in service of the
The Nationals and their dangerous search for relevance
Every deputy covets their moment in the sun. This can usually be arranged without harm. In the case of Mr Joyce little appears to come without harm. The Prime Minister has taken the extraordinary step of inviting Mr Joyce rather than the parliament to determine Australia’s economic and environmental journey and future within the global community. Now I know Mr Joyce continually says this is not about him but about the party room. But the fact of the matter is, he is the leader. He ousted a leader who would have signed on, it is all about him, he has made it about him, this is the reason he became ‘leader’.
Given movement to a post carbon world is now inevitable the question every National Party member should be asking is, “how can I ensure that my constituents are assisted in the transition of their businesses so that they gain maximum advantage from this new economy”.
This is a very different question to the one currently being asked, even boasted about, by Mr Joyce. Namely what is the highest price that can be leveraged for agreeing to sign on? How far can the taxpayer be screwed for projects of dubious value, but which shore up National Party relevance n fossil fuel dependent electorates. In other contexts, a most unpleasant word with criminal consequences would be used to describe such activity.
I woke on Monday morning 18 October to hear the National Party needs more time to consider the PM’s plan for net zero carbon emissions and wondered whether I should laugh, cry, or be very angry. In fact, I felt despair, not only, but primarily, for the planet, but also for the absence of national leadership and the prospect of a dismal future for Australian democracy.
What kind of country do we live in where it is possible for a mere handful of people to decide the most important policy direction this country is likely to take, not simply this year, or even this decade, but without much exaggeration, in our lifetime? In a democracy one would assume decisions that affect everyone would be made by the majority. Mr Joyce apparently thinks they should be held captive to a tiny minority.
It is clear a substantial majority of the Liberal members of parliament support the proposed 2050 net zero target and by implication a strong 2030 commitment, for the one will not be achieved without the other. It is known that within the Labour Party an overwhelming majority exists for decisive climate change action. From the Greens this commitment is a given. Many (most) of the independents gained office because of a stronger environmental commitment, and within the National Party itself support for stronger commitment can probably be found in half its membership.
So, how is it even remotely possible for a handful of people, probably in single figures, to hold so much sway? Barnaby Joyce has the temerity to say the Nationals will not be held to ransom. Who does he think is being held to ransom here? Mr Joyce’s party gains about 5% of the national vote and even within that vote there are many who support stronger environmental action.
I assume regional Australia means anywhere outside capital cities. I live in regional Australia on the South Coast of NSW. The Eurobodalla Shire Council, (not known to be left leaning) has signed up to the 2050 target and is on track for a substantial reduction by 2030. Mr Joyce does not represent regional Australia, but a very small section of regional Australia dependent up on the fossil fuel industry.
What is involved in Coalition Party shenanigans has little to do with the environment, or regional Australia, or agriculture, or jobs, or least of all, integrity. It has everything to do with internal political party machinations. The coalition rules with a knife edge majority. In present circumstance it will be fighting to hold power, let alone increase its majority. It needs every seat it can muster. A fracture in the coalition could be disastrous for Morrison, as much as I am sure he would love to rid himself of the maverick Mr Joyce.
There is a way forward. Mr Morrison could put his plan for net zero emissions to the parliament. It would be passed with an overwhelming majority even though many would like it to have gone much further. The Australian population would not forgive failure of the good that is possible on the altar of a utopia which is not politically deliverable. Democracy would be greatly enhanced if votes were made as conscience rather than party dictates. It should be normal for legislation proposed by independents to be given impartial and fair consideration. Neither of these options is currently tenable.
Let me bell the cat. Members of the National Party who are opposed to climate action are not seeking to protect regional Australia, they are seeking to save face having for decades backed a horse that is now running last. Backing the same tired horse is to condemn constituents to a sidelined passive existence while the rest of the world moves on. From agriculture to the Business Council of Australia, there is no section within Australian civil society that is not committed to a post carbon world.
Please, please members of the political class face the irrefutable fact that unfettered climate warming will have catastrophic consequence for future generations. Had we acted as we should, and could, at least 20 years ago, Australia would already be on track as a post carbon world leading economy with a much stronger industrial base and the capacity to adequately compensate those whose lives are most affected by the change. The longer this is left, the harder and more expensive this will be. No action or inadequate action will hit agriculture very hard, the very constituents the Nationals claim to represent. But of equal seriousness the vast opportunities a post carbon economy offers, especially in regional Australia, will be denied those who could benefit most.
What is the meaning of Australian democracy when a minor party, populated at its own confession by extreme right-wing ideologists, can decide Australia’s position on arguably the most important policy issue of our time?
