Freedom for the Religious Right?

Since the election there seems to be a groundswell among coalition MPs in support of a bill guaranteeing religious freedom.

The groundswell, such as it is, appears to be inspired by two specific incidents: the Israel Folau case; and (on Malcolm Turnbull’s watch) the gay marriage plebiscite.

However, the call for religious freedom rights, in both cases, is inspired by a fallacy. Neither the Israel Folau incident, nor the gay marriage plebiscite, did anything to endanger religious freedom. What we are seeing is a deliberate attempt to characterise enlightened social policy as an attack on religion, when in fact, it is simply an expression of communal priority.

There is no attack on religion. There is however an attack on outdated opinions which conflict with rights the community at large has determined to be more important than the right of religions to judge and exclude.

In other words, you can practise any religion you like in Australia, but that doesn’t give you the right to judge and exclude others on the basis of their sexuality. And why on earth, in 2019, should anyone want to?

* * *

But to my mind, the bigger question is why would the religious right be deliberately misconstruing the issues of marriage equality or the legality of same sex relationships as attacks on religious freedom?

These people aren’t (entirely) idiots, so I am going to assume they know that the right of all people to get married is not an attack on religious freedom. How is person A’s right to get married an attack on person B’s right to practise religion? It’s not.

I am going to assume they know that the ARU cancelling Israel Folau’s contract for being in breach of its fundamental terms is in no way an attack on his freedom to practise his religion. How is person A’s right to their own sexuality an attack on person B’s right to practise religion? It’s not.

How is the right of any person A to get married, or express their sexuality, in any way an attack on the rights of completely different persons B who have never even met or (maybe) even lived in the same state?

What the religious right are effectively saying is this: the rights of other Australians to marry whoever they want, or have sex with whoever they want, is somehow an attack on their right to practise religion, even though it does not affect them personally in any way at all.

They are also making this claim despite the fact that the majority have decided that marital equality is important and that sexual orientation is up to the individual. Making law on the basis of majority will is fundamental to a democratic society.

So the religious right are also saying: they want the parliament to enshrine their right to judge and exclude despite the fact that the majority have determined the rights of all Australians to marry or express their sexuality to be inalienable.

Obviously they can’t just state it as baldly as that so they are hiding their claim behind a façade of victimisation. They are suggesting the rights of others are an attack on their rights – even though they are not remotely affected by the rights of others. So therefore, it’s only fair that their right to go on judging and excluding be enshrined in legislation, notwithstanding the democratically determined rights of others.

Why is no-one calling out Israel Folau or the religious right on this?

There is absolutely no basis in fact or law for the asserted need for religious freedom which is, in reality, an attempt to enshrine the right of the minority to discriminate against life choices determined to be entirely legitimate by the majority.

Nice try religious right, but surely Australians aren’t so stupid as to give in to your dinosaur bigotry.

Election 2019: Game of Groans

I don’t know which outcome disgusts me more – the federal election or The Game of Thrones.

As I continue to process the outcome of the election, it strikes me that the choice came down to two different issues: climate change and retirement income policy.

Eighty-one percent of Australians were concerned about climate change, but large numbers were also concerned about perceived depredations (rightly or wrongly) on future retirement incomes. You couldn’t vote for both environmental protection and retirement income protection, so you had to make a choice.

Australia, as the driest continent, is extremely susceptible to global warming. We can see the Murray Darling drying up. We can see the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. We can see the horrors of soil degradation and extreme weather events both here and around the world. We can feel the unseasonal heat as average temperatures ramp up every year. And we are constantly warned about mass extinctions and the impact on biodiversity as habitats are destroyed both by human incursion and rising temperatures.

And yet, somehow, none of those threats were as real to voters as the threat to their future hip pockets.

Because that’s what turned the election in the Coalition’s favour – Labor targeting franking credits, capital gains tax and negative gearing. It was NOT a retirement tax as characterised by the Coalition, but it WAS a potential handbrake on those with aspirational sentiment.

The Labor Party must have done their analysis in the formulation of those policies and I daresay they determined that relatively few people would be much affected, and not many of those few would have been likely to vote ALP in any case.

I suspect they believed those policies (apparently aimed at the rich) would have been popular among those in the median household income range and would therefore offset any vote losses in the retirement class.

What they forgot, is that Australians – those in the Sensible Centre at least – have always been aspirational. They may not enjoy franking credits, capital gains or negative gearing right now, but they hope to in the future and don’t want to see the Gravy Train derailed before they have a chance to get their own snouts in the trough!

They also forgot that Australians have always perceived themselves as inherently classless, but implicit in an attack on the (perceived) rich is a recognition that there are in fact two classes (or more). I suspect that would make a lot of Australians across the spectrum quite uncomfortable and a vote against Labor was therefore a vote denying a class war – a vote in favour of unity.

So if Labor had been right, and their policies had been embraced by the majority, what would that have said about the evolving polity? Could it have meant that we had become a nation newly divided into classes (haves and have nots) with a dwindling sense of aspiration?

If so, that would be just about the saddest day in Australian political history.

But maybe it was anyway.

We may have rejected a class war, but in so doing we rejected action on climate change. And the tragedy is, that decision was to some extent forced on Australians who would have been quite happy to vote for the environment if the Labor Party had simply left it at that.

