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Election year strategies for bleeding hearts

3 Comments
Tony Kevin |  05 June 2007

It is looking more and more that Labor will win, and that the present unforeseen Coalition government majority in the Senate may be lost too. That will give a Rudd Labor government the potential for winding back bad laws and correcting past serious negligences and injustices. And may I say how important it is that, in Senate seats Labor has no realistic chance of gaining, they should not repeat their disastrous decision last time round in Victoria and Tasmania to preference Family First over the Greens. That gave the Coalition control of the Senate, from which so much bad legislation came.

There are interesting moral questions arising from this analysis for us "bleeding hearts", among whom I am happy to count myself.

First, if Rudd wins, should we expect all good things to come at once? We should not. I do not underestimate the moral damage that eleven years of relentless Howardism have done to Australia’s moral decency. At core and at grass-roots level, we are still a decent people. But it will take time and patience to bring the level of public debate – especially among our political, business and professional elites, much of whose public discourse Howardism has intimidated or corrupted - back to a decent middle ground of instinctive and unstudied respect for human dignity.

A second interesting question if Labor wins - how much did the patient human rights-based advocacy by we bleeding hearts since 1998, against all the odds and in the face of withering scorn and contempt - contribute to the erosion of Howard's initial high moral credibility? ALP hardheads – the sort of folk who used to advise Kim Beazley - say we did not help at all. In fact, they say, we bleeding hearts have been a nuisance, distracting Labor into bitter internal divisions that Howard could exploit, especially on border security, thereby eroding the ALP vote in elections since 1996. Better if we had shut up, they say.



I don't think Rudd would agree with that, judging by his essay in The Monthly. And I think our sustained moral critique was necessary. Over time, it played a role in helping bump Howard off his public pedestal to his present quite strongly negative public persona.

A third question is, what should we bleeding hearts be doing in terms of public advocacy for the remaining months till the election? I tend to think that we should now go more gently. We should leave room for Labor to win, on its chosen ground. We should not help to give Howard any Tampa-type red-button issues to play, to distract and pump up the electorate.

But a fourth question then arises - what consequential dangers might we run if we are too silent? Could a Prime Minister-Elect Rudd then turn around and say " I won the election without you people, now don't go telling me what you want me to do” - on issues like ending Temporary Protection Visas, ending use of Nauru or Christmas Island as detention centres, setting up a judicial inquiry into the people smuggling disruption program and the sinking of SIEV X as the previous Senate four times demanded, disengaging from the Iraq occupation, opening up Iraq War accountability issues, reviewing sedition laws.

My answer is in two parts. First, I think that church leaders in particular must continue to speak out, in firmly non-partisan ways, on issues in politics that are deeply moral. And I note Rudd’s words that Boenhoffer’s bravery as a church leader applies not just to societies in crisis as was Nazi Germany but to all societies at all times. Australian hurch leaders must continue to speak out on political and social issues that are at the same time moral issues.

Second, do we bleeding hearts in the wider community need, quietly but firmly, to make known our expectations of Labor now? Or is it better to trust in Kevin Rudd to do the right thing when he has the chance to?

I have not worked out a complete personal answer to this yet - I like Kevin, but Tony Blair’s record as a Christian socialist leader who went off the rails as British Prime Minister just gives me the shivers. I think Kevin Rudd is just as smart as Tony Blair - smarter, even. I hope his moral conscience also will be stronger than Tony Blair’s proved to be in office. The Monthly article, that I have quoted from extensively, gives me hope that it will.

Tony Kevin is a distinguished former Australian ambassador to Poland and Cambodia and 2003 "International Whistleblower of the Year". This article is an extract from an address he delivered at the New Pentecost Forum in Sydney in May 2007. The full text is here.

 



