RELIGION AND LABOUR I
Nurturing Justice 4 (2007)
The previous broadsheet, Nurturing Justice 3 (2007) drew attention to business and commercial criticisms of Labor's recently unveiled IR policies. These criticisms are straining on the gnat of collective bargaining while swallowing the camel of political deceit. These criticisms, seen in recent historical context, are very close to compromising the allegiance of those who make them to parliamentary democracy itself. They are not focused on the right issue. They have not addressed the fatal flaw in the Liberal-National Coalition's IR legislation. The strategy, as adopted by the Liberal-National coalition during the last election, to avoid announcing the planned IR reforms, can never truly be good for business and can never be in the true national interest. And so the critics of Labor's IR policies are exposed. They have failed to stand up and be counted for democratic politics by refusing to be compromised by a strategy to win an election by keeping planned changes under wraps. Their combined criticisms of Labor now, is simply a smokescreen that tries to draw attention away from the fact that they failed to criticise the PM's plans when he decided to reveal them after the election. Business should never have bought this reform. The nation's interest now stands exposed because of that self-interested silence. And so, the critics threaten to use their collective commercial and economic muscle which in fact is to put their own commercial interests ahead of the national interest. They do this by meekly endorsing a deceitful approach to electioneering.
The pragmatism that has dominated the Liberal Party since 1974, turning that party into an electoral machine, has now brought the country to a fork in the road, as business now gives its implicit support to a party that "win at all costs" pragmatism is a sine qua non of Australian democratic politics.
Ironically, it is quite possible that those supporting the Labor Party and wanting to see a Rudd-Gillard Government do not realise the seriousness of this situation. That being so, it doesn't make the situation any easier. In fact our problems are deepened. Yet, if Labor chooses to skirt around this issue rather than finding a principled way ahead, it wouldn't be the first time that Labor had ignored political principles in the euphoric fanfare of popular support.
In Parliamentary democracy terms a return of the Liberal-National coalition will be an electoral endorsement of a serious retrograde step in our system of parliamentary elections and accountable government. That is not to say that a vote for Labor will avoid all the looming problems this country will have to face. This broadsheet is not an attempt to justify a vote for Labor; however, given the rules that govern the lower house ballot paper, all citizens are now faced with the problem of which of the two major parties to prefer on their ballot. A preference for the Liberal-National coalition is not just a vote to retain the same government; it cannot avoid being an endorsement of the conduct of the Liberal-National electoral machine last time around. It may be that we are in the early stages of the complete demise of that "side" of politics. An electorate that voted according to political principle would probably have consigned the Liberal Party to the historical WPB long ago. But we cannot deny that the Liberal Party reflects the pragmatic self-interest that is so dominant throughout the electorate, a self-interest that is continually showing itself to be willing to subordinate political principles for economic gain.
Whatever the commercial and economic problems that will result from the election, the re-election of a Howard Government will simply indicate that Australia's parliamentary system of government has turned another corner ... downwards. Even before the election we are confronted by a serious problem: a huge number of Australian citizens are simply not perturbed by this serious state of affairs. The momentum along this pragmatic path is such that it seems almost unstoppable. So where do we go from here?
This edition of Nurturing Justice continues our exploration of the political problems that have emerged in the governance of our country - at all levels - as a result of the decline in genuine party politics and authentic electoral debate. We have to address the absence of a clearly formulated Christian political option. We need to understand why there is such lethargy among Christians to consider citizenship as an integral part of our service to God and neighbour. It may well be that the political parties have degenerated into electoral machines, but a biblically-directed Christian response can not be to pronounce a plague on both their houses as if "we" had nothing to do with the political sickness that afflicts us. "We" too must count ourselves among the politically infirm. But where are we to start our rehab? This question brings us back, once again, to what Nurturing Justice is all about - finding the path of a Christian political option and walking on it.
We can hope that the election of a Rudd-Gillard Labor Government will signal a fresh commitment to genuine political accountability throughout the country, at all levels of government. Our political system needs reform and the impending disaster that we face, from the many-sided ramifications of a pragmatic politics, only serves to highlight that need. We sincerely hope that a Rudd-Gillard Labor Government might move toward seriously examining our electoral system so that all Australians can be more effectively represented in the chambers of government at federal, state and local levels. That hope this broadsheet would also nurture.
But in the meantime, those who are seeking a truly Christian political option should not assume that merely formulating an electoral reform proposal will get us very far. Instead, I suggest we give urgent attention to developing a Christian political option for industrial and business policy. And as a first step we need to develop a Christian view of the business enterprise, that social structure in which many workers are found at many levels, supported by capital, shareholders and consumers. This will be our topic next time.
Labor and the union movement cannot avoid putting up industrial relations policies and it is right and proper that they do so. But the underlying manipulation of the electorate that has led to these IR laws needs to be challenged by a new approach, one that is truly open and accountable. As we encourage Labor to look again at the way elections are run and representation is structured throughout our country, we for our part will seek to develop a Christian view of industrial relations and business. That way, we at least begin a discussion by assuming that a comprehensive political approach worthy of the name Christian is possible if we are persistent and continue the work.
Nurturing Justice May 2007 © The contents of this email are copyright. Documents may be photocopied or retransmitted in their entirety but not otherwise reprinted or transmitted without permission. "Nurturing Justice" is a project to encourage Christian political reflection based upon wise and loving civic participation. Comments welcomed at email@example.com