Cultural Comment

ANZAC Day – Converting Commemoration into Generalised Celebration

ANZAC Day has long been a curiosity for me.  I had various members of my family go to wars, fight, die, come back and not talk about their memories.  One of my mentors was my mother’s accompanist, who worked in Intelligence during WW2 and he never spoke about it – though always referred to the Japanese as the “Nips”, even though he drove Hondas.  Each ANZAC Day, I’d see (mostly) men marching, with commentators talking about what each battalion did.  That was interesting, but removed from me as a child, then teenager.

As I studied history at school, then university, it became increasingly clear how removed ANZAC Day was from the actual gristle of war.  First of all, the day was a celebration of failure, worse still, of an absurd back door plan drawn up by Winston Churchill.  We also know him as the man who used Australian troops away from the main theatre in World War 2 as well.  It still puzzles me why we don’t commemorate a day that remembers when we fought for the protection of Australia, like Kokoda, rather than ANZAC.  But that is never asked.  As well during ANZAC Day, we weren’t having the Wilfred Owen picture of war history, it was the CEW Bean history.   I also wondered what the actual returned soldiers thought of the way it was promoted.  It seemed to me to become a day removed from individuals and made into a day of sweeping generalisations.

As a result, in the 1990s, I thought Australians were being encouraged to embrace a war history that was increasingly irrelevant to a nation that was multicultural and was struggling with the realities of our shame in relation to our treatment of our indigenous peoples.  But then John Howard was elected.

John Howard’s Prime Ministership was a time to rewrite history and the way we see it as Australians.  His disdain for multiculturalism was obvious and his unwillingness to accept any kind of national responsibility for the way our indigenous peoples were treated was embodied in his embracing of Keith Windschuttle, with his shameful historiography of leaving out the unofficial oral histories and sticking to the “official” history of the early days of the colonies.

During the Howard era, we saw a rise of prominence in the concept of “official” history, to the exclusion of other forms.  Therefore, we saw an increased emphasis on an unquestioning mass celebration of ANZAC Day.  More and more young aspirational Australians colonised Gallipoli with their cans of VB and ocker “spirit”; ANZAC Day at RSLs started to feature more young drinkers “celebrating” than old diggers gathering together to remember.  ANZAC Day seemed to become a way for white Anglo Saxons to have a day for themselves, to wave a flag that represents only our past as an Imperial outpost.    Again, I was wondering just what the actual soldiers were thinking of these young blokes coming into RSLs asking for Khe Sanh to be put on.

ANZAC Day has also been taken by many as a way to tell others what to think, by making sweeping, generalised comments by saying “these men died for…” and then attaching their own political rhetoric to it.  Some say it to justify excluding asylum seekers, others, like Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby (@jimwallaceacl), say it was for this  – “Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!”  To take the sacrifice of individual Australians and make it this amorphous “sacrifice” is to disfigure that sacrifice.

It has also become a way for companies to make a quid.  Just look at the “Raise a Glass” campaign, which purports to be a fundraising and awareness raising activity to support the work of Legacy.  It is, however, an elaborate advertisement for VB.  The font is VB, the background is the VB green.  The front picture is of diggers making bottles into a VB shape, telling people that VB is an integral part of celebrating ANZAC Day.  I think it is a sick, disgraceful piece of marketing.

I don’t begrudge individual people their right to commemorate war – it is an important part of healing.  I also know that we need to have war as a part of our history.  I have long supported the teaching of war stories in our high schools – I especially like Patrick Carlyon’s book for teenagers – Gallipoli Story and David Metzenthen’s fantastic teen novel Boys of Blood and Bone as a way to show teens an unvarnished account of just what people went through, without the unthinking bombast that often accompanies ANZAC Day.  I also think more and more people should see John Misto’s play The Shoe Horn Sonata, in order to see what Australian female POWs during WW2 went through – an entirely forgotten history.

However, it is, to me, a day in the calendar only as important as Labour Day, a day where we remember when workers’ rights were important; as important as Remembrance Day, where we wear the poppies and remember the futility, pain and heroism of war.  It does become for me, however, a reminder of how jingoistic some Australians can be, which is unfortunate.

Cultural Comment

Ethical Easter Hard to Do in Western Sydney

I tried this Easter to make it an ethical one, purchasing Fairtrade Easter Eggs for my family, in order to make a point about the current child labour activities of chocolate manufacturers.  I can’t see why it would be difficult for the massive machinery of our chocolate manufacturers – here and overseas – to gear up with Fair Trade chocolate.  But it seems that it is, at least with “seasonal” products like Easter Eggs.

