Thursday, 8 December 2011

Finding a climate of hope in a climate of doubt about climate change

Today I found myself doing two very different things. One was writing a letter to the editor about a new “carbon tax calculator” that was sent out by a National Senator as ‘proof’ that the government calculator was incorrect and by inference, the work of insidious people who wanted your money – and nothing else.

The second thing was writing a short Christmas message for the local paper for the fourth week of Advent. That meant encountering Mary, the mother of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. I was particularly looking at the Magnificat.

You might be wondering at this point what these two things have to do with one another. As it happens, quite a lot.

I will start with the issue of climate change. I have been reading a book that is called Climate Cover-up by James Hoggan. It is frightening reading. By tracking down payments of large sums of money, and various bureaucratic paper trails, it shows very clearly that the so-called debate about climate change isn’t a debate at all among climate scientists. In fact, there is an astonishing consensus among such scientists. The ‘debate’ has been created by fossil fuel corporations, such as Exxon and Mobil. They have ‘mission statements’ that aim promote confusion about climate change amongst the general public, and also target “those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science” as being “out of touch with reality.” (Climate Cover-up p.43)

To achieve these goals, they have in their pay various other kinds of scientists, such as geologists, who muddy the waters of climate science with their vested interests and scientific credentials.

One such scientist is geologist Professor Ian Plimer. Professor Plimer is a director of three mining companies: Ivanhoe Australia, a subsidiary of Bob Friedland’s Ivanhoe Mines, CBH Resources and Kefi Minerals. As non-executive Director and Deputy Chairman of Kefi, he owns 3.6 million shares which would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s market. In an article titled “Why I’d put global warming on ice,” Plimer claims that his commercial interest in mining “does not colour his arguments, which he says are based on pure science” and “does not affect the independence of his beliefs.” Hmmmmmmmm.

Climate Cover-up openly provides all of its sources, unlike our political parties and the fossil fuel industry. It is a very sobering read.

In our own fair country, Senator Ron Boswell from Queensland has thoughtfully sent out a media release entitled “New on-line calculator shows the true cost of Carbon Tax”. It was presented as a true alternative for small businesses to the online government carbon price calculator – which, by the way, was put together by the CSIRO and Choice and which makes it workings quite transparent and which can be found at . How it calculates the figures can be found at

The government calculator takes into account geography, type of household, local temperatures, age of inhabitants, number of inhabitants, whether it is a household, commercial premises, and what energy-saving devices or activities might be planned. Senator Boswell’s calculator does not take any of this into account, and does not allow for the government rebates. It does not say how this calculator arrived at the figures it comes up with.

According to the government site’s calculator, we will be better off by $20. According to the other calculator (, it will cost us over $200 per year. This is suspiciously similar to the unsubstantiated figures that circulated some months ago that claimed we would all be at least $200 worse off.
So maybe its creators can’t do complex maths, you are thinking. I now draw your attention to who devised this calculator, the Institute of Public Affairs. Despite its claims to be “an independent, non-profit public policy think tank, dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom”, this institute is a think tank that has many funding links to large corporations, including the fossil fuel industry. The IPA has received funding from mining companies (BHP-Billiton, Western Mining Corporation), pesticide companies (Monsanto), tobacco companies (Philip Morris, British American Tobacco), oil companies (Caltex, Esso Australia, Shell, Woodside Petroleum) and as well as from numerous electric companies. (See )

That this right wing think tank has been funded by those whose business it is to have climate change denied has been known for some years. The Age newspaper in 2004 stated that: “The Institute of Public Affairs, which receives funding from companies such as ExxonMobil, the most sceptical of the world’s fossil fuel giants, also engages in the debate, scouring the web and email groups for evidence that climate change is natural.”

In other words, the IPA is neither unbiased or can be believed to be presenting a tool that is at all objective.

I can only assume the good senator is much more interested in petty politics and representing large cashed up corporations, rather than representing what is best for the people of Australia. I take exception to the fact he is promoting a calculator that has been funded by large corporations with vested interests in a fossil fuel economy.

Then we have Mary, the mother of Jesus singing a political manifesto that states categorically that the rich and ruling types of the world will be pulled down from their thrones or places of power in order that the poor may be lifted up – presumably to something resembling equality. No wonder that her boy Jesus declares in Luke four that he has come to free the oppressed, bring good news to the poor and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

So how is this and climate change related?

The leaders of climate change denial are selling a popular message. Robert Manne, in his excellent article in the online version of The Drum (,
How can climate change denialism be explained? states that

the reason is reasonably straightforward. The majority of people in Western countries live now in a state of material comfort beyond the imaginings of all previous generations. Who amongst us would not prefer to believe that there are indeed no limits to the material comforts we may enjoy? Who would not prefer to believe that this level of material comfort will go on expanding forever? To take the conclusions of the climate scientists seriously is to embrace the need for massive economic change and even for possible economic sacrifice.

So that’s it. Faced by an apparent choice between the continuation of our lifestyle or the wellbeing of our planet, it would seem that we are going to choose the continuation of our lifestyle over the fate of the planet, and more importantly, over the fate of those brothers and sisters that Jesus commanded us to love – particularly the ones in places like Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Robert Manne further points out that
What it revealed, broadly speaking, was that the poorer the country, the more likely are its people to believe in the reality of dangerous human-caused climate change. While 31 per cent of Americans and 38 per cent of Japanese thought climate change was a very serious problem, 75 per cent of Kenyans and 85 per cent of Bangladeshis did. Those who do have reason to fear climate change but have little to lose in the curbing of emissions are the people who believe in what the climate scientists are telling them. Those who do not at present fear climate change but recognise they have a lot to lose by tackling it have simply and conveniently ceased to believe what they hear.

As Christians, we surely should be exposing these corporations and their CEOs who sit on their fossil and tobacco and insecticide-fuelled thrones, and deposing the ruling powers that prefer money and profits over justice and people.

But Robert Manne believes that the citizens of our consumeristic society – all of us - are unwilling to risk the loss of any of their comforts. He thinks that “the climate change denialists - the lobbyists and propagandists of the fossil fuel corporations; the right-wing commentariat in the blogosphere and the media; the anti-political correctness and anti-collectivist ideologues in the think tanks and the academy; the angry older generation of engineers and geologists” are offering us an the alibi that is too good to refuse.

Who on earth do we Christians think following if we can’t even speak out to help our brothers and sisters who are already suffering the effects of climate change?

Just what do we think Jesus would have to say to us should he turn up to hear the case for Tuvalu versus our own fossil-fuelled comfort?

Are we really so complacent that we are only hearing the voices we want to hear – instead of the thousands of scientists who are trying to tell us that we must change before it really is too late?

It would seem that when we are required to choose between the interests of the fossil fuel corporations or the conclusions of the climate scientists, we, with little or no hesitation, have signed up to the ideology of greed and might as represented by the vested interests of fossil-fuel dependant corporations.

Good Christian people, it is time to remember from whence we came this Advent. It is time to relearn the words of the Magnificat and put them into action. It is time to share our resources – really share them. It is time to rethink what is really important to the Lord we serve as we celebrate his coming into our world.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Giving to God what is Gods: an exploration of Matthew 22:15-22

The passage set in the lectionary today (Matthew 22:15-22) has long been used as the ‘proof text’ for why religion and politics should always be separate. But was this really what Jesus was saying? We think that a careful examination of the text casts doubt on this view, especially when the passage is read in the context of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew has a lot to say about the kingdom of heaven, and this perhaps is what best defines the Matthean Jesus’ understanding of what needs to be given to God. And Matthew 24 and 25 suggest that in Matthew’s view at least, the kingdoms of God and Caesar are bound to collide in various ways.

We thought that this passage was best explored by another imaginative journey back in time. So we are travelling to the first century, to the time when Jesus spent time wandering around Palestine, delivering his message of the good news to people who lived in the rural areas. We also know from the gospels that like any faithful Jew of the time, Jesus spent time in the Temple. This passage (Matthew 22:15-22) tells of one of those times.

Jesus has been debating with Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in one of the courts of the Jerusalem Temple. In our imaginative story, the debate has been overheard by Boaz and Miriam, who have been lurking nearby in one of the other courts of the Temple – probably the Gentile or the Women’s court. They are attempting to make sense of the Pharisees’ question, and Jesus’ reply to it.

Boaz: Miriam! Were you listening to the debate this morning? The Galilean preacher, Jesus, was having a most interesting discussion with some of the Pharisees.

Miriam: Yes, Boaz, I did hear much of the debate you speak of. I am of the opinion that the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap Jesus – you know, make him say something treasonous or blasphemous.

Boaz: (doubtfully) Are you sure they were Herodians and Pharisees? The Pharisees do not like the Herodians nor do they mix with them. The Herodians are too close to the Temple priests.

Miriam: Perhaps the Herodians were just hanging around then to listen in to the debate. It had to be the Pharisees doing the actual debating, as it followed the customary Jewish pattern for such arguments.

Boaz: Yes, I think you are right. But you mentioned a trap. What do you mean by that?