There is only one question to be faced. Do we agree that increased global warming is an existential threat, not simply to the natural world, but to the economy, to biodiversity, to national security, to global justice and to the wellbeing of future generations?
Scientists, economists, farmers, the insurance industry, the business world, the young and two thirds of the population agree this is the situation we face.
This being the case, it is not a question of whether we should sign up to zero net emissions within a globally agreed time frame, we should and must, but in our circumstance, what are the steps we need to take to do so in the fastest and most equitable fashion.
Resistance to action is coming from what can only be described as the ignorant, the self-interested, and either the insane or the morally corrupt. The last description appear cruelly pejorative. But it is the only way I can think of to describe the ideology of leaders who deny the urgency of our situation. An insane person is one who insists fiction to be reality and reality to be fiction. Those who resist immediate action on global warming either believe their fiction to be reality or they put forward a position they do not really believe but do so to protect self-interest.
One right-wing conservative party member has this week described those who push for zero emissions as ‘Marxists’. It is apparently the case that if one is to act in the interest of society as a whole, one is a communist. The arrogant ignorance of this man is breathtaking. It is said that the foundations of western civilisation are a combination of Greek thought, from whom we derive the democratic ideal, and Christianity. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Jesus taught that freedom resides in behaviours that enhance wellbeing through connectedness to God, others and the world in which we live. ‘Freedom’ to do whatever the individual wishes is no freedom at all, it is to miss the goal of being fully human.
The National Party vote comprises approximately 5% of the population. It would be bad enough if the party held the nation to ransom with these figures. But it is worse than that. It is obvious the party comprises those whose main interest is agriculture and those whose main interest is mining. Those whose interest is agriculture can see the benefits to them of action on climate change, not simply because extreme weather events are an existential threat to the industry but because soil sequestration has huge economic and productive benefits. It is therefore the case that Australia’s position on climate responsibility is being held to ransom by a mere handful of thuggish behaviourists from the likes of Christiansen and Canavan.
As Peter Hartcher has said, the recent advancement of AUKUS and the Quad in response to China’s ambitions is on its own a forlorn enterprise if equal commitment is not invested in the strengthening of Australian democracy at home. Many things need to be done that are currently resisted. Greater transparency, the establishment of a federal anti-corruption watchdog with teeth, abandonment of a culture of political winning to be replaced by bipartisan dialogue, resumption of accountability by ministers in the Westminster tradition and protection rather than harassment of whistle blowers: these would all be good starting points.
We know that for Australia to flourish in a post carbon economy major change needs to occur. Whether we like it or not the globe will embrace a post carbon economy, so why are we so stupidly putting off transformations which are necessary and will inevitably cost more the longer we leave them?
The net gains for life in a post carbon world are enormous, socially, economically and of course environmentally.
We have heard this week we are to invest $100B+ in submarines which might arrive in the 2040’s, which by then might be totally inadequate for the task of national security, and which bind us into a ‘forever’ alliance with powers whose best is almost certainly behind them. The post carbon economy task is more immediate and urgent, clearly, we could find the money for it if only we had the wit to enact some decent policies.
Australia has been punished by a lazy and derelict political class who have been doing all they can to shore up their political best interest rather than developing and delivering policies which could by now have Australia economically as well as environmentally in front of the pack in the world we know is not simply coming sometime in the future, but which has already arrived.
Churches and Vaccination Exemptions
It is disappointing that the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in Sydney have foreshadowed they will seek exemptions to enable non vaccinated people to attend worship in their churches when, with ongoing safety measures, current restrictions are lifted. It would have been much more responsible to have advised the health minister they will do all in their power to ensure all who attend worship are vaccinated and that those not vaccinated will be pastorally cared for in an appropriately sensitive manner.
Of course, it is laudable that Church leaders wish access to their worship centres be open to all, but the request for exemptions for those who have had the opportunity to be vaccinated but choose otherwise, is not laudable. An exception should be those who have a medical reason why in their case vaccination is not possible. We are led to believe that while there are genuine cases, the number is quite small.
It should be the responsibility of Church leaders to do all they can to encourage members of their flock to be vaccinated. From a Christian perspective the reasons why are clear. First, we should take all reasonable measures to live healthy lives and avoid behaviours that mitigate against healthy wellbeing. There can be no reasonable argument that refusing to be vaccinated safeguards health. More importantly, from a Christian perspective we should do all that is reasonably possible to protect and safeguard others. It is quite clear that being vaccinated is to act responsibly in the interest and wellbeing of others.
The argument that religious communities are somehow exempt from regulations lawfully imposed by secular authorities on the whole community, is simply not plausible, unless it can be argued that what is proposed is morally wrong. Acting for the safety of the community is not morally wrong. From the first century onwards, Church leadership has been clear that the Christian community should comply with the requirements of secular authority in all things lawful and honest.
