So, do we not have the beginnings of an answer here as to why carbon pollution is not being debated as a moral issue? Well, moral issues are usually consigned to "conscience votes" and "conscience votes" refer to "non-core" issues of party policy. Only the contentious moral issues which have the potential of splitting the parliamentary party are to be hedged by "conscience votes". Carbon pollution is, at least at this point, viewed as an economic matter - moreover a matter that could give respective party leaders the Prime Ministership if they can only get their polling right before making public statements on the issue - and therefore in political terms can not be a moral issue, or a matter of conscience.
And so, for both Labor and the Coalition, "core" economic promises are insulated from conscience, while conscience is insulated from the overall thrust of a party's policies. A person's leadership capability - whether as PM or Leader of the Opposition - is now measured in terms of the success they have in making public statements that adapt policy to public opinion and thereby enhancing the party's standing in the polls. As well, this approach to politics also effectively insulates elected members from any comprehensive accountability to their electors. On "both sides of politics" the parties avoid scrutiny of the principles that guide them in policy development and this is basic to their almost complete failure to engage in programmes of ongoing political and civic education about their own political views on all political issues, contentious and otherwise. Thus they avoid the political necessity of having their policies reviewed critically by the public, and become co-responsible agents for the widespread adoption of a climate of political cynicism among the citizenry that adopts a "plague on both houses" and thereby avoids political responsibility. This is also a serious "climate change" which needs to be of concern to us as citizens, to our elected representatives and to the political parties that seek to establish their niche in this country's governance. [Think of all the public funds that are stupidly wasted in election campaigns, tweaking the political instincts of electors rather than giving them something to think about!]
The parties are not just protected by a non-partisan self-definition of themselves as the national political-managerial elite (consider the recent statements made as it were "behind the scenes" by former Prime Ministers Hawke and Howard), but they are locked into narrowed political ruts that lack genuine political will and courage. Meanwhile, elected members are effectively given a license to hold on to private views that might just come to notice in "conscience votes", (if members are indeed conscientious and speak out), but which all too easily avoid the full scrutiny of electors.
And we might have expected the Greens to take another path - but no - they continue prominently to milk the situation by a populist leveraging of public opinion on various issues, not least concerning "gay marriage", which then, in political terms, lets Labor and Coalition off the hook of political accountability for the deepening crisis in our political system. Meanwhile the world-wide populist challenge to parliamentary accountability continues unabated [see previous edition], and all indications are that the Greens are bending every effort to cash in on that.
So how do we advocate "root and branch" reform of our entire political life? We are now very much between a rock and a hard place. We are, as it were, on a genuine political fault-line. [That describes Nurturing Justice view of it's political position, I guess.] We may not be experiencing political collapse and having to clear away the rubble just yet, but we do have to try to find the political wriggle room to extricate our politics from this critical impasse. It is an impasse in which justice in government is now in constant danger of being subjected to politics.
The Greens continue to avoid pressing home the importance of political reform along the lines of proportional representation. One would think that with voter support running at 12 to 20%, and with the prospect of 12 to 20% of elected members under a PR system, that they might broaden their horizons to develop a comprehensive plan for the progressive reform of our system of political representation and that to do so is vital not just to the national interest but also to their future now as a viable political party. But instead, by attracting members who are devoted to populist electoral pump priming for "gay marriage", they use "conscience votes" as a convenient "wedge" while maintaining the ominous silence, along with other gay marriage advocates, about the consequences to our public-legal order should such a legislative change be made. There is a tendency on all political sides therefore to run blind. For instance, what would it mean for those who actually do not believe that a homosexual relationship can be a marriage? If the legislation that brings in the change assumes that marriage is a civil right then by expressing one's view one may well be contesting not just the " marriage" but the civil rights of the parties involved! That alone is why it is simply short-sighted to say that the individual Parliamentarian should be allowed to vote according to conscience and if the electors don't like the conscience vote to throw them out at the next election.
As Mr Abbott implies, the political views that a party and that party's elected representatives hold should be evident to electors before they cast their votes. That also means that Mr. Abbott should bite the bullet and extend the principle he has enunciated and "roll out" a comprehensive policy that protects electors from being politically betrayed by those they elect. For it is not just Mr. Abbott, but all the electors of this polity, who are now between a rock and hard place!
Nurturing Justice is written by Bruce Wearne, Point Lonsdale, to encourage a sustained Christian political contribution by seeking justice in the gentle and merciful rule of Jesus Christ, the ruler over all of the earth's political regimes.
February 2011 © The contents of this email are copyright. Editions 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 are welcome and should be sent to email@example.com