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My comments arise from Tony Kevin's linked article: "The forthcoming Australian Election: making moral choices"
Tony Kevin is wont to react with enthusiasm when the federal ALP elects a new leader. In an open letter to Mark Latham in 2003, he commenced:
"Dear Mark,
"Warm congratulations on your victory. It was a wise choice by your Party and those who did not vote for you will soon be glad the vote went this way too. You do represent hope for change towards a more compassionate and law-abiding Australia, where the weak and defenceless in our community are not kicked in the teeth by a ruthless and uncaring government. Your concern for the poor and marginalised will in time be recognised as also extending to protecting the dispossessed and excluded who have sought refuge with us."
Currently, in his enthusiasm for the new ALP leader, he has announced that he will vote for Kevin Rudd.
I am not sure that the Greens party will be overly happy with this announcement for we read on Kevin's home page:
"I wish to put on record that shortly before going to Spain, in May 2006, I joined the ACT Branch of the Australian Greens party. I see Greens policies as a pretty good fit with the kinds of views I have been expressing and archiving on this site, since it opened three years ago. The Greens party will have an important role to play in the next federal election: I am proud to have become part of this democratic endeavour." (Google: http://www.tonykevin.com/)
Nevertheless, in his address to the New Pentecost Forum, Kevin has raised some important issues for Christians who will vote to determine a new federal government in the near future.
Party policies need to be considered carefully. I shall study these policies through the political filter of John Howard's core and non-core promises. My filter for Labor will be both Bob Hawke's promise that no child in Australia will live in poverty after 1990 and Richard Farmer's loud laugh at his own cynicism as he recounted that he made up that line the night before Hawke delivered it with quivering voice and intense sincerity. Additional filters will be the leaves from the one billion trees promised by Bob Hawke at Wentworth in 1990 and Paul Keating's tax cuts embeded in L-A-W LAW.
I shall consider two issues raised by Tony Kevin to illustrate my approach to elections.
Despite the Senate Committee's exonerating both the Commonwealth Government and the Australian Defence Forces of "negligence or dereliction of duty" re the sinking of SIEVX, Kevin stills believes passionately that such is not the case. The official record of the Senate enquiry is available(http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/maritime_incident_ctte/index.htm) plus abundant other material (Google: SIEVX). I am not convinced that Kevin is right; therefore, this will not be an election issue for me.
The recent enquiry into the deaths of the Balibo Five have some common elements with the SIEVX, e.g. breakdowns in inter-department communications and lost transcripts. (Did I hear: "But Gough is an honourable man."?) If Kevin is right I hope it doesn't take twenty years to establish that fact.
The aboriginal question does remind us that politicians can act in good faith but achieve tragic outcomes. Such an issue as this requires careful discernment. Bob Hawke once observed: "The electorate always gets it right." It is pure coincidence that the remark was made after his election victory. However, I believe that there is in the community a "common sense", somewhat akin to the "sensus fidelium": an intuitive knowing by many in the community that some thing is right or wrong (in this case). Unfortunately, those who spoke out against, or merely questioned, the outcomes of aboriginal funded programs were often labelled as racists.
Let's hope that in the heat of pre-election debate, some calm reflective action is encouraged.
Fortunately, Noel Pearson brilliantly analysed the cause of the current situation in aboriginal communities in his 2000 Ben Chifley Memorial Lecture (http://www.australianpolitics.com/news/2000/00-08-12a.shtml).
Electors would do well to study both this speech and another he gave in Adelaide at the 2002 Annual Hawke Lecture
(http://www.unisa.edu.au/hawkecentre/events/ahl/2002ahl-pearson.asp).
Two quotes from the latter are a reminder that one may love the disadvantaged as much as another, be as equally left wing and have as open a bleeding heart as another, but differ on the means to achieve the common goal:
"Based on my experiences, I think Labor needs to challenge the cultural left. This may not sound original, there has been much talk about the "chattering classes", the middle-class "chardonnay left" and so on. I differ in that I would like to launch this criticism from the left rather than from the right as is usually done."
and
"However, because of my experiences I have formed a prejudiced judgement that the cultural left is in may ways objectively reactionary, preserving obstacles for the lower classes and the underclass—including Aboriginal people—to advance."
That being said, I am happy to state that after studying all available pre-election material of both parties I shall put the Liberals first and Labor last on my voting slip. I live in a safe Labor seat: Labor knows it will never lose it, Liberals know they will never win it. On past performance, neither party in government will do anything for residents here. No doubt it is important to have areas like this in which refugees from third world countries will feel at home in their new environment as soon as they arrive. By my pattern of voting I reduce Labor's massive electorate majority by two. If my one vote were to give the Coalition a Senate majority, I would write a "Gotcha" letter to the ALP to inform them that people live here, and spend three years empathising with Nelson Mandela who suffered willingly the consequences of his imploring the free world to keep the trade embargoes on South Africa.

Peter Ryan 13 June 2007

I am flattered that eminent commentator Peter Ryan devoted much attention to my essay “Election year strategies for bleeding hearts”. His quite long reply ranged well beyond the scope of the issues canvassed lightly in my New Pentecost Forum speech http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/Uploads/File/705/tony_kevin.doc , and extracted in Eureka Street http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=2947
Allow me to offer a few responses on points of particular importance to me.

On my alleged inclination to react with enthusiasm whenever the ALP chooses a new leader: mea culpa on Mark Latham – I freely admit I was badly wrong about him in 2003. I was not enthusiastic when Kim Beazley returned to the leadership, and said why: I stand by those views. In respect of Kevin Rudd, let my speech speak for itself. I have hope, but am keeping my fingers crossed … I hope we get a little wiser as we get older.