I am aware that both archbishops had earlier flagged they could not whole heartedly support the AstraZenica vaccine on grounds that historically it owes its origin to a foetus. While I do not support the argument, I respect the point being made. I do not support the argument for two reasons, first the link is historical and not dependent on the harvesting of contemporary foetus and second because I see no difference between harvesting life-giving material from a foetus or harvesting an organ from a deceased person. If the foetus was the result of an abortion, then the argument might have some force.
Notwithstanding all of the above, Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines manufactured in the lab and the majority of the population will have access to these vaccines as the supply becomes abundant before the end of the year.
It is singularly unfortunate that the most common reason given for refusing vaccination is that it is ‘against my religion’. We are aware that, emanating for the US, considerable material has become available on social media that has influenced the less well informed to resist vaccination on some spurious religious grounds. Apparently, this has become the most common reason given for vaccination hesitancy amongst the indigenous community. The decision of the Archbishops to seek an exemption unfortunately carries weight amongst the less well informed who need little encouragement to act on notions that carry no credibility.
That one Roman Catholic Bishop has flagged he will seek an exemption for unvaccinated priests to exercise ministry in aged care facilities is beyond irresponsible. Clergy exercise leadership, if only for members of their flock. They should be assisting the community to safely move into greater experiences of freedom. We know that vaccination is the pathway for greater liberty.
In these pandemic times it is the responsibility of all who exercise leadership to encourage behaviours that are consistent, behaviours that carry the same share of burden and the same opportunity for freedom.
The GAFCON obsession
GAFCON (Global Anglican futures conference) has stated its intention to establish a non-geographical diocese in Australia to serve Anglicans who can neither accept people of homosexual orientation in positions of leadership in the Church, nor countenance the blessing of same sex couples who have been married in a civil union.
They assert their position is premised on submission to biblical authority.
Let me also assert that I am committed to the authority of scripture and that my commitment to God in Christ, who has embraced humanity that humanity might embrace God, is absolute.
Truth is enhanced through exploration and engagement; truth is diminished through claims of certitude, refined as infallible dogma. Defining dogma based on self-appointed criteria places disciples of this dogma in a parasitical position in relation to the broader more generous Church which graces us all with the capacity to engage one another in Christ’s name. It is extraordinary that leaders of GAFCON who seek division in the Church are at the same time holding leadership positions as bishops within the Church.
It was a privilege to meet Morris West in the latter years of his life. In his final book ‘A view from the Ridge’ he writes: “when I was a young Jesuit postulant I was certain of many things, now I am old I am certain of only this one thing: ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so’ ”. Now that I too am ancient, I echo these words and pray that GAFCON members might also grow in faith beyond self-appointed criteria of certainty and its self-righteous cocooning.
On face value I could be a member of GAFCON because I consider myself an orthodox Anglican. But I will never seek to be a member of GAFCON
There are many other issues of far greater significance and seriousness which are an existential threat to the fullness of life that Jesus promised.
Members of GAFCON, the standard you have set for judging submission to scripture and devotion to Christ is seriously flawed. Progress as you intend, and you deny us who remain the richness and diversity of your company, while condemning yourselves to a severely diminished expression of the glorious Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
A restored vision of Church
For centuries institutions provided security, identity, and continuity. Their very existence gave confidence that the contemporary world would continue to build on the foundations of the past. Each generation could expect to live much as their parents had done.
This is not contemporary reality. Institutions have been found wanting. Some have suffered public ignominy. Institutional Church is in serious decline throughout the Western world. Many would say the worst is yet to come. Here in my local community people are almost universally respectful of my faith and the way of life Margaret and I strive to live our lives, but have less than benign thoughts about ‘church’. Children of committed Christian families find it difficult to relate to their parents’ ecclesial experience.
In the past it was more than appropriate for institutional life to give flesh to the incarnate and eternal activity of God. Music, architecture, liturgy, ministries, works of charity, centres of thought, annual rhythms, pilgrimages, were expansive frameworks in and through which people could explore and grow into eternal truths. This is the world I have known and cherished.
With the demise of institutions over the last three decades and the rise of multi-faceted networks this is no longer the case for most people. Parishes that in the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s enjoyed congregations in their hundreds now experience much smaller gatherings, and much older, despite the overall population on a geographical basis being significantly larger.
Should institutional Church as it has been known in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, the Orthodox and mainstream Protestant churches simply run up the white flag? No, because the universality of Christ can never be fully expressed solely through local expressions of Church that lack accountability to global and historical Christianity. The faith is not simply about personal piety, it is also about public engagement
So, what is to be done, what are we to do?