Miriam: Well, just think about it. Jesus was in the Temple, teaching his Galilean followers and other admirers of his teaching, all gathered around him. And the Pharisees asked about paying taxes to the Emperor. I am sure they expected Jesus, as a radical Jew, to say NO! Do not pay those heathen Romans.

Boaz: I see. You are saying that this question was designed to put Jesus in a bind. If he answered "Yes," that would surely alienate his followers, many of whom would consider him to be the Messiah, and thus the one who would deliver them from Roman rule.

Miriam: That’s right. And if he said "No," he could be arrested for treason by the nearby soldiers, who always seem to be hanging around the Temple looking for someone to arrest.

Boaz: And if he tried to side step the question or talk around the issue he would be seen as less than authoritative.

Miriam: I must confess I thought that the Pharisees had him. You know, it seemed to me that there was no answer to this question that would be acceptable to everyone listening.
Boaz: Ah, but as you said, there was a good answer. Wasn’t there? I confess I gasped in admiration at Jesus’ answer. What cleverness and cunning he showed!

Miriam: Yes, to answer with the question he did was commendable and clever. Especially since in my opinion, they were piling all that flattery on top of him to lull him into a false sense of security. You know, ‘Teacher, you are so sincere and so dedicated to teaching the way of God! You are truthful and have no partiality for anyone!’ A lesser man would have fallen into the trap and answered in a way that would condemn him, either in the eyes of his followers or in the eyes of the Roman soldiers.

Boaz: Yes, it was a great question. It showed that he was on to their little plan. "Why are you testing me?” he shouts. “Show me the coin for the tax, you hypocrites!"

Miriam: You know, I thought this was the cleverest thing Jesus did. This was the Temple! We all know that no Roman coinage is allowed in the temple, not ever. Such coins are meant to be confined to the court of the Gentiles, where the moneychangers are.

Boaz: Indeed, you are right Miriam. The Pharisees are very much in favour of this policy, and have been very public about it. I couldn’t believe it when someone got a denarius out of his bag, right there, in the middle of the temple.

Miriam: I don’t believe a Pharisee would have done such a thing. I bet it was one of the Herodians.

Boaz: Well, they are only half-Jewish. I wouldn’t put it past them to have sneaked some Roman money in. I wish I could have seen the faces of the Pharisees. They must have been horrified when someone whipped out that coin!

Miriam: Yes, indeed. The minute that happened it was all over for the Herodians and Pharisees. That action would have really discredited them in the eyes of the people gathered there.’ Yes’, they would have been thinking. You lot really are hypocrites’.

Boaz: And rightly so. Fancy carrying an image into the Temple – even if it was only on a coin. An image is an image.

Miriam: That’s why Jesus goes on to press his advantage, I am sure. But Jesus goes further. "Whose image is this and what is his?" he says.

Boaz: "You shall not make for yourself an image". The commandments are very clear on this in the scroll of Exodus. Yet here they are, with a coin that is forbidden in the temple, and on it is an image.

Miriam: Well, I thought Jesus had won the argument at this point. An image in the temple, of all places. I confess I was surprised that he pressed on with the debate.

Boaz: Well, the response they made demanded an answer, I thought. Whose image is it? Those Herodians and Pharisees have to admit is Caesar's. The Roman Caesar, who demands to be worshiped as a god.

Miriam: Now you see what I meant by a trap? They well and truly fell into this trap set by Jesus. I was inwardly cheering, I admit. Jesus has trapped them, not the other way around. Surely at this point they wished for God to open the ground and swallow them. It reminded me of one the psalms: "May the traps they set for me spring on them!" (Psalm 57:7).

Boaz: I quite agree. Jesus’ reply to them was stunning. "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Give to God the things that are God's." What a response! Such teaching! These words must have rubbed salt into the wounds of the Herodians and the Pharisees. Did you hear the laughter, and the mockery that came from the crowd? They loved seeing those proud men humbled by Jesus.

Miriam: (hesitates) While I thought Jesus was very clever in turning the tables on the Pharisees and Herodians, what exactly do you think he meant? How do we tell what is God’s and what is Caesar’s? Does he mean not have anything to do with the Roman Empire?

Boaz: I didn’t understand it like that, Miriam. I am sure that Jesus was not saying that civil and religious authority are in opposition and have nothing to say to each other. You know from our own scriptures that God can and does use the authority of other nations for the divine purposes of salvation. Don’t you remember that in the scroll of Isaiah King Cyrus, the pagan Persian king, is described as a messiah? And that God says there that he uses any instrument he chooses to bring about change, including a pagan king? God expects us to to respond appropriately in both secular and religious matters.

Miriam: Now let me think here, Boaz. When Jesus says “give to God the things that are God’s,” he can’t possibly be endorsing the distinction you are making. Isn’t everything God’s? Jesus is talking about coins and taxes, but really he is talking about pledging allegiance to God’s kingdom – and even Caesar’s empire is part of that, surely.

Boaz: Are you suggesting then, that the two empires – God and Caesar’s – are somehow mixed up – and we should pledge allegiance to Caesar? That can’t be right!
Miriam: No, I don’t mean it like that. My understanding is that everyone bears God’s image – it says so in Genesis. We are all God’s children, in a way, you must agree.

Boaz: Well, yes, I suppose we are. Even the Romans. So how do you interpret this saying?

Miriam: Think about what you said a minute ago about God using even a pagan king as a messiah. In other words, God can and does use secular authorities for divine purposes of salvation.

Boaz: So Jesus is saying that we are to respond appropriately in both civil and religious matters, but that they should be kept separate.

Miriam: No! Boaz, sometimes you can be incredibly dense! That is not what Jesus is saying. Think about all the kingdom of God stuff that Jesus has taught. Remember how he said that he had come to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, give the good news to the poor and to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour? And that the rich rulers would be pulled down from their thrones? And that we are to strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and justice? How could you do any of these things unless you got mixed up in the secular empire?

Boaz: I did hear that Jesus gave a speech to the Pharisees, where he described justice, mercy and faith as the matters of the law needing their attention, not the tithing of herbs. Is this what you mean?

Miriam: Yes. If Jesus was saying that the two should be kept separate, then he would have supported the tithing and ignored those broad justice issues. Jesus says that God looks to grant justice to those who cry out to him. He says that God who warns against oppressing the poor (James 2 & 5), and exhorts all to care for the orphans and widows (James 1:27). This is also what the prophets write.

Boaz: So to work for the kingdom means to challenge injustice where we see it, and to work to make things better for the poor. I begin to understand what you mean. You can’t make things better unless you change the way the empire works.

Miriam: That’s right. Jesus also says we should love our neighbour as ourselves. This must mean we expect them to be treated as equals, and that we should not do anything to harm them. Remember the prophet Micah? He says and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Boaz: So we are to live in the way Jesus sets out by loving God, loving neighbour, and striving for justice to be done, especially to the poor and oppressed. This is what we give to God.

Miriam: Yes. But Jesus also requires us to hold the Empire and the rich to account, and to work for fair standards of law and justice for all people. This is what is Caesar’s, though as you can see, the two are mixed together. Our faith means we should champion those who are marginalised, oppressed or vulnerable in our society. To this, it means we have to enter the realm of Caesar.

Boaz: Well, Miriam, it is time I was getting back to my household. I have enjoyed our conversation. But I think today I will have the last word, and quote form the scroll of Jeremiah. He was speaking of King Josiah when he said: He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.

Who or what speaks to us authoritatively today? What do we see today as belonging to Caesar and to God?

In a thoughtful exploration of this passage, Father John Kavanaugh, S. J. of Saint Louis University, asks some pertinent questions:

What are we asked today to give to the empire? Is it our faith and moral practice? Our hopes and dreams? Our consciences? Our labour? Our children? And if we offer such sacrifices upon the altar of Caesar, have we betrayed the [things] that are most intimately ours and God’s?

I am grateful to Father John Kavanaugh for a number of the ideas that follow. I have paraphrased some of his material and added in my own. Father Kavanaugh’s original essay can be found at

More than ever, in our own times, we live in conflict with these the two “kingdoms” of God and Caesar’s. If we are faithful disciples of Jesus, our religious values must be in conflict with a lot of civil policy.

It is hard to escape the political implications of the story of Jesus and Caesar’s coin. In Jesus’ time, the gospel confrontation described here most likely represented a struggle between the party of Herod, loyal to Rome, and the Zealots, who refused to pay tribute or taxes to the Empire. Jesus here is refusing to support either the anti-empire Zealot party line, or that of the pro-empire Herodians. He instead opts for a faith perspective that overarches both, without committing to any “party line”.

For us today, the “empire” can represent a number of entities. It can come in the form of different governments, all vying for our hearts and minds by appealing to our baser selves by offering us more money, less taxes, border security and tougher laws to punish the poor and marginalised of our country.

It can come in the form of those palaces of materialistic greed, the shopping mall, palaces run by enormous corporations. Here we are told we are “worth it”, and are tempted by every type of good imaginable. This empire appeals to our greed, our yearning for possessions, our need to keep up with others, and a sense of insecurity that calls us to buy the latest fashions and products that will eliminate all germs from our lives.