On my short period of membership of the Greens starting in May 2006 – I will say now, for the first time on public record, that I resigned that membership six months later in November 2006. This was an experiment we entered into at a time when I had despaired of Labor choosing an electable Leader. It did not work out, and the Greens and I parted courteously. I respect the high quality of the Greens senators in the federal parliament. I am glad that they are there. I will never join a political party again. I hope to see Kevin Rudd elected Prime Minister this year.

On the sinking of SIEV X – it is factually inaccurate to say that the Senate Committee into a Certain Maritime Incident exonerated both the Commonwealth Government and the Australian Defence Forces of negligence or dereliction of duty. The following relevant texts are cited from the Executive Summary of the agreed CMI Committee Report:

“Recommendation 1
The Committee recommends that a full independent inquiry into the disruption activity that occurred prior to the departure from Indonesia of refugee vessels be undertaken, with particular attention to the activity that Australia initiated or was instrumental in setting in motion through both its partners in the Indonesian government and its own network of informants.”

On SIEV X, the CMI Committee found as follows – it is important to read the full text:

“Findings (in relation to the SIEV X episode)

The Committee finds that there were several gaps in the chain of reporting of intelligence, but that even if it had been functioning optimally, it is unlikely that the Australian response to SIEV X would have been different. This is because the quality and detail of the intelligence available to the authorities at the relevant times was insufficient to have warranted the launching of a specific search and rescue operation, especially since a comprehensive surveillance of the area was already being undertaken. On the basis of the above, the Committee cannot find grounds for believing that negligence or dereliction of duty was committed in relation to SIEV X.

The Committee, nevertheless, finds it disturbing that no review of the SIEV X episode was conducted by any agency in the aftermath of the tragedy. No such review occurred until after the Committee’s inquiry had started and public controversy developed over the Australian response to SIEV X.

While there were reasonable grounds to explain the Australian response to SIEV X, the Committee finds it extraordinary that a major human disaster could occur in the vicinity of a theatre of intensive Australian operations, and remain undetected until three days after the event, without any concern being raised within intelligence and decision making circles. The Committee considers that it is particularly unusual that neither of the interdepartmental oversight bodies, the Illegal Immigration Information Oversight Committee and Operational Coordination Committee, took action to check whether the event revealed systemic problems in the intelligence and operational relationship.”


The individual chapters in the CMI Report by opposition Senators Cook, Faulkner, Collins, and Bartlett are much stronger than this bipartisan agreed report; as are their Hansard tabling statements in the Senate on the day the report was tabled, 23 October 2002. (all these texts are on the Parliament website)

There followed three years of passed Senate motions calling for a full-powers independent judicial inquiry into the sinking of SIEV X and the Australian Government’s people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia. Mr Downer described these Senate motions as “stunts”. I take them more seriously. I think a Rudd Labor Government will too.

One can of course have different views as to which government is likely to be more moral. In my view, the case based on recent years’ experience is strong that a Rudd government is likely to be more moral than the present Howard government. I think it is important to come to a judgement on this question, and not take refuge as many do in the cynical cop-out that all governments are morally much the same, thus we can legitimately vote on a basis of self-interest alone. I think Peter Ryan and I would agree on this, and I thank him for his comment on my speech.

Tony Kevin, Canberra

tony kevin 18 June 2007

There are many Peter Ryans in Australia: this one, far from being an "eminent commentator", is just a plain, ordinary bloke in the suburbs.

I am sure that readers with interest in SIEVX will form their own opinions. For me, there are too many assumptions in the argument that implies guilt on the part of the Australian Defence Forces and/or the Howard Government. I would hate to see a person found guilty of a crime on the basis of evidence of similar quality. In my opinion, the old adage: "If it's a choice between a conspiracy and a stuff up, the stuff up applies," is relevant to this case.

I come to the election from a different perspective from many. In his book. "Jesus the Liberator", Jon Sobrino quotes another author to the effect: Jesus came to establish a kingdom and all He got was a church. My perception of what I am hearing from some quarters is that He did worse: all He got was a political party.
The liberation theologians originally wrote of "the option for the poor". The South American Bishops - being more politically astute - changed that to "the preferential option for the poor". I believe that in so doing politics was given preference over the Gospels.
Whilst many decisions of the Howard Government are not options for the poor, I wonder to what extent a Labor Government will oppose the forces of world-wide capitalism. Will they, for example, address the disparity between obscene executive salaries of tens of millions of dollars a year and that of a single pensioner on $525.10 a fortnight?
How moral will a future Labor Government be? As I indicated in my earlier post, on past performance, they haven't done much for the poor in my neighbourhood when they were in power; nor have their stated pre-election policies been honoured in the past; recall Bob Hawke's: "all bets off".

Peter Ryan 18 June 2007

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