The longing for spiritual nurture and insight has not shrunk. Sceptics such as Dawkins and Hitchins argue that religion is a form of escape. I dare to argue the opposite, Christianity as I have known it is engagement in the totality of life. This is hardly surprising given the heart of Christian faith is belief in, and commitment to Jesus, the incarnate word of God who embraces and enables life itself.
So, where might the Spirit be leading us?
As is often the case, what otherwise might be thought a calamity - covid 19 – gives us a clue. During this calamity people everywhere have become aware of opposite realities which carry almost equal importance. On the one hand we have all come to know the importance of home, family, intimacy, and connectedness with those who are most important to us. Many of us have found blessing in the capacity to ‘work from home’. On the other hand, we are also aware of our irrepressible need for connectedness without limit, of belonging to and being fulfilled in the universality of life. I have become increasingly convinced that the Church of the future must come more thoroughly to grips with these two realities and hold them in healthy balance.
Since March last year Margaret and I have been running Church at our home to assist the local Parish in the context of the covid pandemic. Some of those coming have not previously been regular members of any Church. What people find attractive is a mixture of a less formalised liturgy, thoughtful teaching in which they participate, fellowship at a personal level and the joy of a shared meal. We have emphasized we are part of and accountable to the wider Church.
I have become convinced that clergy should act with oversight; legitimizing and authorizing a multitude of small gatherings in and through which a wide circle of people might be nurtured and fed. In the early Church bishops grew out of presbyters, it is time for presbyters to retake roles of intentional oversight. These groups could be as diverse as imagination and need suggest. Some will be based in meditation and contemplation, other through bible study, some through a focus on social justice and charity, some through a shared digital experience, others through arts-based activities, some through concern for and enjoyment of the natural order others through ministries of education and health, some through ethnic or cultural identity.
Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, urges the Church of England to establish at least 10,000 locally based and lay led ‘churches’ before 2030. There has been push back from Parish based leadership. This is short sighted. A move such as this could refresh ‘parishes’.
People in these groups may not be regular attenders of Sunday worship, but they should be gathered on significant occasions. It will be the duty of the ‘parish/diocese’ to provide universal experiences and linkages. Some of this can and should be provided digitally, but there must also be common shared experiences.
The purpose of Church is not to provide a chaplaincy service to a congregation of pious believers disconnected from the mainstream life of the wider community. It is to feed nourish and empower those who in Christ’s name are committed to the transformation of society. Richard Rohr puts it this way: “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on the same path. We made Jesus into a religion instead of a journey toward God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging’ and ‘believing’ instead of a religion of transformation”.
Because institutional churches have largely failed to provide spiritual nurture and intimacy to many who seek it, this need has been met through many experiences of Church which Dawkins and Hitchins could legitimately describe as escapes from reality. Some offer false certainties in a world better understood through nuance, paradox, and complexity. Dangerously extreme examples of this were seen by those carrying signs bearing Jesus’ name in the assault on Capitol Hill following Biden’s election and on banners carried by those engaged in protests against covid restrictions here in Australia.
We should not be witnessing the death of conventional parish and diocesan life, but it’s opening up in new ways of serving the world which God in Jesus loves. Church membership or Christian discipleship should not be calculated on the basis of Sunday church attendance alone, but on the basis of engagement and connectedness with the multifaceted life that is modern society.
The choice that lies ahead is either to pull up the doona and keep the façade intact for as long as possible or throw off the bed cover and embrace a more exciting and engaging expression of Church. It is not a matter of being shaped by the dominant culture of our time but recognizing its influence and engaging differently with it.
The IPCC Report and the Book of Revelation
An interpretive connection between the latest IPCC report and the book of Revelation, otherwise known as the Apocalypse, is painfully and dramatically obvious. However, focus on ‘apocalypse’ encourages a doomsday mentality and is counterproductive; other insights from this book help us to better understand the human dilemma and therefore the way forward.
I would like to look below the surface to a connection which is not as obvious, yet is quite revelatory. But first a little background.
This last book of the New Testament, and last to be accepted in the biblical canon, is well known to conspiracy theorists and end of the world fanatics. It is probably written at the end of the 1st century AD to seven churches in Asia minor struggling with a debilitating dilemma. Jesus has died and risen with the promise of a new creation, and yet the world as they experience it remains violently and painfully the same. Wherein does hope lie? What are they to make of the violent life they are experiencing? Why not conform to the dominant Roman culture and avoid attention. They have been sorely tempted to “lose their first love” and drift away from a life in the imitation of Christ to be seduced into conformity with the prevailing culture.