None of these empires appeal particularly to our generosity of spirit, our self-discipline, a spirit of sacrifice, or fairer system for our neighbours, either at home or abroad. We tend instead to prescribe self- discipline and sacrifice to the poor, and those least able to afford it. When we purchase goods in our shopping malls and other palaces of materialism, we will not think of those poor in other countries who created the goods, even if those creating them were children, were overworked, were underpaid, or even enslaved.

So what does the LORD require? According to Matthew and the prophets, the Lord requires a life of love and justice, a life that daily, in practical ways, requires we give time, and thought to how our purchases, our way of life and political systems affect those who are our neighbours in other parts of the world. It means that through our combined voices, our thinking, how we live both at home and in our community, our cities and our world, we will try and minimize the harm we potentially do to our neighbours.

So perhaps Jesus is raising some new questions for us through this passage. What can we do differently in our everyday life that will profoundly change the lives of our nearby and global neighbours? How do we challenge the structures that are created by the Empire that continue to oppress many people? And by what actions do we truly give to God, what is God’s?

Monday, 10 October 2011

What we need is cert-tan-ty

Up here in National party heartland, I am still lamenting the demise of my pet peeved newspaper. However, things seem to be looking up with the arrival of the Port Macquarie News yesterday. Its front page headline, in big black letters, screamed Oakeshott in their sites. The sub heading stated that the NSW Nationals Conference had a clear message for Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott: “You’re next.”

John and I are both intrigued by having someone in your sites. Was this a geographical double entendre? Was Rob Oakeshott lurking with intent on some hallowed piece of National Party ground? Or was it simply that neither the National Party or the Port News sub-editors can spell? Subsequent Google searches have failed to reveal an answer to this conundrum. But intrigued, I decided to look at the National Party’s website to see what answers lurked within the reported conference.

The first thing I want to note is that the National Party is right up to date with its use of its website and the reporting of its conference (this must be read with sarcastic tone in voice). On accessing their website, I tried desperately to find out what had happened at the NSW National Party conference, held at Port Macquarie over the weekend. By following links about the conference, I finally ended up on their calendar. Thursday Oct 6, Friday Oct 7 and Saturday Oct 8 all began with:

2011 Annual General Conference
We are all looking forward to the 2011 Annual General Conference in Port Macquarie this October.

Trouble is, each of these days had exactly the same message beneath the above welcome. It is tempting to assume from this that National Party members are like the goldfish in a notable community Bank ad, and are incapable of remembering what they are doing day to day and need to be reminded with certainty that they are at a conference, with the same message every day. As diverting as this calendar was with its identical entries for three different days, I wanted to find something of substance from this conference. Where were the motions? The content of the speeches? The revelation of the sacred sites the Federal member had stumbled onto? Anything that was vaguely newsworthy?

Wherever the conference reports might have been, they certainly weren’t here. In desperation I tried all sorts of word combinations on Google to find them. The Port News had two articles, and the ABC Radio, one. The ABC reported that Labor wasn’t too fussed about the Nationals motions seeking to curb wind farms and limit National Parks. The Port News reported that the conference debated 70 motions from the floor.

Seventy motions????? Well, where are they and what are they? I have only identified two from the ABC. I guess siting Rob Oakeshott might be a third. National Party, what are you hiding?

In the meantime, the Port News also reported that the NSW Nationals' leader Andrew Stoner aka Mr 72% and our current State member is considering a move to Federal politics. The Port News seems to think he fancies being Deputy Prime Minister. Perhaps the seat of Oxley, with its complex problems of poverty, aging and indigenous issues is now too small an arena – or its problems too intractable. Not that it really matters. In this electorate, a shop front mannequin could be elected as long as the sign around its neck declared it to be a National Party Member.

Mr 72% continues in my bad books. He has not answered the request from the Wauchope Ministers’ Association for a meeting, though his Federal counterpart has and we have a time, date and place to meet with Rob Oakeshott. And despite my threatening Mr Stoner with a set of macramé steak knives should he continue to only address my husband when we have both written to him, the last letter (if you can call a photocopied piece of press release propaganda a letter) did just that. Business as usual continues in the party who appear to have a particular propensity to ignore the existence of literate married women.

It is time perhaps to admit defeat, and acknowledge that women like myself are just never going to be lucky enough to find ourselves in the National Party’s sites, web or otherwise.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A rose by any other name.......

I have discovered that Wauchope is the sixth most mispronounced town in the world. Number 1 is Phuket. The only other Australian town listed is Mooball, which comes in third.

I wondered what effect this could have on the psyche of the town’s people. Did it make them angry to be referred to as ‘Warchoppy’ or ‘Wowchop’? Or did this verbal mangling of their town’s name just lead to a gales of laughter as red-faced tourists back away muttering apologies?

Wauchope is an allegedly Scottish name, first known in early medieval Scotland and England. Both have dibs on it, as the name is found both in the district called 'Wauchopedale' in the parish of Langholm, Dumfriesshire, and from the area in and around Wanchope Forest next to the Cheviot Hills on the border with Northumberland. Given how fluid the border was between Scotland and England in medieval times, it is not surprising that both lay claim to the name. According to the online surname database ( the name means 'the valley of the foreigner(s)', and is derived from the Old English pre 7th Century word 'walh', foreign(er), which generally referred to pockets of Scotsmen, Welshmen or Bretons, or English in Scotland, with the Old English 'hop', Middle English 'hope', a small, enclosed valley.

Wauchope does lie in the Hastings Valley, and if you do ask the locals, they will tell you that there has been an influx of foreigners into their town precincts, mostly from Port Macquarie, to whom they (the Wauchopians) most emphatically do NOT belong. So Wauchope, the valley of foreigners, is an enticing option. But as attractive as this theory is as to why Wauchope is so named, the story offered by a couple of local historians is even more fantastic.

According to the Port Macquarie- Hastings Council website (

…the name Wauchope comes from a Scottish family named Wauchope that lived for some 700 years on a family estate in Edinburgh. In 1761 Robert Wauchope was born. When Robert's father died the family quarrelled about the sharing of the estate and the matter was taken to court. Robert lost the case and became so embittered that he retired to his portion, called Foxall and eliminated the letters 'ope' from his name. His son, born in 1786, was given the surname Wauch.

Like his father the son decided to follow an army career and became Capt Robert Andrew Wauch of the 28th Regiment of Foot. When he retired from the army he sailed for Sydney in 1836 with his wife and 3 children and came to the Hastings Valley.

He purchased 2297 acres on King Creek and 4 years later bought an additional 1168 acres. He built a house and called it Wauch House.
Following his death in 1866 in the Macleay the Government Gazette published the deeds of the blocks Capt Wauch had purchased 30 years earlier. For a reason never explained the deeds specified the properties should been called Wauchope.

In 1881 the postal authorities opened a post office in the nearby settlement and gave it the name Wauchope, even though the Government Gazette, because of a misprint, spelt it Wanghope. The error was not corrected until 1889.

Wanghope??? This is even worse than Warchoppy. And 8 years to correct the mistake? Only a Government Dept could take so long to recognise a typo that may have potentially created a cultural cringe in Wauchope’s citizens - even before culturally cringing was recognized as a potential colonial hazard.

We have found this story of Capt. Wauch repeated in various publications around the town and online, including Wikipedia. The trouble is, there doesn’t appear to be any substantiation for the story of Robert Wauch’s family lineage in any birth records that we have access to, including Scotland’s People. While there is no doubt Capt. Wauch existed, and while I acknowledge that the story of his family origins might be true, it does seem suspiciously like a folk tale, where the local hero was wronged by someone in the British aristocracy, thumbed his nose at them, and came out to Australia and made good. Australians do like an anti-hero, and perhaps Capt. Wauch presented them with this kind of opportunity.

Whether one identifies with Wauchope, the valley of strangers, or Wanghope, the typographical error, or Wauch that was really Wauchope, or Wauchope the 6th most mispronounced town in the world, Wauchope is a place where the long term residents are very proud of their town and their heritage. So much so that when I innocently asked if there was anywhere in Greater Port Macquarie that free-range chicken could be purchased, I was firmly informed that “WE ARE NOT PORT MACQUARIE.” Oops.

The newspaper that lay waiting in our driveway when I got home announced it was the paper of “Greater Port Macquarie”. So at least for some, the times - and the name - are a-changing.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Vale Carp, your fishy blathering will be missed

An era - albeit a very short one - has come to an end up here in national party heartland. My favourite scurrilous rag, the Port Paper, announced its own demise last last week. Claiming it had become the victim of bullying and intimidation, the PP reported that its detractors had found a novel way to crush "one of the region's truly independent media sources." Apparently its advertisers and sponsors were "repeatedly threatened by mostly unnamed gutless wonders" and the PP could no longer afford itself. Its advertisers, continued the article on the front page, were told (presumably by the unnamed gutless wonders) they would lose business if they continued to advertise with the PP.

The big black headline stated that "Oakeshott Misleads Public". Directly underneath was a definition of bullying. The inference seemed to be that Rob Oakeshott was the cause of the bullying that forced the PP into shut down mode. Under the article was a big blank space, entitled, strangely enough, blank space.