My main port of call for this journey was Penrith Plaza, one of the bigger shopping centres of Sydney and one with a variety of shops.  Big W and Target were the first ones – dominated as ever by a few companies.  The first to be noticed were the Lindt displays – Lindt being the company that refuses to use Fair Trade chocolate because of quality concerns (or, more likely, an unwillingness to work with Fair Trade suppliers to obtain that quality).  Cadbury, too, have their various combinations of eggs and rabbits.  And, apparently, a Fair Trade egg.  I search high and low for the famed egg, to no result.  I did hear, from a fellow Tweeter, John Alchin (@johnalchin), that there was one shelf of them available at Wetherill Park Target for a considerable premium.  That premium is one I will pay – though it is interesting that it’s a single, simple hollow egg that Cadbury make with Fair Trade Chocolate.  Not the sort of chocolate that kids jump for.  And on one shelf amongst the dozens on display at any Target.  When Cadbury’s English Fairtrade Twitter account (@GoneFairTrade) was asked about this by Helen Davidson (@heldavidson) and Claire Connelly (@ClaireRConnelly) on Twitter, they were provided the answer that they didn’t know what was happening in Australia (standard response) and also that “seasonal” products like Easter Eggs did not get certified.  This leads to my suspicion that Cadbury, at least in terms of Easter Eggs, are indulging in a Green Wash with the one and only egg.  Hardly surprising behaviour from a company owned by Kraft Foods.

I did search other shops.  I knew, for example, that Myer carry a line of Chocolatier eggs and rabbits, Chocolatier being a small, independent Australian company, the sort I will often support.  Their website shows a range of Fair Trade products, but a visit to Myer Penrith yielded one box of milk chocolate rabbits, amongst the vast array of non- Fair Trade.  Pink Lady, another Australian company famous for their chocolate bilbies, made to support bilby conservation, is an egg company that is Fair Trade free.  I did mention this to the very experienced shop assistant at Myer, who had never heard of Fair Trade or the purpose of the campaign.  She did wonder why it wasn’t better promoted.  Indeed.

As it turned out, I didn’t get my Fair Trade eggs – I don’t like milk chocolate – I like dark chocolate, so I bought a Chocolatier dark egg and the Pink Lady bilbies (I haven’t bought a rabbit in years – they are a pest in Australia, so why do we buy them?).  There might be people out there who will tell me that I should have bought the one box of milk chocolate to make my point – but I didn’t.

What I would like to see is the machinery of the market to make the ethical and commercial decision to make the full range of chocolate eggs and other animals available as a Fair Trade option across Sydney, not just in the inner city, where their consumers would demand Fair Trade.  I, like a lot of people in the West, would pay the premium, as I do already by buying from small independent Australian companies.

Ultimately, then, I’m hoping that by next year the situation will be different and that companies like Cadbury and the Australian ones expand their chocolate production into their range of products. In that way, ethically aware parents can make the choice to buy chocolate that does not have children in other countries being used as labour while our own children sit down with their eggs, comfortable in the knowledge they won’t be used in the same way.


Council Scandals – Principled Stands better than Corruption

I have a long held interest in council politics – yes, I am a true politics nerd – and did a university history essay on the Blue Mountains Council of the 1930s.  Yes – even more hard core nerd.  But I will say in my defence (and it’s a meagre one) that the Blue Mountains City Council was an endlessly fascinating one, simply because each meeting was reported extensively in the best local paper in Greater Sydney – the Blue Mountains Gazette.  The BMCC was always a battlefield of ideologies, planning controversies and the like, because there never was a party controlling it – there were always 4 ALP councillors, but 8 others of various types, from Libs to fiery independents and Greens.  The “highlight” of my time of watching the council was when someone bombed the offices (we still don’t know who).  That’s a real council barney.  I have returned to the district to find it’s a little bit more settled now, but still a vibrant council.

On reflection, what we saw at Marrickville Council last night was a demonstration of what occurs when well meaning councillors step inside a social and political minefield. Similar, to my thinking, to what people saw in the Blue Mountains of days past.  People, though, on this occasion, from both sides of the argument turned it into a cause celebre and – in the words of Mayor Fiona Byrne cracked the egg that was their stand with a sledgehammer.  The council was really left with no alternative but make it into a principled statement, rather than a practical application. However, in terms of council “scandals”, this one was very low level.

This is why the most absurd part of the Marrickville business was Barry O’Farrell’s threat to remove the council. It was heavy handed and populist, which is a disappointing start to his Premiership. Councils need to be sacked and replaced only if they have proven constant mismanagement of ratepayer funds and / or corruption.  And Marrickville Council has done neither.  All it wanted to do was make a principled stand, which they discovered might have cost a lot of money – and therefore they backed off.  Compare that to the actions of councils that have indeed been sacked or have been been threatened with the sack.