The writer, John, implores them to stand firm in their faith. He contrasts commitment to the ‘Lamb’ – Jesus, who because of his suffering death and resurrection has true authority – and the consequences of the alternative - sovereignty based on power, wealth, greed, self-interest which is fake or illusionary. The Lamb’s authority is counter intuitive. Jesus does not have sovereign right because of power, prestige or wealth, but because he has embraced temporal reality even death, and carried it with him into the world of eternal grace.
In a world which does not recognise grace as sovereign, where self-interested ambition reigns, the consequences are horrendous, most dramatically portrayed by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Every generation since the writing of this book has experienced realities as awful as those described in the book. In the last 100+ years we have experienced two global pandemics and many less universal, but equally dreadful. We have experienced two world wars, several minor wars, and ethnic cleansing on all continents. Our present covid pandemic has been described by the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan as a political pandemic, because the hubris of Presidents Xi, Putin and Trump and other world leaders such as Johnston and Bolsonaro has made the spread inevitable when is should have been avoidable. Every generation over two millennia have suffered events symbolically portrayed in this book.
The book swings between two opposing and contrasting communities – that of the Lamb and his followers, and that of the beast or the anti -Christ and his followers who bear its mark. The mark or seal of the lamb is the cross; a seal that is impressed upon followers of Jesus at their baptism. But what is the meaning of the mark of the beast, the distinguishing feature of followers of anti-Christ?
Margaret Barker, the eminent biblical scholar and linguist (who sadly passed away in April this year) postulates the mark of the beast is usuary, covetousness, greed, of putting economic goals above goals of common good. Indeed, chapter 13 of the book of Revelation which contains reference to the ‘mark of the beast’ continues with reference to faltering trade and collapsing markets as does chapter 18. Is the whore spoken of in the book the seductiveness of material gain? If Barker is right, then the anti-Christ is not communism, or Trump, or the Pope, but something far closer to home, the seduction of personal wealth and gain over harmony and connectedness with neighbour, creation, and God. In a nutshell, this is an apt description of what ‘anti-Christ’ might mean in any generation.
For the book to be included in the canon of scripture, its interpretation must be relevant to succeeding generations, not simply to those who received it in the first or second century AD. Now, let us cut to the chase. It is not hard to apply this insight to the great and threatening challenge of our time – climate change. Those who oppose action on climate change, most notably the conservative side of Australian politics, have consistently done so based on their economic theory. We can’t afford it they shout! As if we can afford not to!! In our context it could be said neo-liberal economic theory and practice has become the anti-Christ of our age because it sets short term material gain above long-term harmony, equity and sustainability. Many of its devotees hang out in Christian congregations!! Some hang out both in Christian congregations and in the halls of Australian parliaments.
The response of the Australian government to the IPCC report has been predictably appalling. Shane Warne must be proud of the spin that emanates especially from the Prime Minister. Unless you are comatose, it is simply implausible to ignore science and the imminent threat we face. Mr Morrison is spinning ill-conceived nonsense to claim Australia and Australians are already pulling our weight. It is manifestly untrue. It is also untrue to assert that technology, on its own will get us out of the diabolical predicament we are in. First and foremost, what is required is resolve, from the Prime Minister down. Because the ‘fish rots from the head’ resolve from the Prime Minister is not irrelevant. Setting targets focuses resolve.
The Apocalypse or the Revelation of John is prophetic, not in that it foretells the future but in that it has the capacity to reveal truth. The need for truth about the times in which we live has never been more urgent. Spin, the tool of choice of the Prime Minister, is severely damaging because the days are short. We do not have much time to avoid a catastrophe for our children.
The great irony is that the crisis presents opportunity as well as challenge. Why not emphasise opportunities rather than challenges? Indeed, opportunities for the many are so abundant, it makes the crime of protecting the self-interest of a few far more reprehensible.
Rights, law breakers, and Covid lockdown
The anti-lockdown protests held in Australian capital cities, most notoriously in Sydney, have been enacted in the same anarchic spirit that imbued those who stormed the US capital following the election of President Joe Biden. The conduct has been reprehensible, put lives at risk, and achieved the opposite of the stated outcome, namely the inevitability of a longer lockdown. At the heart of this arrogance and stupidity lies a total incapacity to understand what ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ mean in a civil, democratic society.
In what follows I am indebted to the work of Wesley Hohfeld who identified four incidents to the study of rights theory.
Applying these four incidents to the action of the protesters it is clear they had no rights to act as they did, enjoyed no immunity, and were jeopardising the very freedom they claimed to be protecting. They had the right to protest. But in exercising this privilege they had the duty to protect the health of the wider community. By wearing no masks, flaunting authority, refusing to keep social distancing, the right was lost.