The PP first appeared just before the last state election. It came out twice a week, was home delivered, and seemed to me to exist almost solely to rubbish Peter Beseling (who was the sitting indepenent MP in Port Macquarie) and Rob Oakeshott. It dropped to one paper per week after the election, and we expected it to disappear after its home delivery ceased. Rumours flew around it was a National Party front. The PP denied this claim. It claimed it was giving the Hastings community a voice, and published their views without "fear or favour" and that it provided "the news no one else would."

I can certainly vouch for this last claim. Not only did it provide views and news that no one else would, I am sure this was because it largely invented them. According to the PP, the earth is cooling, it is probably flat, Tony Windsor is not to be trusted, and it always acted ethically.

Mmmmmmm. Not sure about that last claim. Especially in the light of page 3, where the PP published the emails sent by a local business owner, who stated that he refused to use the services of the paper, and that he would not use the services of those who advertised with them. This was because he felt the PP was inflammatory and one sided in its reporting. He also stated he was a supporter of the local member. This, says the PP, is why their demise was untimely and guaranteed. Oakeshott supporter calles for boycott of PP advertisers.

The email from the local business man was sent on 25 August. The PP announced its death on 1 September. A week is apparently a long time in influential discouragement of advertising. Long enough for the PP to go broke and have lots of spaces (well, two in the news section and six under the TV guide) and face ruin.

The only thing that was clearly truthful to me was the long standing dislike of Mr Oakeshott that shone like a sickly beacon from many of its pages. They stopped short of calling him the devil incarnate, but did report his apparent bizarre rants about cats and astro turf which were meant to silence this supposedly courageoous local rag.

I will miss the PP, and my favourite columnist, Mr Carp in his corner. Where will my inspiration come from now? Where will I go to read such journalistic gems as Rob Oakeshott ranting about astro turf and to learn that green policies will cost a bomb because wind turbines are inefficient? Or that a Royal Commission is the ony way to answer frocking (sic) questions - provided it does not refer to the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change who are not unbiased and independent, like the PP itself.

Vale, Carp. My week will not be the same without your carping on. Heck, my blog will be severely impovershed without your weekly rants. Hopefully you will find other places to exercise your talent in mangling language, and wilful misunderstanding of issues.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Abandon hope, all citizens who enter the red portal

Last Saturday, Wauchope Uniting Church hosted a seminar on climate change. We thought of this as being a community service, as most of the information on the topic is filtered through the lens of Sydney shock jocks, and the dominant local force in politics, the National Party. We decided to provide a less ‘in your face’ lens, in the form of Rev. Dr David Reichardt, ecotheologist, Mr Harry Creamer, the President of Climate Change Australia, Hastings branch, and Mr Steve Lockhart, eco builder and the coordinator of Climate Change Australia, Hastings branch. David presented the climate change slideshow developed by Al Gore, Harry spoke about why carbon pricing helped reduce emissions, and Steve spoke about how individuals could reduce their own emissions.

Our seminar went very well, despite my qualms about the potential impact on the church community, who are not all climate change believers. We had a good roll up from the congregation, the wider Presbytery, and a few from the community. There were a number of comments that we thought showed the seminar was a success. The first was that the local speakers were invited to present their stuff to other community groups. This is indeed a positive outcome. The second measure of success is that David Reichardt suggestion that action on climate change was like an insurance policy, where it was better to be prepared than unprepared for potential disaster, hit a chord with some of our more skeptically minded attendees. They could see the sense of this and it seems to have given them a new attitude towards climate change action.

In the course of the seminar, I became aware that the National Party was holding their annual conference over this past weekend. The National Party website is normally somewhere that I have no wish to go. But given we were talking about climate change, and given they were meeting, I ventured into this foreign territory and typed “National Party Australia annual conference” into Google. I thought I would see what they had to say on the topic.

At first I thought I was at the wrong site. A great big red banner appeared, urging me to Say No! and help stop the carbon tax. I was invited to give cash, sign a petition and find out more. Where was I? Instead of the National Party website, here I was, lost in cyberspace with a fiery red portal, inviting me to enter. It was a risk, it was anonymous, it was dangerously bright red in colour, and may have been beckoning me downward to hell.

I initially couldn’t work out what to do. Did I have to actually give money, sign a petition or get information to get beyond the blood-curdlingly colored portal? I finally notice a little black arrow beneath the red banner, saying ‘skip’ in microscopic letters. I duly entered. It was only then I found myself where I initially expected to be - the National Party website.

The National Party had decided to broadcast their conference live, which I understand is a first for a political party. When I read their news, I wondered why they had bothered. It reminded me of the Monty Python skit where old blokes reminiscing about their childhoods tried to present the most negative picture possible.

What I found is that they seem to hate Julia Gillard with a passion. As for climate change, it is clearly a Labor lie forced onto an unsuspecting public who need to be properly educated as to the dual evils of believing in climate change or a carbon tax. I also learned that Julia Gillard scurried from the parliament with her ministers in a convoy of incompetence, that desperate Labor had resorted to making up good news, that the Gillard government was incompetent, and that the Coalition was traveling to NZ to inspect apples. And the dairy industry was threatened by the carbon tax, which would ruin them. Unlike the free regulation of the industry introduced by the Coalition when in Government, of course.

To sum up, the National Party believe that:

The Gillard government has not heeded the warnings from the people a year ago. It has descended into a leaderless rabble, and the arrogance, waste, mismanagement and incompetence continues. Now it is mired in the smell of corruption.

I tried their policy link. They do have some, and some are not bad, as they want regional Australia to get a fair share and a fair go. But every page also had a diatribe against the Labor Party. Why not just state the policy? Many were Coalition Policies, and they indeed have a climate change policy. And the link failed when I tried to read the Border policy.

I also discovered that
The Nationals support and encourage greater participation by women in all aspects of the Party. The Party recognises that in order for our nation to achieve its full economic, social and political potential, women must have equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process. The Nationals are dedicated to making our democracy as inclusive as possible.

Mmmmmm. Must be why the local Member always ignores me and addresses John when we write to him. And why he failed to welcome me – and many other women – to the electorate. Good thing the Nationals are in favour of equality or who knows what would have happened?

I decided to succumb and went back to the portal and clicked on more information. I discovered that the carbon tax would not help the environment, and would effectively bankrupt rural Australia. I then wondered what the Liberal Party had to say.

Their site was more comprehensive, and lacked a red portal. I was struck, however, by just how negative this site was. Going from bad to worse - 365 days of Australia's worst ever government, screamed a large black banner. It also solicited comments from readers on Labor's waste. The Greens leader Bob Brown, and the independants who allowed Labor to form government were in the photos on the banner. I discovered the Labor Green carbon tax was the biggest most punitive tax in the world. A large claim, I thought - and actually dead wrong as the UK has a price of 16 pounds a tonne, rising to 30 pounds by 2020.

There was even a separate hyperlink labelled 'Labor's failure.' I bit, and clicked on it.

I found: 'Labor. It's a mess." What followed was a lengthy diatribe on Julia Gillard. I found if I clicked on other categories, labelled things like 'National Security', every one started with a large headline that trashed the Labor party. Nation Security stated that Labor failed to protect Australia's borders. Kevin Rudd has allowed Labor states to ruin the health budget (note to Tony - time to update this part of the website). Nurses were worse off under Julia's award. And unlike Labor, the Liberal party support parental choice in education.

Why am I telling you all of this, I hear you cry. It is simply because I am so sick of the negative political crap that comes our way in waves. What happened to positives? Why has our alleged adversarial political system become no more than dumping buckets of negative comments that bag everything that the other side does?

Research has clearly showed that the more people are bombarded by negative influences, the more negative they feel. While the leader of the Opposition might believe that such negativity will get him elected, he runs the risk of inheriting a population who are fearful, inefficient and sick, as research also shows that positive influences result in happier, healthier, more creative and longer lived people.

Perhaps bad news really does sell papers and win elections.Perhaps this is why it is happening so frequently now. But I for one am really tired of it.

I don't want to read article after article on why Labor sucks when I am searching for policies. Coaliton, just tell me what you are intending to do without bagging the other side. I resent that you go on and on and have nothing good to say about any other party or politician. I am appalled when you tell lies. I resent it when you make me depressed.

I am sure that living in negativity must be bad for the politicians who do this also. I also think that the Coalition has missed the boat in regard to the new paradigm that is Australian Federal politics.

In an analysis by Parker & Partners, Australia’s bipartisan public affairs specialist, they suggested that the Labor Government needed to change the normal modus operandi of playing the politics ahead of policy. They suggested that the hung parliament could well produce ministers that should be better politicians – not better at spin, but better at negotiation, consensus building and making a strong public case for their policies.

The Independant member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, was inspirational in his vision of the possibilities of shared government, and a parliament that worked togeether for the betterment of Asutralia. Sadly, this vision and enthusiam has not been played out, and not only has the traditonal parliamentary adversarial system continued, but it has become a negative policy of opposing everything that the Governmment does, rather than a true critique of government policy.