It for this reason I was disappointed that a Labor Councillor like Darcy Byrne in Leichhardt wrote an editorial barking about mismanagement of council funds by the Greens.  It smelt of sour grapes and hypocrisy. I think ALP councillors should probably pause and reflect on scandals involving sacked, Labor controlled councils in Wollongong and Liverpool as well as alleged mismanagement in Labor-controlled Blacktown before attacking Green councillors wanting to spending money in their local area on making principled stands.   Clr. Byrne also doesn’t mention in his article that the Marrickville Council action was initially supported by ALP councillors on that council.  They, too, supported an investigation into making a stand.  This is why we have Councillor Mary O’Sullivan from Marrickville Council making this statement on News Radio, which demonstrates a reasonable pragmatism and doesn’t seek to attack the Greens.  Indeed, it is commendable that she regrets that the issue became part of the state election campaign.

When I listened to this interview, I could hear the stress in her voice and understand her statement that it was “too big for us to carry” – I heard a similar level of stress in the voice of Mayor Fiona Byrne talking to Adam Spencer.  I don’t think any of these good, usually unheard councillors quite knew the storm that was to come.

Perhaps they should run for a seat on the Blue Mountains City Council.  Or, perhaps not.

P.S.  A really good idea came from the meeting – live tweeting from Herald journalist Jo Tovey.  That should happen more often from council meetings, so local ratepayers know what is going on in their council – rather than relying on local newspapers a week later.


Tiptoe Through the TULIP – Paul Howes and the BDS

Today I had a very interesting Twitter conversation with the National Secretary of the AWU, Paul Howes, a man about which I have been critical on many occasions.  I took particular issue with his flippancy in relation to Marrickville Council’s BDS work – especially with his false claim that Marrickville was about to boycott / shut down Max Brenner, because boycotting it is part of the global BDS campaign.

I made comments to him about his frequent attacks on Greens such as those on Marrickville Council and Jamie Parker, calling him a “snake oil salesman”.  He responded – something I have not been used to getting from him before – and sent me the transcript of a very interesting speech he made to the Zionist Federation in Melbourne.  In it, he outlines to his Zionist audience the reasons why the AWU is opposed to the BDS campaign, identifying it as not being from people “in the Territories”, rather from the Palestinian diaspora and therefore suspect – for these reasons:

“The Palestinian Diaspora is less willing to compromise, more willing to keep the fight going,  because they don’t have to actually live the oppressive life suffered by those in the Territories.  Living comfortably in Australia, Canada, USA, UK or Europe these Diaspora activists are happy to fight to the last blood of Palestinians who actually have to live under the Occupation”.

This statement could be seen as dismissing the efforts made by any members of either diaspora in question – Israeli and Palestinian – for example, the work of Daniel Barenboim or the rise of Avigdor Lieberman.  However, it more accurately reveals a mistrust of a “foreign” movement shows a continuation of the union tradition of not trusting outsiders.  It also shows the same contempt for middle class activists in 1st World countries that we see from Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt.

The speech also shows just how Paul Howes applies his eternal pragmatism in everything he does.  To him, the only important body to listen to is another set of trade unions.  In this case, the PGFTU.

“I think I am upholding that union tradition when I work to support the development of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions as an independent, democratic, civic society institution… I stand with the union movements of both Israel and Palestine, as they fight for workers rights on both sides of the Green Line… I support the trust-building co-operative projects that the Israeli trade union movement – led by the Histadrut – and the Palestinian trade union movement – led by the PGFTU – are promoting”.  

This trust of the local union over the diaspora movement is outlined with this statement:

“The PGFTU has been explicit in their rejection of any call for a general BDS, or one that extends to companies which operate only in Green Line Israel and not the West Bank”.

And finally, an anecdotal union leader reason to trust the PGFTU:

“The leader of the PGFTU, Shaher Saed, is respected around the globe for his street smarts. People tell me that he is a realistic, pragmatic trade unionist – who knows when to compromise to achieve a deal. Now in my view they’re the types of trade union leaders who best succeed in representing workers”.

In other words, Howes had heard that Shaher Saed is a Palestinian Paul Howes, so that’s good enough for him.   This call for pragmatism is also present in the speech where Howes seeks to demonstrate that what is important is co-operative projects as well as the old union adage…

“If you truly believe that a-worker-is-a-worker-is-a-worker then the function of any trade union is to ensure fair pay for a fair day’s work and a safe and healthy workplace”.

As long as the workers get paid a proper wage, then it’s all OK.  In the speech, we see one mention of the word “oppressive” in terms of the lives of those in the Occupied Territories – but not a lot about other negatives in regards to the treatment of the Palestinian people by Israel.  There is, however, a lot of demonisation of the founder of the BDS – “university student” Omar Barghouti and the lack of legitimacy of speakers for the BDS.  I imagine that would have played well to his audience.