In making the election about class and aspiration they muddied the political water so badly that voters couldn’t see the Murray Darling drying up or the Reef bleaching. They sensed instead a profound attack on their culture, which just happened to affect their future wealth (or their hope of future wealth) also.

That made the choice impossible for some, and the result will be another three years of Coalition policy that favours the climate science deniers and the coal lobby – who are desperate to sell their coal reserves before they entirely lose their value.

Fortunately, the market continues to put its faith (and dollars) into renewables despite the government removing subsidies and other incentives to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

And for an old greenie like me that may be the final irony – the free market coming to the rescue of the environment when the politicians (through being in the pockets of the lobbyists on one side, or through policy incompetence on the other side) have entirely failed.

Although neither failure is as disappointing as the pathetic conclusion to The Game of Thrones. Take away the original writer (GRR Martin) and you lose the sense of story momentum and integrity that has enthralled millions of TV viewers for years. Almost any of whom could have written a better ending than the festival of shark jumping I sat through over the last two months.

Like the election, at least its finally over.

If I Had My Own Political Party

I did the ABC election compass the other night, the survey that takes account of your responses to 30 questions and comes up with a calculated average that pinpoints your position on the political spectrum. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself smack in the middle – left of the Libs and right of Labor. I daresay that pretty much sums up most Australians.

Thing is, this is one of those cases where an average turns out to be completely wrong. I would say that most of my political views are somewhere between the Greens and Labor – I’m environmentally Green, industrially Labor, but I also want to see fiscal responsibility and ministerial competence.

So, my approach to voting over the last twenty years has been a tad complicated. I always put the Greens first – I don’t want them to win, but I want them to have a say in the legislation I most care about.

After that, I’ve had to choose between Liberal and Labor – the parties likely to form government. Federally, I’ve always gone Labor, although sometimes with gritted teeth.

My problem with both main parties comes down to competence and a lack of genuine attachment to principle. They both tend to be made up of career politicians these days – people who go from university via the Young Libs/Labor into party back room roles and ultimately into parliament without ever having done anything but politics.

They know the system like the backs of their hands, but they know nothing about running a business, or building something, or helping a human being, or understanding the way the planet works, and their personal views are expressed only in the party manifesto.

They care only about power and will say or do anything to achieve it.

Even worse, to get preselection in one of the main parties, you have to do deals. That effectively means that any candidate for Labor or the Coalition is so compromised by the deals they’ve been obliged to make, they don’t have an inch to move policy-wise.

The best example of this was Malcolm Turnbull. He might have been one of our greatest Prime Ministers but he did a deal with the Devil (the Liberal religious right) and consequently was unable to mobilise any sort of policy program to engage the centrist sensibilities of most Australians.

He could have outstayed Menzies if he’d governed as the vast majority expected and wanted him to but was too emasculated by the deal to deliver on his tremendous promise.

So who are we left with?

The minor parties tend to be radical idiots, or fiscal idiots, or just plain idiots. Some of them (especially the One Nation Party) seem to be in politics mainly to make money from the votes they receive, or donations, or insisting that candidates pay ridiculous sums for endorsement and electoral paraphernalia. I daresay there are some talented, principled people among the minor parties/unaligned individuals, but I don’t know who they are.

The thing is, NONE of these people – major party or independent – properly represent me and my politics, so it’s really hard to vote for any of them.

Which got me thinking – what do I want from a politician or party?

Let’s focus on my perfect politician.

He or she, first of all, needs to be honest. The thing that most presses my buttons is corruption in public office. I’d make the penalty for that comparable with murder to both dissuade such behaviour, and to show my complete disgust for people who rip off those who elect them.

Next, I expect a requisite minimum intelligence, and worldliness. They don’t have to be formally educated but they must be savvy and capable of understanding/articulating the issues.

Next, I expect them to have achieved something outside politics. I am so sick of apparatchiks and party animals being raised up to the parliament despite never having actually done anything beyond learn the party ropes. For example, there are hundreds of lawyers in Australian politics, but how many have actually run a law firm or even made partner?

In my party I’d make a rule that no-one was allowed to stand for parliament until they’d reached the age of 40, or had been given special dispensation for having done something really impressive in their personal or professional life. That would get rid of the careerists who are the greatest blight on our political system.

Finally, they would have to be demonstrably passionate about standing for parliament, both in terms of the policies they wish to pursue and the contribution they want to make to a principled public life.

So what about the party?

I’m not interested in right or left – what I’m interested in is principle and competence. Members should be allowed to vote in accordance with their own convictions, but must be accountable to their constituency for their actions.

Party policy should be guided by only a small number of principles along the following lines:

• All people are equal under the rule of law and have equal opportunity to make the most of their lives.
• All people are free to live untrammelled by any rules except for those designed to protect the rights and happiness of others.
• We will endeavour always to help those less fortunate (including people from other countries) while also endorsing the right of all Australians to be as successful as they desire and merit.
• No individual or corporation will be allowed to do business in Australia without paying their proper share of tax.
• We have a profound responsibility to preserve Australia (and the earth) in its best possible shape for the future.
• We will make no policy unsupported by evidence, especially scientific evidence.
• We have a profound responsibility to promote knowledge and explore the universe.

That’s probably enough. If there was a party that espoused those ideals and only allowed individuals as described above to stand, they’d have my vote like a shot.

And plenty of others I’d reckon.