I know that when you get to the ballot box tommorrow, you want to make a difference and vote in godly people to parliament. I know that there are political parties who purport to be Christian but if you scratch the surface, even just a little bit, you find that just by reciting the magic words of "abortion", "euthanasia", "sharia" and "freedom of religion", those same political parties begin to look like front companies for really abhorrent positions. I don't know why "freedom of religion" necessarily has to be weaponised in the fight for nativism and its close cousin, racism.
After having been a spectator of American politics for a long time, after having been a spectator of British politics for a long time, and having been a spectator of Australian politics for a long time, I can tell you that although they have different theatrics, the substance which is being broadcasted is remarkably similar.
All three nations have an almost psychotic and deeply narcissistic view of the rich and an open disdain of the elderly, the poor, the disabled and the refugee. We all like to reframe the argument so these people are bludgers, or violent (even if the evidence doesn't really support it), and all three nations would prefer it if the problem just went away, so that we can lie prostrate and grovel before the feet of the rich and powerful in an effort to get them to notice us (which by the way, they won't).
The media likes to find examples of the odd person who has misbehaved and thanks to the telescoping of vision and the amplification of tiny noises, we can turn the vulnerable and different into idols of hell incarnate.
I want you to stop and properly consider the lists of political policies before you and run them through the filter of common sense and common decency. Are the people who are being made out to be demons, really that way? Are they perhaps people who are deserving of dignity and who need help?
There was this itinerant rabbi called Jesus (you may have heard of him), who was the son of a tradie and who decided to walk around the place with 12 of him mates, and tell people of a new way of looking at the world. He wasn't concerned with ethnicity or race and he hung around with such people as prostitutes, and soldiers of an occupying army.
He told a bunch of stories which we might do well to reimagine as the story of the good ISIS fighter, he gave praise to the good Iranian guard, and told off the politicians who said all the right words. This Jesus bloke who came from the podunk, really got up the nose of the establishment.
He laid out his manifesto, which you'll find in Matthew 5-7, and has gone away for a bit. His brother James upon rereading the manifesto, wondered how you actually go about doing it all and he wrote out a treatise, which we've labelled as a letter.
I suggest that you read Jimmy's letter first; then come back to this.
Jimmy's letter, or rather his treatise on actually carrying out policy, is a very good yardstick to measure political policy against. If you think that the government shouldn't be doing the job of charity, then you need to have a good hard look at the world because voluntary charity is rubbish at actually doing the job of caring for people. Here in the merry old land of Oz, charitable giving accounts for just 1.1% of GDP or 1.8% of GDP if you include the combined revenue of all churches in the country. The Old Age pension costs 7% of GDP. If you can square those two things, then tell me about it. If not, your argument is invalid three and a half times over.
Since we are talking about what we expect government to do, through the lens of what Jimmy wrote, it might be a good idea to run through his basic position statements.
Jimmy's words can be applied to a number of policy areas and one of them is the practical care of people. Since we're one day out from an election, then it's worth thinking about how we expect government to do that practically. It stands to reason that the people who most need help, are those people of limited means.
According to the book of James the poor (yes, I've just used that ugly word) are:
-those in humble circumstances (1:9)
-those without a welfare safety net (1:27)
-the destitute (2:2,15)
-those who are discriminated against (2:3-4,6,9)
-workers defrauded of wages (5:4)
-the suffering who cry out (5:4)
I ask you, in not quite two millennia have really changed? Our country is still arguing about the edges of the rates of Newstart, the Old Age Pension, Disability Support Pensions, and whether or not we properly fund the NDIS. Are you going to call these people bludgers?
We actively lock up people who are refugees in tropical prisons like Nauru and Manus Island and have thought about reopening Christmas Island Detention Centre. Those policies are dovetailed nicely with media reports that they might all have terrorist connections and are dangerous.
We've found neat ways to paint migrants from African countries who have fled their country because of civil war as lawless. Again, is this genuinely true? Why is it that I can walk through Blacktown of a night time and nothing will happen to me?
Why have we found ways of short changing people out of penalty rates on Sunday? When we have people who have actually had their wages stolen off them by unscrupulous employers, why do we then blame the ones who were defrauded? Is it really people who have recently come to this country who have undercut wages, or could it be the fault of employers who are just as prepared to send jobs overseas or put automated machines in businesses, or simply just withheld wages?
If you run the policies of your chosen political party through those kinds questions, do they really reflect the grand manifesto of that tradie from the podunk town?
It also stands to reason that the people who least need our help are those people who are doing quite well. Let's not kid ourselves, Australia is fantastically wealthy and most of us, even in relatively humble circumstances, live better than kings and queens from most of history. Even so, there are people who own ten, a hundred, and a thousand times the wealth and income of everyone else and they're usually the ones who own the media to tell you what to think.
James says the rich are those people who:
-experience privilege, even if they go to church (2:3)
-oppress the poor and drag them into court (2:6)
-defraud workers fair wages (5:4)
-live in luxury and self-indulgence while others suffer (5:5)
-promote economic policies that condemn & kill the poor (5:6)
During the last seven weeks we have had people complain about a policy which is a "retiree tax", when it is actually about making some people who pay no tax at all, pay something. Dividends and Imputation Credits are is very heavily skewed towards those people who already had a lot. It came out in the ATO's statistics that 95% of all Imputation Credits went to the top two deciles of wealth and this is further skewed that 85% of all Imputation Credits went to the top decile.
This sounds like the rich trying to protect their own. It wasn't that long ago that we might have classified excessive greed as a vice, instead of turning it into some kind of twisted virtue that hardly any of us will achieve.
I saw a piece on ABC1's 7.30 about a hairdresser who owns thirty salons and was complaining about a possible 1% pay increase that they'd have to pay their staff if certain legislation went through. Now I know that the employer/employee relationship is already unequal and fraught but the question is, do your workers deserve their wages? If not, why not? And if you're worrying about wages increases eating into your profits (which might be a valid concern depending on how tight you run the margins) then maybe you shouldn't be in business at all.
Our friend Jimmy also has to say a few words about the powerful who ignore the poor. Of these people:
-commit blasphemy (2:7)
-should weep & wail for the miseries coming upon them (5:1)
-their riches will rot (5:2)
-gold & silver will corrode & corrosion will "eat your flesh like fire" (5:3)
-fatten themselves for slaughter (5:5)
Now if all of this sounds like hyperbole, remember that we actually had a politician make allusions to the Nazi Holocaust in parliament during this last term. We've had a mine approved without consultation with either the traditional owners of the land or the farmers and people who live in the area, and given the mine unlimited use of all the water that it can take from the Great Artesian Basin until 2079. We have locked people up in prisons on islands and left them to suffer without basic medical treatment for more than five years in some cases, for their arrival as asylum seekers, which by the way isn't even a crime. We had politicians calling for gun laws to be freed up after 50 people were destroyed by an Australian citizen in Christchurch, NZ.
I could go on but that might labour the point.
In a democracy where we still have the principle of one person one vote, and the safeguard against weaponising apathy and helplessness by asking everyone to vote, we still get a say in what we want the country to be. Political parties who are literally vying for power will often say anything that they can get away with in order to secure your vote.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
- Jimmy 2:14-17
Hold the rich and powerful to account. Or don't. Don't believe the truth. Give your vote to someone saying magic words. I'm sure that yelling "keep warm and well fed" at people "without clothes and daily food" is going to make a difference.
That's what we've been doing as a nation for a long time.
That's what we've been doing as a nation for a long time.