What was interesting, though, was Howes’ point that the actors who refused to perform in the Ariel Cultural Centre are not part of the BDS (including Daniel Barenboim) – more they are part of a peaceful solution to “winning the two state solution” as Howes puts it. This does raise a question of approaches to the question of Israel and how those outside can place pressure to help the peace process along.  It is a question that the NSW Greens have asked, and answered with the BDS.  With Howes it is this –

“It is because of these principles that I joined with fellow union leaders in the UK and the USA to establish Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP)”

Ultimately, what I learnt was that Paul Howes isn’t the caricature he has made himself to be this past year, and Twitter seems to make it worse for him to be able to articulate his messages – as he said to me – it’s “hard to be detailed in 140 characters (also Twitter does bring out the worse in me)”.  The speech showed interesting thoughts and ideas, as well as a pragmatic approach to ensuring a sustainable future for Palestinian workers.

However, I can’t see how a tiptoe through the TULIP is going to place enough pressure on Israel to stop building more settlements on Palestinian land or ensure a transition to a two state solution that seems to be as far away as ever.  It’s similar in its over cautiousness to opposing major reform like a carbon tax because it might cost jobs in the short term.

Howes’ speech, though, does ask crucial questions about the BDS movement and its effectiveness, as well as its motives and leadership.  Questions much too complex to be handled in Australia’s media and political landscape as it is at this moment.  As with most Australians, I still don’t really know enough about the BDS to be able to counteract Paul Howes’ accusations.  Maybe someone else can.

In the meantime, I’ll end this two part examination of the BDS with a bit of flippancy of my own – some lyrics from TISM –


Maybe it makes you more intense
When your county’s small and you live in tents;
Kurds get gas and die to win
Land from Yass to Deniliquin.

Israel is the merest sliver,
Fits between Hay and the Murray River;
My map don’t show Condamine,
But it’s probably bigger than Palestine.

Imagine if old Yasser Arafat
Was given everything east of Ararat?
Make the middle east far less hairy,
And none of us would miss Port Fairy.

Let’s solve the whole Arabic mania,
Let’s sling ’em – what’s it called? – Tasmania.
Put all of Israel east of Broome –
Double the size! We’ve got the room:

But nationalism’s so damned myopic
When you’re on the atlas but microscopic –
All those guys would rather blow it up
Than move their home to Koo-wee-rup.

Of all nations, the most superb –
Australia, the world’s suburb.


BDS – Well Meaning but Unachievable for the Greens

We have heard a lot from the media this past few weeks about the BDS (Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions) Policy that is being championed by the NSW Greens.  The support for the campaign has been blamed for a number of things, such as a lower than expected vote in Marrickville and Balmain in the state election as well as a “split” in the Greens.  There is variance of opinion about the BDS policy in the Greens – but it’s hardly news that there is a variance of opinion in an Australian political party.  Ask Scott Morrison and Joe Hockey about paying for funeral costs – and Kevin Rudd, Paul Howes and Julia Gillard about carbon prices.  The elements of the media that highlight this “split” are the same that have continued to search for ways to “destroy” the Greens, in the case of The Australian, or just wound them, in the case of certain Fairfax journalists who like to raise the socialist menace tag in relation to the Greens.  This issue, though, needs context and a solution.

First of all, what is BDS?  The actual policy of BDS has been poorly explained by most of the journalists I have read in relation to the policy.  BDS is a campaign started by Palestinian activists wanting to highlight the way the Israeli state has ignored international law and continues to oppress Palestinians.  It is important to note that it is the Israeli state that is being discussed, not Jews as a diaspora.  This is an important distinction ignored by Greg Sheridan, who shamefully claims that BDS is “very close to being downright anti-Semitic”.  That’s akin to saying action against Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is anti-black.   It is also forgotten in the ridiculous graphic at the start of Joe Hildebrand’s satire on the BDS.  BDS is not anti-Jew, it’s anti an Israeli government that continues to act outside common decency towards other groups.  I would wonder if Jewish artists like Daniel Barenboim would like to be branded “anti-Semitic” for supporting boycotts against Israel.  The BDS campaign is a reasonable one, considering how the Israeli state continues to build settlements on Palestinian land, as well as ignoring international requests to negotiate a way of resolving the issues arising in regards treatment of the Palestinian people.

The complex nature of the BDS and the people involved with it overseas is part of the problem the Greens face with trying to promulgate it as official policy.  Our media outlets are much too provincial and aggressively parochial to allow for discussion of important international issues.  For one, we have people like Andrew Bolt, who never fails to get his boot into the Greens.  His blog provides a neat summary of how closed minded the News Limited approach is to issues such as Israel and Palestinian rights.  He is willing to quote Sheridan in saying it is  “virtually anti-Semitic” and insinuate that Lee Rhiannon, in pushing the BDS, is a communist trying to change the world, as well as quoting from a Labor MP who is a friend.  It is fascinating seeing The Australian and Bolt willing to give positive coverage to the ALP – but only when they are kicking at the Greens.  The hypocrisies and closed shop nature of the media are shown very clearly at times such as this.  Added to this is Joe Hildebrand’s easy target satire about Woody Allen films and this editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald – the only time I have seen a Herald editorial sound like it was written by the writers of the Ben Elton Show.  I can’t imagine any of our journalists – from Peter Hartcher to Greg Sheridan – being able to balance a Palestinian perspective on the question of Israel with their generally pro-Israel stance.  Nor can we expect much coverage of Daniel Barenboim’s work in regards to the issue – having a Jewish person championing Palestinian rights ruins the neat little picture that we see about Israel.  In addition, as Anthony Loewenstein points out – these same media outlets do not print Palestinian voices about their BDS campaign.

