Nero developed an unenviable reputation for fiddling while Rome burnt. ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ does not mean being literally responsible for today’s fires, it is an idiom for referring to a person(s) in power who is prepared to do anything other than what is important.