The freedom claim was false. People long for freedom, but the great paradox of freedom is that it is most often delivered by those who accept passing privation in the service of greater good. This presumably is what the ANZAC tradition is about.
The State government not only has the power to enforce a lockdown, but a solemn duty to do so in the pursuit of safeguarding the health and greater wellbeing of its citizens. For the sake of all, essential workers are immune from the constraints of lockdown, not for personal self-interest, but in the interest of the good they bring to the whole community.
Very few rights are absolute. The right to life, in the context of enjoying, and contributing to greater good, is the only absolute.
Behind the lockdown lurk blights to what can be deemed acceptable standards by political leadership and media presentation.
George Christensen and Craig Kelly, amongst others, have been spruiking false information about the pandemic, about vaccinations and about the lockdown, giving comfort to those who have proved more than a little capacity for anarchic behaviour. Given these exponents of controversy in service of self-promotion sit on government benches, one might have expected censure from the Prime Minister. There has been none. It is utterly disgraceful that he, for the sake of keeping his slim majority, will overlook, and at best slap on the wrist, colleagues who give comfort to actions which endanger the health and freedom of all Australians.
If the excuse for this gross lack of leadership is defence of freedom of speech, this is a grave error. Like any other right, freedom of speech is not an absolute. If it is used to ridicule, let alone incite anger and prejudice, it ceases to be a right. Freedom of speech, like all rights is a privilege. When great responsibility is bestowed through the election box, freedom is tempered by duty to ensure every fact is checked, every opinion weighed on its possible affect. Every judgement must be weighed at the ultimate bar – does it serve the greater good.
Certain sections of the media have also been utterly culpable. George Christensen, Craig Kelly, Matt Canavan would have little or no oxygen if it were not provided by Sky News and its disgruntled, attention seeking presenters. Why is this obnoxious news outlet not brought into line? I am fully aware it exists to serve a small minority of the population that revels in delusion, slur, mistruth, and conspiracy theory. But when an interview is conducted in which statements are made inferring it is more dangerous to be vaccinated than to remain unvaccinated, this is not freedom of speech, it is dangerous anti-social behaviour of the most reprehensible kind. It should have caused the media umpire to call time.
The pandemic has a life of its own. That is true. But it is also true that we live in a privileged era in which we are equipped with knowledge and tools to mitigate its affect. That at vital levels of society we are failing to do so, is critical commentary on humankind’s supposed progress. We err in measuring progress in terms of individual rights, and life’s least important dimension – material wealth.
Joyce enjoys hats and metaphors instead of good policy
David Speers is a fine journalist and interviewer but on Sunday’s Insiders he astonishingly let Barnaby Joyce completely off the hook as the interview veered across the path of climate change.
Joyce in his extraordinarily large hat was contemplating lunch at a Walcha Rd café in his New England electorate. He informed us that whether he finally choose to adorn the café with his presence depended on the content of the menu and the indicative price for each offering. He informed “Speerzy” that he understood the climate change debate through this metaphor. Apparently, he will consider the possibility of zero emissions by or before 2050 if someone tells him how it is to be done and what it will cost.
What ‘Speerzy’ neglected to do what to remind the ruddy faced and bucolic deputy Prime Minister that he is the second most powerful politician in the country. He is paid handsomely by the taxpayer to decide what is on the menu and to deploy the skills of the public service at his disposal to work out the price.
The reality is that a price can only be considered when a proposal is presented. In my hometown, there was much debate about a new bridge over the Clyde River. In the end, urgent necessity drove the decision. Only then were alternative possibilities presented and a price determined.
The government needs to make a clear and unambiguous decision that we have no choice, we must join the rest of the world. Together we must reach carbon zero as soon as possible and no later than 2050, the price of not doing so is far too high. Having made that decision, the government should employ the expertise of science and the public service to determine the most efficient and cost-effective manner of achieving the goal. It is not that hard. May I be bold enough to suggest some of the essential items that must appear on the ‘menu’.
The cost of nmot acting takes us into negative territory with accelerating speed. The benefit of acting is so obvious at a multitude of levels that it must be assumed those who oppose action are doing so out of political or personal self-interest
Mr Joyce, you are not paid to ask others to work out the safest and best future for Australia, you are paid to do it yourself. If you do not know the answer to the question of what it would cost for Australia to reach carbon zero compared with the cost of not doing so, you are abdicating your responsibility. Move out of the way and let those who are prepared to take this responsibility to do so.