This brings us back to the Greens and the adoption of the BDS.  The NSW Greens are the ones who have included it as official policy, at least at a State Delegate Council (SDC) level.  I was at such a council before the state election and heard arguments from many angles.  It has created a lot of discussion and passionate advocacy from many quarters. Opposition from media outlets and pro-Israel groups have created a divergence of approaches.  There are a number of Greens who have endured negativity from the media over the years and want to continue with the policy, their resolve strengthened by the negative coverage.  The “we will not be bowed” attitude can be seen by many who rail against “Zionist media” and the like (the label “Zionist media” makes me very uncomfortable – it’s not a good label to use for BDS advocates).   This would be felt by many in Marrickville at the moment, as it was their influence on that council that led to a chance to put a BDS policy into practice.   An act, it must be said, that was also supported by ALP councillors.  As David Shoebridge, one of the NSW Green Upper House members, points out, the issue has become a straw man that can be targetted by people who just like to criticise the Greens.

Another approach is to say that it isn’t particularly prudent to pursue foreign policy outcomes like the BDS when the Greens are still forming as a genuine political alternative to the ALP and the Liberals.   This is an approach favoured by Bob Brown and Cate Faehrmann, one of the NSW Upper House Greens.  Theirs is essential a pragmatic approach, which is outlined by Faehrmann with the argument that the Greens should be focused on the  “urgent task of bridging the gap between those who vote Green and those who agree with our values but don’t”.

That brings me back to offering some ideas of my own, speaking as a new Green.  One of the main goals for the Greens is to attract people to vote for them for the first time – a goal neatly summed up with “Change your Vote, Not your Values” – a much better slogan than the “Real Change for a Change”, which sounded like a pale version of the Liberal slogan. As a result of this, the Greens need to make the message simple and streamlined in order to make itself appear as a credible alternative, that will be committed to helping Australians achieve a better life.   That means that the current Green focus on sustainable jobs, improving public transport, education, health, childcare as well as provide realistic goals for sustainable energy should be the party’s core message.  It is that message that was pushed in the Western Suburbs’ Green campaign and has resulted in an increase in the Green vote out here.  What perhaps isn’t realised is that there are a number of poorer areas out here that need improved public infrastructure – and the Greens are the only party that overtly offers improvement of them as public entities, as opposed to the public-private solutions of the ALP and private solutions of the Liberals.

In terms of the NSW election for the Lower House, I am not stating that the BDS was a major player in the lower than expected Balmain and Marrickville vote.  I wasn’t surprised by the smaller increase of the Green vote in Balmain and Marrickville, simply because people in those areas had already swung to the Greens in 2007 and in the subsequent council elections.  The real success of the Green campaign in both seats (and in Penrith) has been to achieve what can be considered to be “rusted on” Greens voters. Where the Greens suffered in the NSW election was in losing voters in places like Toongabbie, where Nathan Rees was preferenced.  It was also clear that the ALP spent a lot of money promoting the “local nice person” image of their two candidates, which would have had an impact.

This is not to say, though, that I think the BDS is not a problem for the Greens.  I believe that Green core business is currently being muddied by well-meaning, well intentioned policies from areas where the Greens are strong.  Policies like the BDS play well to the current Greens in inner city seats who are committed to international social justice. It is a good idea to use council access to make statements about wrongs that are happening elsewhere, raise awareness, educate people.  There is, however, a need to have a more pragmatic approach to gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the wider populace and it’s clear that this is not going to happen with the continued commitment to the BDS.  The opposition is much too strong to fight, and a continued fight might cost a significant loss of people interested in voting Green for the first time.   BDS should not be considered as a policy so important that it damages the party to the extent that is reduces its ability to be a credible alternative.  That’s partially because the BDS is an unachievable policy on a State and Federal level in Australia – and always will be.

And, ultimately for the Greens, we need to be focused on the achievables, because there are many of those.  If holding back on unachievables like the BDS is needed to maximise the Green vote and hence Green advocacy for the achievables, then that needs to occur.

Addendum.  Since I wrote this, two new actions have captured my interest and reframed by perspective on this issue.  One is this tweet from Paul Howes, National Secretary of the AWU (@howespaul) – “Taken the family to Max Brenner for no reason than Marrickville Council and Fiona Byrne want us to boycott them”.  That, along with Joe Hildebrand’s Woody Allen piece, shows how opponents to the Green agenda will say deliberately ignorant things to attempt to make BDS appear anti-Semitic.  Howes’ tweets over the past month have been almost exclusively anti-Green – during the NSW election he made frequent references to Jamie Parker’s previous business interests.  Not many anti-Liberal tweets, though.