Policies that are comprised of the two words "I oppose" are not adequate. They are not visionary, they do not consider the future or the common good.

Michael Pearce, Melbourne lawyer (http://w/opinion/politics/should-the-alp-labour-on-or-is-the-party-over-20110410-1d9ba.html#ixzz1WVg2LlR9) suggests that:
The shrinking domain of genuine debate goes a long way to explaining the poverty of contemporary politics. We seem to have settled into a political routine in which the party in power implements the economic policies of the federal Treasury and the party in opposition opposes them. This produces many paradoxes: a Liberal-National government introduced the GST - a great big new tax on everything, if ever there was one. A Labor government proposes a market-based solution to climate change while the Liberal-National opposition proposes massive government subsidies instead.

This sort of politics has largely displaced political philosophy from the contest for votes. When Gillard was asked recently to explain her political philosophy, she could only say that she believed in the value of a good education and the dignity of work. The Liberal Party's main pitch at the last federal election was to stop the waste and stop the boats.

We definitely need to find new ways of doing politics. Is it too late to recapture the vision and encourage all of our elected parliamentarians to make policy with the future in mind? Rather than just bagging out the other side, is it too much to ask that our politicians to work together for the greater good? Surely we need to encourage qualities like wisdom, humbleness, a passion for service, truthfulness, vision, true listening, problem solving and compassion in our leaders. And healthy, thoughtful debate, and co-operation in large issues such as climate change, refugees, health and education.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Canaanite Woman - a study in dogged persistance

The Gospel story that was last week's lectionary reading is an interesting one. It tells of an encounter that took place between Jesus, the disciples and a Canaanite woman, as Jesus was near the borders of the Gentile lands of Tyre and Sidon. The unnamed woman has come out from her own land to seek Jesus’ help. Initially repulsed both by Jesus and the disciples, she remains undeterred and demands their attention.

We felt that this story was best explored as a dialogue, so this blog invites you on an imaginative journey, which we hope will lead you to think about the story from a different perspective, to engage with different assumptions, and perhaps lead you to different conclusions. We are going to offer you the opportunity to listen in to a conversation about what might have happened that day when Jesus encountered the Canaanite woman.

We will not be listening directly to the conversation between Jesus and the woman—although it will figure in the discussion that takes place. Instead, we will be eavesdropping on a conversation between an acquaintance of the woman, Tamar, a servant in a Jewish Christian household, and a relative of one of the followers of Jesus, known as Baruch.

Baruch and Tamar are somewhat different people. Tamar is a Canaanite, from the land of Canaan which was taken over by the Israelites who conquered its original inhabitants. Baruch is an Israelite who has become a follower of Jesus, and who has heard a version of the story from his cousin Zebedee. They have accidentally met up in one of the Palestinian market places and have been drawn into a conversation about Jesus’ latest miracle.

So now, please imagine yourself watching this scene.

B: Have you heard of the latest miracle performed by our Lord? Why, he healed the daughter of a Canaanite – and by long distance! A truly remarkable feat.

T: Can I enquire as to the details of this miracle, Baruch? I believe I may have some knowledge and understanding of it.

B: I will tell you what I have heard. She was an unaccompanied Canaanite woman – a woman without a male relative! I ask you, do these Canaanites have no sense of decorum or decency? She came crying after Jesus and his disciples, all alone, no male to chaperone her, demanding that he heal her daughter. Such presumption!

T: Now just a minute. I object to you pronouncing the word ‘Canaanite’ as if these people were a nasty plague of insects. I also do not think you appreciate the desperation of a loving mother, worried about the condition of her child.

B: If this Canaanite woman was a decent woman, she would have approached Jesus with her husband, let him do the talking, and remained quiet, eyes down and head bent. But no, she made a complete spectacle of herself.

T: I think you are embellishing the facts, don’t you agree? Perhaps this woman was widowed, or perhaps her husband did not want to beg a favour of a Jew – after all, it was the Jews who drove many of the Canaanites from their traditional homelands.

B: You must know that Canaan was the land that God promised to the Israelite people. It was foreordained that the Canaanites would have to relinquish it. And rightly so. Just look at some of the dreadful practices they had – worshipping strange gods, boiling baby goats in their mother’s milk – disgusting! All of this stopped when Israel took over the land.

T: I believe you are exaggerating – both about their practices and whether Israel indeed stopped them. But what right do you have to use this ancient history to belittle the woman we are speaking about? Whatever her ancestors did or didn’t do, it was hardly her fault.

B: I disagree. We all know these things can be passed down from generation to generation. And I reiterate – what was she doing running around alone on the public roadways crying after strange men? And a why would a Canaanite seek help from their Jewish conquerors like that?

T: I believe you know the answer to that. She understood that Jesus was a healer, someone special. I heard she called him “Lord”.

B: Well, there is that. I suppose his fame and reputation had spread even into Tyre and Sidon. But this is no excuse for her behaviour, and she must have known that the Messiah was to come only to the Jews! There is no mention that he was to help Canaanites.

T: I have heard that he made that abundantly clear to the woman – and called her names. I thought a Messiah was meant to love everyone, not to mention have some sympathy with a race that had originally shared a homeland.

B: Nonsense. The Messiah was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel – everyone knows that. And a lone woman shrieking like a mad thing out in public – she deserved to be called names! And for presuming to quarrel with our Lord.

T: Don’t you think calling someone “dog” is rather insulting? Even if it is the Lord who says so? And as the Canaanites were killed or were hustled out of their land by God’s orders, I would think that it is time to make some amends to them. Why shouldn’t the Messiah share the love around a bit? And what would you do if your daughter was gravely ill, possibly possessed by a demon? Wouldn’t you make the effort to seek out help from the one person you thought might really be able to do something? What would you be prepared to do to make your children well? Maybe she was right to quarrel with Jesus.

B: Hmmmmm, I see your point. Of course we all want what is best for our children. And the scriptures do occasionally say that God is indeed the God of other people. But you must admit that she behaved in a somewhat irregular way.

T: I am admitting nothing of the sort. This poor woman goes in search for help for her daughter, and she is told to go away, she is scorned for not being a Jew, and called a dog into the bargain. It seems to me that Jesus and the disciples left themselves open for criticism. It is to her credit that she persisted with such a rude lot.

B: You are not telling the whole story. She was helped by Jesus. In fact, I think you are exaggerating what happened.

T: Am I? Let me recap as I heard this story. The woman called Jesus ‘Lord’, and asked for help. The disciples ignored her, and wanted her sent away. So Jesus tells her that he is sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. He then informs her that this is because it is wrong to take bread from the children (that is, the Jews) and throw it to the dogs (that is, the Canaanites). Are you honestly telling me she did not have a right to feel rather insulted?

B: (reservedly) Well, I suppose when you put it that way, you have a point. But still, a woman alone in public, crying out – I am not sure about this at all.

T: Then let me put it another way. If Jesus decided that after all, she had a case, and he decided to help her, then what is your problem? Just put yourself in the place of us women. We live in a world where we have little say about what happens in our lives. What is a woman meant to do if her husband dies or neglects her? What if she has no male to care for her? Remember what the law says about caring for widows and the oppressed. Baruch, you place great value in these laws, don’t you? So surely you should be prepared to some sympathy to this woman?

B: I am not entirely convinced. She must have been some sort of outcast to behave that way.

T: If Jesus decided not to judge her, why should you? After all, when he did engage her in conversation, he accepted her argument as the right one and healed her daughter. I have also heard that he called her faith ‘great’.

B: Are you sure? I heard that he said to her that her saying was clever, and for that her daughter was healed. Why would Jesus commend the faith of a Canaanite woman?

T: Well, he did. And I believe that once she had convinced him that her faith was sound, he was making a point to those men in the Jewish faith who didn’t believe. You know, if even a Canaanite woman believes I am the Messiah, then surely those who teach the Law should believe this too. After all, they should know the prophecies and scripture that point to Jesus.

B: I grant you that this meeting between Jesus and the woman of Canaan was rather unusual. There may have been extenuating circumstances. But you must understand that in Jewish custom, men normally only speak to women in public like that if they are related by blood. No wonder Jesus acted the way he did in the first instance.

T: Men are so quick to judge! They have to be argued into a reasonable frame of mind. And even in this rather unusual situation, Jesus did not shame her for being a woman. His quarrel with her was the fact she was not an Israelite. You Jews are so exclusive!

B: But he did concede the argument to her.

T: Are you saying then that she changed Jesus’ mind?

B: I suppose I am. I guess she must have been someone pretty special.

T: Yes, indeed. This woman stuck to her beliefs. She was dogged, she was persistent, she was not going to be ground down by rudeness or by being pushed to the side. Why, she is like the Hebrew midwives in Egypt, who dared to defy Pharaoh. Or Moses’ mother and sister, who persisted in their quest to save him. There is great power in the way that this woman acted.

B: She took quite a risk, then, in acting like this.