Click here to Israel, Apartheid, and why Albo is seriously wrong and seriously right
The zoom conducted by Mr Albanese, the leader of the Federal Opposition, with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry has received wide publicity and greatly angered the Palestinian diaspora in Australia. This is sad and ironic, given Mr Albanese has a long history of supporting Palestinian rights and helped found the federal parliamentary friends of Palestine.
So, where does the problem lie?
The focus of the anger lies in his refusal to accept the word Apartheid as the most apt way of describing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. In its most extreme form, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians refuses to recognise they have any rights, let alone equal rights.
All cultures and languages use words and phrases from other peoples to convey meaning, particularly when one’s own language does not have an exactly equivalent word. Many Italian and French words are commonplace in English (Australian) usage as of course are words from more ancient languages such as Greek and Latin. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word that means apartness or separation. It described a government enforced system of racial segregation. The word has power both to describe and to shock. Indeed, Israel has its own word for the same reality – Hafrada - which carries the meaning of both separation and segregation. It is used by the Israeli government to describe their policy.
Apartheid is the predictable outcome when the political theory of Zionism is enforced on a subject people. (I distinguish between Zionism as a theological or cultural construct and Zionism as an enforced political dogma). Mr Albanese is quite wrong to dismiss the words of the Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who describes the situation facing Palestinians as directly akin to the situation facing black and coloured South Africans under the apartheid regime. However, the term is no longer applicable simply in comparison with South Africa. The Rome statute of the international criminal court states “The crime of apartheid means inhumane acts of a character committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination of one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. While not wishing to apply the word ‘apartheid’ within Israel itself, nevertheless the Nation-State-law of 2018 provides for 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinians, 20% of the population.
He is also wrong to dismiss the recent poll to emerge from the US that indicates a quarter of all American Jews describe Israel’s control and treatment of Palestinians as Apartheid while the figure amongst younger Jews is even higher. While it is true that poll results are determined by the questions asked, it is undeniably true that a significant proportion of the Jewish diaspora is highly critical of Israel and its abuse of human rights and the Jewish members of APAN will attest that ECAJ, and least of all the Zionist Federation of Australia, do not speak for them.
Finally, he is wrong not to take seriously the highly respected Israeli human right organization B’Tselem which uses the word apartheid to describe Israeli policy of systemic human rights abuse in the Palestinian territories.
Apartheid is insidious in its advance. It starts with annoying rules which apply to one race but not to others. It proceeds with tools of identification which permit one group freedoms which are denied to others. It climaxes in one race being systematically ‘cleansed’ from homes farms and villages they have occupied for generations to be corralled into smaller and smaller areas of deprivation and poverty, with violence used to keep them in place. Palestinians experience all these phases. Sunday’s news stories from the Israeli paper Haaretz chronicle the story of a Jewish settler on the West Bank shooting at Palestinians while the Israeli military watched on. Stories of apartheid emerge every day and visitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza will experience them for themselves. From my own experience I echo the words of an Australian parliamentarian who, following his week in the Palestinian Territories, said “I cannot now unsee what I have seen”.
Apartheid is the most apt word to describe the situation faced by Palestinians and I encourage all who claim to stand for universal human rights, especially politicians, to name the reality, in keeping with the legal meaning of the term in international law.
On the other hand, Mr Albanese is seriously right in his reassurance that a government he leads will recognise Palestine in its first term.
Israeli leadership is of the view that the whole of the West Bank (known in Israel as Judea and Samaria) and East Jerusalem will be part of Israel, but the Palestinians who live in these areas will never be part of Israel. Numerous senior ministers in the Knesset are on record as saying that not one inch of these lands will ever be ceded to Palestinian control, nor will Palestinians be granted Israeli citizenship. Netanyahu and the current prime minister, Bennett are part of this chorus. It is the charter of the Likud party.
In 2010, Henry Siegman, former director of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, wrote:
Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank … seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project. As a result of that “achievement”, one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.
That is why recognising Palestine, recognising the right of Palestinians to exist, is so important and the foundation of any just and peaceful future that may lie ahead. Recognising Palestine does not pre-empt a future. It is however essential to affirm that both halves of the population that almost equally occupy these lands deserve an equal share in that future.
I applaud the courage of Mr Albanese and his colleagues in the Labor Party for making this stand and for staking a claim on the right side of history.
Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve better than their current crop of politicians. They serve neither peoples well. If they stay on their present trajectory, unhappiness fear and violence will be the common lot of all who live in this unique slice of planet earth for the foreseeable future. But it need not be this way. There is every reason why respect and a desire for mutuality will lead to shared flourishing. Walls, armaments and a disgraceful political class will keep both peoples from living the life they both deserve.