The other is this opinion piece by Fiona Byrne, where she outlines a pragmatic approach to the BDS – as in, make a statement, but don’t make it cost people.  It is best summed up here:

“In this way Marrickville Council can continue to show our support for the Palestinians, while not having a financial burden on ratepayers or affecting the operations of the council”.

If there is something that gets Australians to protest, it’s something that will cost us money.   Good to see some pragmatism in the equation in Marrickville.

Cultural Comment Politics

Same Sex Marriage – A Civil Conservatism

My father was one of the most conservative men you could possibly meet. He didn’t like unions and Bob Hawke, was for a time a member of the Liberal Party, before loud young men started going to meetings and had some colourful phrases to describe the Aborigines who received preferential treatment in Gove, where he managed a work camp for the bauxite mine there. He did, however, have great respect for individual people and hence had the skill of being able to talk to anyone, no matter their position in life.  He also had a profound respect for institutions. This is why he spent a decade working as a social worker / youth centre manager for the YMCA in South Melbourne – in the same street where Father Bob Maguire currently plies his outreach trade, Montague St.   Like Father Bob, he had a terse realtionship with the officious nature of head office in Melbourne – and had a similar faith that the institution had the capability of helping the people of the area.

This respect for people and institutions led him in his later years to become a civil marriage celebrant. To his way of thinking, he didn’t want to make money from it (he charged just the fee imposed by the government), and he didn’t want couples to continue to live outside the institution of marriage. If they weren’t getting married in a church, it might as well as be him that gets them to sign the papers. And so they did – many couples who liked his formal air of an old school Minister.

It is for this reason that I see the act of marriage as more a conservative civil social act than a religious ceremony. It is a way of encouraging couples to formalise their connection to society as well as formalise the bond between two people. This leads to various conservative married couple activities like raising children, buying houses in the suburbs and the rest. So, when people cite the religious reason for blocking same sex marriage, I see it as invalid, simply because marriage ceased to be a religious activity when civil celebrants like Dad could do it. Churches can do marriages, have nuptial masses and the like, but the actual act of marriage is a civic activity.

Similarly, when people like Julia Gillard and Barry Cohen  cite vague tradition in their argument against same sex marriage – I think of the variety of people and lifestyles that Dad married and wonder whether anyone has a “traditional” anything anymore. I remember the couple who both had significant intellectual disabilities who got married – with the support of their families – and think of a time when “traditional” society and institutions would have opposed such a union. For Dad, the joy the act brought the couple and their families was worth becoming a celebrant.

In addition, we had traditions in this country like smoking advertising, driving without seat belts and no random breath tests. I’m pretty sure men like Cohen would have thought nothing of those traditions before society realised that we needed to move on.  Using the “we’ve always done it that way in the past” argument is a cop-out, because it’s arbitrary and counter – intuitive.

The Waleed Aly definition of conservatism encompasses the idea that true conservatives weigh up new ideas and ways of thinking and include those that make sense for the conserving of society’s balance. Hence Malcolm Turnbull’s support for an ETS. The same rule should apply to same sex marriage. It is essentially a way to apply socially conservative ways to the way same sex couples act in society. Julia Gillard doesn’t understand this because she is, I believe, a conservative by construction, rather than by nature. Her pronouncements on same sex marriage, like her recent comments about welfare recipients, ring hollow because she has moved away from her better instincts and is just attempting to neutralise Tony Abbott.

Barry Cohen, along with Tony Abbott and Paul Keating (who, according to Cohen’s article, opposed the decriminalisation of homosexual activity) I believe have possessed and, in the case of Cohen and Abbott (we don’t know about Keating these days) a reactionary, instinctive mistrust of homosexual men rather than present any cogent, logical approach to the question of extending the institution of marriage to same sex couples. Mind you, I also suspect my father would not have been so enlightened as to support such unions – I remember the time when he hired pot plants out to the Westpac in Oxford Street and was disturbed by the men holding each other’s hands outside. That kind of shift in attitudes has been left to his son.


The Red Menace Flares Again

And so we see off another challenge by Pauline Hanson to the dominant political paradigm, this time by a bare thousand votes in an electorate of 5 million (or so). This time, her defeat was facilitated by preferences from Gordon Moyes’ Family First voters. Curiously enough, the Greens received the same number of preferences gained by the Nationals, showing just how weird preferences can be if most parties are asking their voters to exhaust, or, voters simply deciding how to vote without being told. It was a little sad to see Gordon go – the man who stood up to Fred Nile’s vile racism and suffered political death because of it. On that note, I see the election of the unknown new CDP member – Paul Green – as a worry for NSW, simply because of the volatile nature of a party centred on one bitter and narcissistic preacher without a church. I would go so far as to say the election of two CDP upper house members is worse than one Pauline Hanson.