T: Indeed she did. But remember – she was someone pretty special. It is an interesting point, isn’t it? Some people I have heard speaking about Jesus tend to claim that he is always the one who was right; that he will always persuade the other person, always win the debate. But in this instance, it is the woman who seems to be the one who speaks the deepest truth, and she comes out as the victor. In the end, Jesus admits that she is right, and he grants her request. Perhaps Jesus was the one who was transformed. So that doesn’t suggest a woman who is an outcast, does it? It suggests a woman brimming over with wisdom and spirit!

B: Well, it is clear that Jesus was affected by her. And I guess it follows that this must be good news for all of those people who aren’t Jews, but who want to follow Jesus.

T: Ah, now I think you are on to something. If the Messiah allows himself to be transformed, just think; if we emulate this, then we could transform our world, not just our two peoples. Think of it. The Canaanite woman was despised by Israel, whose ancestors took over their land. So the way that the disciples and Jesus responded to her at first, was simply the customary way. Such a response perpetuates resentment and hatred that then runs from people to people, from generation to generation.

B: Yes, I can see that humiliation, resentment, and violence have been passed down by people who do not stop to think that things may have changed, that there may be a better way. Jesus, with his final acceptance of the woman and his gift of healing, has set aside these conventions of ethnic hatred. In his final words, he treats the woman as one of the faithful, and opens up the way for all of us to do the same.

T: Now Baruch, I do confess that I hear something of the prophet in you now.

B: A prophet? Me?

T: Yes – you, even if I confess this somewhat reluctantly. I thought that Jesus was wrong in his initial statement to the woman; but I can see that his final words and his act of healing show he really does have an unconventional attitude and behavior towards those normally despised. That appeals to me, for it is this sort of attitude that can heal these historical rifts and create community. When we are dealing with Jesus, we should expect the unexpected. And I like the relationship with God that this story implies. Israel is not the only nation loved by God – all people are God’s children.

B: Imagine – a whole town full of people who could do that – who could reach out to each other in love and acceptance. Who could, in spite of a long history of enmity between them, accept that they are all equally loved by God, and that their faith and worship could be shared and celebrated together. This is indeed a miracle. What is to stop it happening now?

And I can see that this story symbolizes so much. When we are in trouble, the natural thing to do is to reach out for help from God. This simple act of asking for help should not be a problem. Why is it that we all just cannot talk to one another and help one another? Why is it that race or gender or religion should determine how we treat each other?

T: Perhaps if we all allowed ourselves to step back from our own prejudices, and try to see the world as others see it, we might all live life in the way that God intended. Like the Canaanite woman, we all need to acknowledge that we can come, just as we are, before God. We can put aside what other people think about us, and what we think about other people, and simply speak directly and honestly to God. And in this way, we can become the vessel for the good news, and spread it out to everyone around us. Our world needs such honesty – and such persistence.

As we leave this discussion and return to the present time, let us think about how it touches us in the twenty-first century.

Every one of us can be caught in the familiar and well-worn patterns of our lives. We know what we think about certain issues; we know what we think about certain people. And sometimes, what we think can be judgemental; we can, condemn people without a fair trial, we can determine our attitudes without weighing up all the factors. In the familiarity of our lives, we can perhaps breed contempt all too easily.

This Gospel story provides us with a clear role model – an unexpected picture of Jesus, confronting a woman who acts out of character, who transgresses the rules of behaviour for her day, and who provokes Jesus into seeing things differently, and valuing the other person in a new way. It is an important reminder to us, never to be so settled, so comfortable, that we are incapable of changing our mind or revising our opinion. Because in the story, that is precisely what Jesus did.

The Gospel story also provides us with a role model of faithful discipleship, in the woman who had such a deep-seated need that she was not constrained by propriety, and she acted in ways that she might once have thought inconceivable. What does it mean for us to live as faithful followers of Jesus? How are we called to live out our beliefs, to put into practice our ideals, to travel along the path that we are called to follow?

Today there are voices that want us to think that the foreigner is a threat – a problem to be kept away, a danger to be avoided. There are voices that press us to toe the line and follow the well-worn conventions of society. There are voices that invite us to remain comfortable, settled, and unchanging. But the path of discipleship invites us into a risky adventure and beckons us into an uncertain future. With a sense of excitement, we are called to follow.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Curse ye Meroz, and all dark forces who believe climate change is real

Even I have been surprised this week in regard to the amount of hostile emotion that has been stirred up in Australian politics, and I am well aware of the rhetoric of hate that stalks the media like an avenging spirit nowadays. What I find most disturbing is how it has managed to permeate the minds and lives of average, apparently normal people. The debates are becoming more extreme. Insults are nastier, denigrate others and are intended to personally wound. While everyone would agree, I think, that debate is a healthy thing, the kind of rhetoric that passes for debate but actually has inciting hate as its true agenda is quite another thing.

Many of our politicians, almost anyone who writes for the Murdoch print media and the radio “shock jocks ”, would do well to remember this. Public proclamation also comes with public responsibility. Once upon a time I could rely on most both print and electronic media to give me facts. Now I have to look elsewhere for facts, because reporting is no longer about facts. It is about sound bites and controversy when it comes to anything that can be classed as ‘political’ idealogy. Issues have been polarised between factions rather than being considered on their own merits.

As I was trawling the Net doing some quick research on the rhetoric of hate in politics, I found an article written by Laurie Oakes no less (Daily Telegraph 5 March 2011), about this very topic. Laurie thinks that Tony Abbott’s call for the people to revolt will have “crazies foaming at the mouth”.

In the article, he goes on to note that
The Australian Tea Party - a fringe group based on the US right-wing movement - also attracts some prize specimens. A US tea-bagger, for example, writes: "Hello Down Under. Sorry to see we are not the only nation plagued with vermin like Obama. We stand with you in your quest for liberty from tyranny and oppression."
They are all enraged, even the New World Order conspiracy theorists (10 per cent from the carbon tax will go to a World Government, in case you didn't know).

Tyranny and oppression? Are these people really serious that the current Australian government is either a tyranny or oppressive in a country where any person can have a say?

Even John and I are getting some very strange ‘hate mail’ up here in National party heartland. You may have read about John’s postcard mail in my last blog. This week it was my turn. I received a postcard in the same hand writing allegedly from the Gold Coast (postmarked Mid North Coast) gently telling me that a real church (the Port Macquarie Anglican in this case) had been left 10 million dollars, and didn’t I see this as a poor choice? The inference was that my understanding of ‘church’ and Christianity was somewhat deficient and therefore I could not expect such largess to descend upon the Uniting Church.

On Thursday I was filmed (I wasn’t interviewed, just filmed sitting on my seat) at the Mid North Coast Climate Alliance launch. We have signed up as the Uniting Church, becoming one of the member institutes. I happened to be sitting next to Rob Oakeshott, who was presented with a signed copy of the Alliance Statement at the end of proceedings. I also gave a brief statement to the ABC Radio, and the event was covered in the Port News.

This apparently has provoked more weird rantings from our anonymous friend. This morning we received an email, purporting to be from the Byzantine Catholic church in the Ukraine. It was titled “God’s anathema upon the Uniting Church in Australia” and it called down curses on the Uniting Church for its intention to become “a homodictatorship” and “to live in sin here on earth and to end in hell after death”.

Among other things, the Uniting Church was accused of having a “false gospel of the traitors of Christ, behind which is the “angel of light” (Lucifer), “shines through” one’s sinful nature in such measure that people “enlightened” in this way glorify the god Lucifer by homosexuality in every dimension of their life.” It is also “an assembly of Satan” and “has ceased to be a blessing
for the nation and brings down a curse upon it as well as upon all Australia, leading them to self-destruction”.

Right then. So next time the floods or fires or droughts come, you will all know who to blame - the “Uniting anti-Church in Australia”.

Perhaps it is fair to say at this point that some of our more conservative church brothers and sisters would probably agree with this estimation of the Uniting Church. But it is also true that our anonymous hate mailer (and Mr Carp is still our preferred suspect) is clearly homophobic and responds to anything we say in regard to climate change by accusing us of ‘believing in homosexuality’. How climate change translates to a “belief in homosexuality” is a conundrum that escapes us. But it is fair to say that this places our anonymous hate mailer squarely within the rhetoric of hate, for as well as damning all gay and lesbians he wants to also damn the entire Uniting Church and is now calling down lurid curses upon all its members.

I believe Laurie Oakes is right. Why has this debate become so heated and flushed so many nutters out? What is it about climate change, or this particular government that has people like our friend “foaming at the mouth” and using the rhetoric of hate to dump on his fellow citizens?

I find it difficult to believe that scientists are actually receiving death threats in this country. They have become objects of rage and hatred for doing their research. Their children have also been threatened. They are called liar and frauds, and every conspiracy theorist has them working for a different shadowy (though always left wing) organisation, secretly funded by the current government. Their carefully worded statements based on the science are treated as they were the product of a dangerous fringe ideology.

Such claims can only be hatched surely in brains that have been twisted by the rhetoric of hate.

We can stop this, if only by demanding that our shock jocks and politicians (and their party faithful) behave themselves. They need to stop using the rhetoric of hate, and desist from feeding what has become an overt culture of bullying and fear-mongering.

