The Eaten and Satiated
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about the theology of eating in anticipation of Mr Morrison’s State banquet in Washington. Eating is more than an intake of calories. Humans are social beings, eating is a means of securing friendship, an expression of shared values, perhaps even commitment to a joint strategy. No one leaves a table of significance without carrying something of the character and expectations of the host into the future. This reality was re-enforced by the images of closeness which both parties clearly wished to convey following the dinner. Those who break bread together in a meaningful manner are bound to each other. In this meal it was not simply Morrison and Trump sitting together, it was the US and Australia with legs firmly under the same table. So how have we fared?
In a word, not very well.
We did not have long to wait to make a preliminary judgement on this question. Mr Morrison’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, focussing on environmental responsibility and climate change, breathtakingly stretched credulity. Apparently, we are concerned that plastics will soon outweigh fish in the sea. Concerned, are we? What national policy do we have on this matter, or what effective international lobbying have we undertaken? Ask the average Australian and they will be able to articulate the policy! Apparently, we are also concerned about sustainable fishing practice. Well, what national policy do we have to prevent over-fishing? In recent times governments in Australia have reduced marine parks, not extended them. What about the Barrier Reef? We would rather welcome coal carriers through the reef than protect it. And then there is the small matter of emissions. Apparently, we are more than pulling our weight and will meet our obligations in a canter. The facts of the matter are we are not. Emissions are increasing and we have no viable energy policy to address the matter. Our weak 2020 obligations may notionally be met through a trick of auditing that counts credits from an earlier target, achieved through a climate tax that the current government abolished. If we have a policy Mr Morrison, or Mr Taylor, you need to explain what it is. We know there is no policy because the government is internally riven and appeases a significant and very vocal minority of climate deniers. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister is so critical of those who point this out, as if, like claims from Trump and Johnston, it is treason to call one’s government to account.
Again we did not have long to wait. In his New York speech, Mr Morrison blamed the media for what he perceives to be an erroneous perception that his government is not meeting its responsibilities.
Without being as overt, are we to face an Australian version of ‘fake’, or bias, when government experiences negative reporting of its policies? The incessant attack on the ABC appears to give us grounds for this fear. Any government must be held to account. Our government is guaranteed a free pass from Sky and News Limited, do they expect a free pass from all outlets?
The consistent mantra of the government is that they will reduce the cost of energy. In their hundreds of thousands, Australians have indicated how they intend to reduce energy cost – generate their own. We are told the grid is not fit for this purpose – what is the government going to do about it? Increasingly more and more home solar systems will have the capacity to service neighbours through battery stored excess. If the government is genuinely concerned to reduce the cost of energy where is government policy to enable this phenomenon to accelerate?
Concern over oil security will be a constant into the future. It makes sense to quickly expand the number of electrically powered vehicles. It is argued that Australian distances make this problematic. That is true. But it is also true that most Australians live in built-up areas, travelling relatively modest distances every day. Where is the policy to increase the number of electrically powered vehicles? Where is the policy for multiplication of recharge facilities? Not only does it make sense to make Australia less dependent upon oil, it also makes sense for an increasing number of Australians to fuel their vehicles from battery stored surplus energy at home. No matter how Messrs Taylor and Morrison paper over the fact, currently we have no energy policy, just political spin.
While self-interest in some measure is an unavoidable component of politics at any level, the overriding goal of the political process must be service of public good. Trump publicly eschews global best interest in favour of short-term national interest and worse, personal best interest. When he speaks of ‘patriots’ he means ‘nationalists’. A true patriot is a citizen of the planet. The strengths and weaknesses of a global world are now shared by all. Commitment to an environmentally stable world must be the highest priority of all governments. A primary ingredient in this commitment must be the alleviation of global poverty. The poorest have no choices. Australia must not follow Trump in the futile pursuit of national self-interest as if this can be obtained at the expense of global best interest.
As I prepare to post this blog news has emerged that the Prime Minister agreed to assist Trump in fending off the Mueller inquiry through a telephone conversation in early September. The PM has absolutely no business in interfering with another nation’s legal proceedings, and absolutely no business developing an “I’ll scratch your back if you will scratch my back” form of friendship with the American president.
It may prove to be very difficult to have sat at table as best friend with a president who faces impeachment without some of the acrimony sticking to one’s clothing. The best way of ensuring this risk is minimised is for the Government to move away from its romance with partisan politics and concentrate on policy which might serve common good in Australia and beyond its shores.