Mr Albanese, thanks so much for your long history of speaking up for human rights, but in this case, do not be afraid to name the situation for what it is, for only in naming it, can pressure be brought to change it.
The Regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce
Usually, news items have no intellectual or emotional impact, either because we have become so conditioned to a situation, however appalling, that its further announcement has become unremarkable, or because the matter simply does not seem relevant.
I was therefore surprised at my reaction to the news that Barnaby Joyce had returned as Deputy Prime Minister. I found the news quite shocking and symptomatic of everything that is wrong with contemporary Australian politics.
Joyce is a flawed human being. Now, I know all human beings are flawed, none more so than myself. However, there is something about Barnaby’s flawed nature that presents him as one entirely unsuitable for a position of responsibility, least of all as Deputy Prime Minister. He seems to be totally consumed with himself. For someone who claims a strong Christian faith within the catholic tradition he appears utterly hypocritical. How can he possibly claim to hold to ‘family values’ and do what he has done to his first family. Given all the unresolved issues about parliamentary culture, he would appear to be the least suited person to take a lead as a standard maker. He appears a pugnacious grenade thrower, not a reasoned, trustworthy, leader.
When I think of the National Party, I think of a political movement that emerged to represent farming and agriculture throughout regional Australia. One of the politicians I admire most in the Federal Parliament is a farmer who holds a National Party seat in NSW. Yet, Barnaby Joyce and his key supporters live lives that are far removed from agriculture, (despite owning some land), representing most loudly the interests of miners, particularly in central Queensland. His statements in the last few days all reflect this reality.
It is apparently the case that Barnaby Joyce has returned as leader of the National Party because significant power brokers want to prevent further action on emissions reduction, lest the businesses model undergirding fossil fuel extraction be threatened. This is not the position of the farming community which numerically far exceeds the fossil fuel industry, and which is often adversely affected by it. With two caveats, the NFF (National Farmers Federation) has signed up to the goal of zero emissions by 2050. A primary reason for this is that such a goal could, and should, provide economic advantage through carbon sequestration, hosting renewable energy generation projects etc. Such projects potentially increase productivity and provide a cash buffer in times of drought. How relevant are the ambitions of Barnaby Joyce, George Christiansen, or Senator Canavan to Australia’s farming community? Apparently not at all. So, Mr Joyce, it appears your party is not the advocate of regional, agricultural, Australia as you claim. You are the champion of the mining industry and particularly its wealthy and powerful ownership. Ironically, you are not doing miners any favours.
My contacts in the Hunter Valley tell me that many in the mining industry are all too aware and accepting of the reality that coal has a much-diminished future. They do not seek open warfare in a fight to the death for an industry that is already being phased down, but they seek fearless advocacy for a place in the technologically attractive post carbon world for which most are uniquely qualified for pioneering employment. It is ironic that miners would be better represented by a party that strongly believes in a new technological future, rather than a party that demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to outdo king Canute.
The regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce was heralded by the National Party’s outgoing leader, Michael McCormack, as evidence of the party’s democratic DNA. That may or may not be a reasonable interpretation. However, the sought for outcome by those who initiated the spill is most undemocratic. Consistent polls show that approximately 70% of Australians want further action on climate change and emissions reduction. The National Party represents less than 5% of the electorate and given support for change by farmers and the NFF, those who hold the position for which National Party leadership now appears committed, are quite minimal. And yet. And yet … representing this small section of the electorate, Joyce along with his supporters, seek to hold the country to ransom by threatening the unity of the coalition unless it toes the line with them. Nothing could be less democratic.
Added to this has been yesterday’s announcement from UNESC0 that they intend to declare the Great Barrier Reef to be endangered. Scientific observation makes this tragic declaration virtually inevitable. It is a fact that the Great Barrier Reef employs vastly more people in the tourist industry than will ever be employed in an increasingly mechanised central Queensland mining industry. Why is Mr Joyce more interested in the much smaller coterie of jobs in coal mining than he is in the vast numbers dependent upon the tourist industry?
Michael McCormack is an affable but bumbling politician. It is not unreasonable to think that in Australia’s second most senior politician we might have seen a greater level of competence. Those who know him tell me he is essentially a decent human being. But can the same be said of Mr Joyce? His first wife and daughters clearly do not think so, nor do many women struggling for a changed culture in a still largely male dominated world.
What is beyond dispute is that Australia must step up and take its place in the international family of nations with unequivocal support for action to safeguard ecological and environmental sustainability. Not to do so is unthinkable. That a minor political party believes it has the right to scuttle such an aim is quite grotesque. It is even more grotesque to think that an Australian Prime Minister, having made an undisclosed pact with them for the sake of power retention, should consider this pact more important than the future of the planet.