Such behaviour would be condemned roundly in any schoolyard, and could be seen as undermining the stability and fabric of our society. Is it any wonder children become bullies with the exemplary model of our politicians (Tony Abbott take note in particular) before them? Is it any wonder usually sane people become confused and angry when they are faced daily with sensationalist headlines and negative sound bites designed to destroy rather than to inform and build good healthy debate? The media in general, the shock jocks and their continued use of the rhetoric of hate, the arrogance and self-interest of the wealthy and those with vested interests in not supporting climate change measures, and an opposition leader who can smell blood and a prime ministership just a few negative opinion polls away are all in danger of eroding what is good and decent and fair in our society.

People, it is time to take a long hard look at yourselves and see what you are really doing.

Wanted: suffragettes to engage with lost cause

On Thursday I attended the launch of the Mid North Coast Climate Alliance, a group made up of various community groups who want something done about climate change. The Uniting Church is the lone Christian voice on the group, but that doesn’t particularly disturb me, as the Uniting Church is often the lone Christian voice on many social and ecological issues.

While we were waiting for Mr Oakeshott to turn up and hear our carefully prepared speeches, and accept our signed statement (why is it that politicians are habitually late?) I got chatting to two women sitting at a nearby table.

And I made an interesting discovery. Both of them, upon arriving in the electorates that comprise greater Port Macquarie did not get the standard ‘welcome to the electorate’ letter. But their husbands did. One woman moved here when Mark Vaille held the seat. He wrote to her husband. The other moved here under the statesmanship of Mr 72%. He also wrote to her husband.

And neither woman received the welcome letter.

I can’t believe that welcoming men to National Party electorates and not their wives is unofficial National Party policy. Haven’t they worked out yet that women were given the right to vote decades ago?

I had originally been prepared to give Mr 72% the benefit of the doubt, wanting to believe that my lack of a welcome letter had been due to an oversight on the part of those in his office who scan the mail for new electorate members.

I am no longer prepared to give any such concession. For now here is the evidence that the National Party is of a sexist bent and is a Party which still appears to dwell in the halcyon days of the 1950s, where real women were unpaid servants who stayed in the kitchen, laundry and nursery while real men were the bread winners and expected dinner on the table every night and clean socks and underwear in their drawers every week.

What we need here is an education program to gently break the awful news that women can now vote to the party faithful. Perhaps there are still a few old suffragettes that could be asked to perform the task, and to also help the NP understand that women are now considered to be the equals of their male counterparts.

Trained nurses (male ones, of course) could be standing by to treat the inevitable signs of trauma and shock. The news that Australia’s Prime Minister is a woman could be shared at the same time, though only if a resuscitation trolley is nearby, re-stocked and ready to go.

Instead of the CWA, perhaps one of the Men’s Sheds could provide the refreshments whilst all this is happening. Just to reinforce the message of gender equality.
Shame on you, National Party. I know that your ranks are rife with some pretty strange bitter and twisted people. But this exclusive behaviour has now put you completely beyond the pale, and has therefore assigned you in my eyes to the outer darkness found in the gospel according to Matthew. For while I am happy to have you call me names and send me hate mail, seeing me as an inferior cannot be tolerated in this day and age.

From now on, I demand to be treated with the very same disdain that you show my husband.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Carp's Cornered and the rhetoric of hate

Up here in National Party heartland, things are hotting up in regard to the proposed price on carbon. The NP faithful are going into overdrive, and the Port newspapers are issuing challenges left, right and centre to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, daring her to come on up and explain that there carbon tax to them in person, dammit. Somewhat surprisingly, the Wauchope newspaper appears to be much more balanced, offering a much more thoughtful discussion of the issues involved.

It is these newspapers that have given rise to this particular blog. Those of you in the Uniting Church would be aware that our church actually has a statement on climate change and the environment and discipleship. Last week, the National Director of Uniting Justice sent out a press release congratulating the government on its stand on carbon pricing, reiterating UCA support for this policy.

John and I sent the press release with a few comments to the three local papers. We know it was printed in the Wauchope Gazette and the Port Paper. It was possibly printed in the Port News. In this electorate, where the local member Mr 72% is king, this press release was not viewed benignly by all.

The Gazette carried a letter stating that the Uniting Church should stay right out of politics. We have responded by reminding the letter-writer that any church that stands up for the poor, the marginalised, and the environment must be political if it is to challenge the social, political and commercial structures that enable such injustices or problems to occur in the first place. We also pointed this out to one of the local pastors, who distrusted the local Federal member and who believed the NP rhetoric, and who was not happy with our stand.

The published article in the Port Paper (and possibly the Port News) drew another type of response. John received a Snowy Mountain postcard pertaining to be from someone in the Labor party in Sussex St, Sydney. It reads:

“Dear Comrade John, Ref. Port Macquarie Paper. Your support for our Labor Party initiatives is great. With the loss of the Rev. Harry Herbert, our Labor Party member, we have needed someone like you who believes in the Fabians and homosexuality. Your success with the lesbian pastors is commendable. Keep up the good work. Con Raftopolous, Sussex St, Sydney.”

I apologise to any Con Raftopolous for reproducing his name, should there be such a person. The postcard was postmarked Mid North Coast. It was so ridiculous that John couldn’t stop laughing when I read it out to him.

The handwriting, was however, recognised. Apparently it was none other than Mr Carp, our friend and Carp’s Corner columnist from that scurrilous rag, the Port Paper. The Carp was cornered indeed.

There is something deeply disturbing about this response. While its sublime ridiculousness provoked mirth, the thought processes behind it are deeply disturbing. Beneath the sarcasm lurked the rhetoric of hate, a hate that was aimed at minority groups and which used the gay and lesbian community as symbols to express dislike and disdain.

I find it disturbing that, despite its perverted goals, such rhetoric effectively influences people via our media and the political leaders who may seek power and status ahead of the well-being of the Australian population and the future of the planet. Our pastor friend’s opinion made it clear that those who read such rhetoric can be persuaded by it. Up here in National Party heartland, it is rhetoric that "works."

In an article on this topic at the author noted that “[George] Orwell warned that clichéd and pretentious language is more than a stylistic nuisance -- it also obscures the truth. Such language is potentially dangerous. It has been used by governments to manipulate public opinion in support of destructive policies.”

It is also rhetoric that most Christians should despise and want to dismantle, as hate is as real a force as love or compassion. The arguments used by the Carps of this world are often deceptively friendly in tone, and have a dangerous power to persuade. Politically euphemistic language becomes the tool of such people to justify hatred toward entire groups of people.

The Christian church needs to not only condemn such rhetoric, but also itself refuse to join its seductive power. It is time for the Christian church to separate the rhetorical chaff from the wheat, and make a stand against the rhetoric of hate, and its deliberate attempt to obscure the truth about issues that must and will eventually concern all of us.

Which leads me to the following.

The assumption that a church or indeed any religion cannot be political and cannot speak out against misinformation designed to mislead needs to be challenged. Any religion that has social justice on the agenda and which seeks to challenge inequity, injustice and human rights abuses must be political.

It was clear from the discussion with members of the local ministers’ association that social welfare is often confused with social justice. While welfare and op shops and services for the poor are indeed necessary, they are not in themselves social justice. As I stated earlier, to aim for justice for the poor and oppressed means publically challenging the political structures that have allowed the inequity and hatred to develop in our societies.

Further, the gospel stories (especially in Luke) make it clear that Jesus had social justice high on his agenda. The Magnificat in chapter one of Luke sings of the complete inversion of the status quo, with the rich and powerful being pulled down, and the poor and lowly being lifted up. He spoke up and challenged the religious leadership (and hence Jewish political leadership as they were one and the same) of his day, staking his colours to the mast as it were in both the triumphal entry and the overturning of the tables in the temple.

If as Christians we seek to emulate the actions of Jesus, then individual and pietistic faith alone is simply not going to cut the mustard. To be a follower of Jesus means to be called into action, to speak out publically against all forms of injustice and to live a discipleship that requires faith in action.
It is time for the Christian church to recognise the rhetoric of hate under its alluring blandishments and challenge it. It is time to for the Christian church to separate facts and issues from party politics and rhetoric, and speak against such tactics. And it is time for the Christian church to challenge the Carps of this world, as they use the language of denigration to speak the rhetoric of hate.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Coffee, communism and communications: the politics of power Part 2

Up here in National Party heartland, it is hard to move around the various cafes in the Wauchope and greater Port Macquarie area without running into the dulcet tones of Alan Jones and Ray Hadley of 2GB and John Laws of 2SM. Their strident tones tend to disrupt the digestion of coffee drinkers such as ourselves, and while disliking the content and modus operandi of all three, Alan Jones particularly can quadruple my blood pressure.

Did you know that Bob Katter is a communist? No? I didn’t either. But his wanting to form his own party apparently is the proof, according to Alan and Ray’s listeners. And they also think that the Government is a minority Communist Party Government run by Brown, Gillard and turncoats who faked the footage of how our cattle are treated in the live export trade in some of Indonesia’s abattoirs. As for the carbon tax, there are thousands of responses on 2GB’s website. My favourite was one that asked why should Cate Blanchett be believed about global warming when she is an actress? Followed immediately by the comment that the listener was not a climate scientist but had read extensively on the topic. Mmmmmmm.