Why? I hear the screams from progressives and human rights advocates that Pauline is a racist, intolerant bigot and the rest. Yes, she is – but that’s not all she is. She represents something in our population that is largely unaddressed. And what that is goes back to 1996, when Hanson was preselected as a Liberal candidate for Oxley, a seat not too different from my own seat of the time, Lindsay.

The mood of the outer suburbs in 1996 was dark and judgmental – there was a feeling that inner city areas and groups linked to those areas were receiving the attention of the Keating Government – the big ticket items, the symbolic things were attracting attention, not the economy of the “little person”. It was on the back of this sentiment that the Liberals preselected “people like us” candidates like Jackie Kelly and Pauline Hanson – people that were seen to embody the aspirations and frustrations of people in their area. In Lindsay, at least, it was a canny move, pitting a populist, clueless candidate like Kelly against a boring ALP Right Machine man like Ross Free. The Liberals, in the case of Kelly, had little idea she’d win – they told her as much – and it was a gamble, selecting someone who didn’t fit the mould of the traditional Liberal candidate. They took the same gamble in Oxley.

We know, of course, that Hanson was a different kettle of fish from Kelly – Kelly worked inside a government institution and was not a bigot (unlike, as it turned out, her husband and the husband of her heir apparent). However, Hanson did voice the concerns of many in her electorate, and electorates like it – that there were welfare inequities and that “others” were going to take over the country – going back to one of the main selling points of Federation, that Australia needed to protect against the Asian “other”. And those concerns remain today amongst people who don’t understand the need for a compassionate nation, seeing just their own economic interests as being the most important factor in Australia.

Hanson’s views in 1996 aren’t all that different to a Liberal Party of 2011, where Tony Abbott is again asking for crackdowns on welfare inequities, raising scares about large population growth and Scott Morrison is canvassing the need for exploiting fears of the new “other” – Muslims. The main difference is that Hanson was blunt and overt on her comments, as well as ignorant in the statement of facts and attitudes.

Curiously enough, though, Hanson’s pitch to the NSW voters of 2011 wasn’t so concerned with newcomers (though they still don’t assimilate) but more an agrarian socialist agenda, which was a pitch of her campaigns after One Nation bit the dust. She is strongly against electricity privatisation – indeed any kind of privatisation – as well as being for primary industry support like tariffs and subsidies. Quite Bob Katteresque in a way, as well as having some parallel with the Green agenda. But only a slight one. There also seems to be more of a sympathetic aura to Hanson since her prison term, which is intriguing in itself.

Hanson these days represents a populist view of politics – that it should be about talking without a filter, “saying what you think”. That is why she is popular – she is more like a lot of voters out in the outer suburbs – says what she is lured to believe by current affair programs and through BBQ conversations. What Frontline said about Hanson is true – believe Today Tonight and A Current Affair for any length of time and you’ll think that Australia needs a Pauline Hanson to come along and “speak” for the disenfranchised masses – either her or Angry Anderson.

While I think electing Hanson would have been a drastic mistake, I have a bigger problem with the CDP having two people beating one drum (which wasn’t the case when Moyes was in the building). They might well use their balance of power to ensure abortion control is back on the books, make sure the safe injecting room in Kings Cross is gone, to stop any more reform of laws regarding same sex recognition – any number of draconian measures that would probably not have interested Hanson. In addition, Nile is still there, wanting Australia to stop Muslim immigration. Nile plus one. The unknown Paul Green.

Now Pauline has gone, we can sigh in relief, for sure. We still have, however, a negative, bitter force in the Upper House of NSW that means that we can’t really be celebrating the Legislative Council result – and hoping that the Greens get the balance of power in 2015.


The ACL and their Agenda – And Why the Greens Aren’t Anti-Christian

I read with great interest the Rev. Rod Benson’s article in the Religion and Ethics section of the ABC site.   It has been interesting to see Gillard’s recent statements on same sex marriage, as well as the way changes to territory rights was, in a panic, referred to committee.  Reading Benson’s article places those actions in their proper context – that Gillard has a religion – pragmatism.   It also highlights, however, how far Australia’s Christian churches seem to be going away from their core business – promoting and embodying Christ’s teachings.

It annoys me whenever media outlets make a blanket statement that the Greens are “ultra-secularists”, such as Benson says in the article.  It’s just not accurate.  There are many in the Green movement – me included – who are active Christians that are a part of the Green movement because we see the actions of both major parties as damaging to core Christian concepts.  These include stewardship of the Earth – Liberal and Labor policy has lead to widespread environmental damage; care for the less fortunate – Liberal and Labor welfare policy changes in recent times have been draconian and lacking on compassion; care for the “other”- as embodied in the parable of the Good Samaritan – Liberal and Labor asylum seeker policy has not followed Christ’s teachings about that.