Hundreds were convinced that Julia Gillard was a liar, the famous Juliar of Alan Jones’ invention. Maybe she is, but I also seem to remember a prime minister that said that a GST would never be introduced by him. Courtesy of a website known as liar list, I found the following:

John Howard: “No, there’s no way that a GST will ever be part of our policy.”
Journalist: “Never ever?”
John Howard: “Never ever. It’s dead. It was killed by the voters in the last election”.
John Howard, interview, Tweed Heads Civic Centre, 2 May 1995

Why do I raise this old piece of news? Because I am totally perplexed about why Howard was apparently not a liar about the GST, but Gillard is about the badly named and greatly misunderstood carbon tax. Apparently Alan can’t seem to remember this interview with Howard. Not to mention the cash for comment enquiry he himself was involved in and how his own integrity was under scrutiny.

For those of you who watched the documentary “Leaky Boat” on Thursday night, you would know that the lying of the Howard government was systemic. Howard himself said in an interview on 17 August 2001 that “we don’t turn people back into the sea.” Within weeks, he was doing just that, and as time went on, with worse and worse consequences to asylum seekers, beginning with the Tampa and ending tragically with SIEV X.

Information and photos from the Navy were misused in the so-called children overboard affair. The Howard Government gagged the navy, and deliberately and erroneously linked asylum seekers with terrorists. Navy personnel were ordered not to humanise the people on the boats. The crew of the HMS Adelaide, who rescued the people in the “children overboard” affair, were told they were not to reveal what really happened during that rescue to anyone. In other words, the lying of this particular government was calculated, deliberate, systemic and designed to portray a vulnerable group of people in a light that pandered to Australian fear and paranoia.

The real issue here was neatly summed up on the documentary by Brigadier Garry Bornholt, the Head of Military Public Affairs. He commented that the Howard government’s actions were not about security, they were about politics.

I think he is right. And what this blog is really about is the polarisation of broad social and environmental issues into political camps.

It doesn’t really matter to Alan Jones or Ray Hadley whether Julia Gillard is a liar or not. It doesn’t matter whether Howard was a liar or not. What matters is the colour of their politics and political cronies and political party of each.

Issues which should be the concern of all people, such as humanitarian crises, cruelty to animals and environmental degradation and pollution, issues that will affect the entire globe have become the domain of one or the other political camps.

Being concerned about the environment means one is automatically labelled “greenie”, a title with clear derogatory overtones in much of this electorate. It also implies you probably vote Green or Labor, side with city people, drink chardonnay and are a communist. Being concerned about climate change means that you chain yourself to tress, raid egg farms, aren’t prepared to listen to other arguments, and you vote Green or Labor.

Likewise, being concerned about water rights and drought labels you a conservative, whinging farmer who converses in monosyllabic variants of “Arrrrrhhhh”. It also implies you disapprove of population growth, immigration, that you vote for the National Party or Liberal Party, and the Shooters’ Party in the Upper House, and that you think there should be more police in Wauchope.

Political parties in this country have become synonymous with particular issues instead of each issue being treated on its merit by the entire body of elected Members. This kind of labelling forces people into taking sides, and the issue (for example, boat people) becomes a ‘hot potato’ that is used to make political gains.

Research in the USA has shown that once an issue is linked with a political party, those on the opposite party literally cannot take in well-argued and well-researched evidence that demonstrates the validity of a particular humanitarian or environmental issue. The Fors and Againsts neatly divide into party lines. The more connected with the party someone is, the more entrenched that person’s opposition will be to the other point of view.

Further, the opposing political party’s very name becomes a slur and target for derogatory remarks. So up here, “National” is good, and “Labor” and “Greens” are bad, and it therefore follows if you vote one or the other you are “bad”. I am sure it would be reversed in Labor heartland, such as within the union movement. I wouldn’t be owning up to voting National if I was in certain union contexts.

The media, with its incessant appetite for controversy and the provocative sound bite, has fuelled this by presenting uncritiqued comments that have no other purpose except to slur the opposing party. The casualty in such a media strategy tends to be the truth.

So at this point, I return to my friends at 2GB, their rhetoric of extremes and their considerable influence mean that these party line opinions become so cemented in the psyche of their listeners that it is impossible to hold a reasoned debate with them about any topic where Labor and Liberal may differ, even slightly.

Take the example of the electorate of Lyne. When Rob Oakeshott won the seat of Lyne initially in a by-election, it was with a thumping majority of around 74% in the two candidate preferred percentage. In the last federal election, Mr Oakshott got 47.15% of the primary vote. The Nationals received 34.39%, and Labor and the Greens 13.49 and 4.29 respectively. That means around 65% of this electorate did not vote for the Nationals.

On 13 Sept The Australian newspaper ran an article on the election and Lyne. It stated that the deal Mr Oakeshott cut with Labor offered nothing for farmers and small towns.

The Australian reports:

The farmers believe the focus Mr Oakeshott and fellow independent Tony Windsor have put on regional affairs as their price for supporting a minority government excludes rural industries.

In the small dairy farming town of Comboyne, 60km southwest of Mr Oakeshott's home base of Port Macquarie, the independent MP won 71 votes compared with 162 for Nationals candidate David Gillespie. Only 15 people in the town voted Labor.

Further southwest at the polling booth of Barrington, Mr Gillespie got more than double Mr Oakeshott's vote, with a 60 per cent swing towards the Nationals.

Ten days later, on 23 Sept 2010, Alan Jones also addressed the same topic of Lyne. He accused Mr Oakeshott of abandoning farmers in his electorate. He concentrated on the results from polling booths in Comboyne and Barrington. In a barefaced manner, he lifted The Australian’s article and used its sentiments and figures to make it look as if Mr Oakeshott barely squeaked in and that his duty was to form government with the Coalition, due to the National Party vote being the highest vote at these tiny booths. He accused Mr Oakeshott of concentrating on Port Macquarie, and this was how he scraped into office.

The population of Greater Port Macquarie is around 70,000. That of the electorate of Lyne is around 122,000. In 2010, 88,261 people voted in Lyne. Jones’ argument cannot be sustained on these figures. It cannot be sustained on the figures from the election. Did he actually bother to check the figures or did he just rely on the rather biased article of The Australian? Did he torture the data until it confessed to what he wanted it to say? Who knows? If I could find out the correct figures, Alan Jones surely could have as well. The only reason for misrepresenting them in the skewed way he did was party political. That is, Rob Oakeshott had not agreed to form government with the Coalition.

This thesis was confirmed when the Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey, on Jones’ show, stated that a vote for an Independent was a vote for Labor. It was further entrenched when a National Party member said that it was time Rob Oakeshott started acting like an Independent and voted with the Coalition.

I don’t know what the answer is to such misrepresentation, especially when it hides behind the veneer of democratic debate. Perhaps it is time our media grew a backbone and did some research and presented the facts rather than the sound bites.

I don’t know how we are ever going to get bipartisan support on vital issues such as our waterways, climate change, refugees and fiscal policy, especially if voters, coached in the entrenched view of their favourite party, have these opinions affirmed by a sensationalistic media.

Unlike Tony Abbott, I do not agree that a ferocious Opposition is good for Australian democracy. It fosters resentment, entrenched party lines and a closing down of true debate.

The Liberal Party needs to acknowledge that the global financial crisis was caused by systemic fraud and massive market failures rather than over-regulation by the US government. It also needs to face up to the reality of climate change. The scientific evidence that is now available overwhelmingly demonstrates that climate change is real, and is already harming the world, including Australian farmers and citizens. Cultivating climate denial in what it sees as its voting base is neither honest nor ethical – especially when some members of that voting base who live on the coastline of Australia begin to watch their assets being regularly flooded. Accepting the scientific reality and joining with the rest of the industrialised world in setting a price on carbon would demonstrate that the Coalition is really interested in the well-being of Australian citizens and the global economy.

The Labor Party (particularly in NSW) needs to acknowledge that it is fractured by factionism and turned rotten by bad policy and incestuous political behaviour. It needs to grow its self-awareness and stop listening to the polls in order to compete with the Coalition. It can’t, and it shouldn’t, as to do so is to become even more unethical than it is.

And the National Party (particularly in Lyne) needs to grow up, stop spitting a dummy in its infantile and bullying attacks on Rob Oakeshott. Nationals need to understand that 65% of this electorate voted either for Mr Oakeshott, Labor or The Greens. That Mr Oakeshott formed government with Labour and the Greens is a true representation of this electorate – something which you all claim you wanted him to reflect. He did. Get over it.

And for Mr Jones, arguing that "this is what I believe and this is why I believe it, and I disagree with any people who disagree with what I believe" and saying it more loudly than anyone else is not an argument – it simply reveals your inability to actually think seriously on most topics.

Isn’t it time that both politicians and the media grew up and started presenting real information and tried to become good investigative journalists?

(The figures and percentages cited from the elections in Lyne are drawn from the website of the Australian Electoral Commission.)