There are many more examples of how Green policy and activity can be in harmony with Christ’s teachings and actions if one chooses to see it that way.  Notice how I am not equating Christ’s teachings with the ways of the human developed “church”.  That is a different thing altogether – and the ACL meeting with Gillard seems to show it operates.

The ACL and Gillard talked about 10 different points.  Only 4 of them were concerns that had direct relationship with the teachings of Jesus.   They were:  Gambling, Persecuted People groups, The best interests of the child and Asylum Seekers.  They are all very important ideas and should be of utmost importance in a civilised, Christian society. In addition, all are issues that are of great importance to the Greens.

Another, Sexualisation of Society and its related issue – Advertising and Entertainment classification standardsis more related to Paul and his teachings – the same Paul who had grave concerns about women getting equal rights in the Church and various other views that are largely irrelevant.  While I am not especially enamoured of the sexualisation of society either, again, we don’t see the Greens promoting the sexualisation of society either.  It is an issue that is very hard to control for any government in a western liberal society.

The other issues are related to the church and its interpretation of morality – not relating to Christ’s teachings directly.  The first is same-sex marriage.  Marriage was an activity that existed before Christ’s day and after his life on Earth, it became, after a time, the activity of the Christian Church.  Yet, Jesus did not spend one minute talking about homosexuality or what marriage should be.

Over the recent past, marriage has ceased to become purely a religious activity and has become a civil activity.  If churches were concerned about who was getting “married” and why, they should have made an objection to the Marriage Act of 1961, which allowed civil marriages to take place.  After all, in the church’s definition, adulterers are allowed to marry, as are people who have had sex before marriage – another sin.  And yet, now, and only now, the church is starting to object to how civil marriage is performed.  While Jesus never mentioned it, it has become a core article of faith for some modern churches to oppose homosexual marriage.    If they object to that, they should be, in all fairness, objecting to the civil marriage of all people who openly flout church teachings.   But they aren’t.  That’s because their opposition to same sex marriage is a step away from what should be their core business – promoting Jesus’ messages about loving relationships and harmony between people.

Another issue of interest to the modern church is euthanasia.  This is again not related directly to Christ’s teachings, but has become a central part of the modern church’s desire to interpret the direction of its church in its own way.  The idea of ending one’s own life in dignity and on one’s own terms doesn’t appear at any stage in the Bible.  However, teachings from the Bible have been applied to the act.  I am not saying for a minute that Jesus would have encouraged it.  It is, though, a relatively minor issue in the light of the major issues facing our society – such as social inequity, the continual degradation of conditions in poorer countries and wars between parties about religion and other issues. Churches, for all the amount of time and effort paid to it, are in danger of neglecting Jesus’ core teachings, such as the ones outlined.

Many Christians around the world are ignoring the church’s interpretation and ending their lives with dignity, rather than pain. My father didn’t take the euthanasia path – but did have a lot of state hospital provided morphine injected to counteract the pain caused by the cancer attacking his body.  That morphine probably did hasten things, mercifully for him.  I’m not sure that is an un Christian way to leave.

A pure church issue is “religious freedom”, which is not about religious freedom at all. It’s about churches being able to fire people who have “lifestyle choices” or opinions that are at variance with church teachings, alternatively choose the screen out people who would not fit into the culture of a church related business, such as a school.  The current exemptions from the discrimination act enjoyed by the churches allow them, for example, to ask gay teachers to leave – which does happen from time to time.  That discussion has nothing to do with Christ’s teachings – indeed, it is encouraging an attitude quite at odds with the inclusive theology preached in the Gospels.

This leads to another pure church issue – federal funding of non-government schools, which is a key reason, I suspect, why various church leaders openly encourage parents of students at Christian schools as well as parishioners to not vote Green.  While I disagree with the Green policy on this – I think it should be directed at the rich end of the independent school tree, not the systemic or local independent schools – it is highly unusual for churches to actively encourage a way to vote these days.  This kind of political activity is more like the 1950s and 1960s, when the DLP was around.  However, Jesus never talked about school funding – indeed, encouraged people to separate money from talk of God.  The church, though, does, because it’s their core business.

Finally, we have the “not-for-profit regulator”, which has churches very worried – especially Hillsong and the Seventh Day Adventists, who make a lot of tax-free money from owning highly profitable music businesses and Sanitarium respectively.  That is flying in the face of Jesus’ teachers and actions, specifically in defying the money changers in the synagogue.   I have often thought that if Jesus were to return, he would visit the Sanitarium plant in the Central Coast and tell them that it wasn’t the work of Him – and then he’d turn his attention on the merchandise shop at Hillsong.

Ultimately, we see the problem with the Australian Christian Lobby and its agenda.  It is Christian in its badging, but it’s not made clear by its machinery what is Christianity and what is human business.  What is clear is that the ALP seems to cower to its cynical pragmatism, which is based partially on Christ’s teachings, but also with equal parts good intentions and business acumen.