It is not entirely accurate, but this last week of the Federal election campaign is an appropriate time to summarize some of the things I've been saying on our duties as Catholics with respect to "the public square".
Devotional/liturgical vs politics
First it is not entirely true that I've abandoned the devotional and liturgical in my blogging - you can read my liturgical notes based around the Benedictine calendar (which has a high degree of overlap with the EF) on my other blog if you are interested.
Secondly, I'm avoiding certain topics at the moment in the interests of not stirring up my anger at the things I see, hear and read about particularly liturgy-wise. Though I do have several posts drafted which I'll attempt to tone down and put out in due course (yesterday's addition to the collection starts by commending the Graduale Simplex to those choirs who can no longer cope adequately with the full propers, even on great feasts which you should know backwards. You know who you are).
But most importantly, as lay catholics, politics and what is happening in our society is what we should be focusing on. A strong liturgical and devotional life is important of course. But its purpose is to help keep us focused on what really matters (getting to heaven), and more immediately, to help us cope with the duties of our state of life, not be a be all and end all in themselves. And at the moment, for most of us, the duties of our state of life require a certain focus on the political.
1. Ignore Latham: the duty to vote
So in the light of Mad Mark Latham's call to leave your ballot form blank, it is worth first of all reiterating that you do in fact have a duty to vote. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (2240) that 'Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to...exercise the right to vote..'
The big problem is, who can you vote for?
2. Finding a pro-life agenda to vote for
First, it is worth giving your first preference to a minor party if there is a strongly pro-life available. They may not have any chance of getting elected, but the bigger their vote, the more the major parties will have to pay attention to the pro-life movement.
Secondly, use your preferences, don't leave it to the party to allocate preferences. In the end, except for a few seats where there is a real chance of an independent getting up, you will probably have to vote eventually for one of the major parties in the Senate and House of Reps. As far as I can see neither of the major parties offer anything even vaguely by way of a pro-life agenda. Bishop Jarrett's letter for example suggested supporting parties that will provide pro-life pregnancy counselling services - but I can't find any commitment from either party to provide such a service (please point me to it if it exists!).
In an ideal world we would want to see, at the Federal level, commitments such as:
- provision of good pregnancy support services;
- removal of abortion and IVF from medicare;
- opposition to same sex marriage;
- commitment to strong, well-designed environmental policies that do not penalize large families;
- prohibition of human cloning and other related experimentation;
- a strong supporting agenda to promote family well-being across the lifecycle, including cheaper housing, better infrastructure, adequate aged care, etc.
So when it comes to the pro-life agenda, in the Senate, in my view you need firstly to try and ensure that the more dangerous parties (such as the Greens) do not gain greater control of the Senate.
At the reps level, you need to focus on your local candidate for the House of Representatives in case there is a conscience vote, and on supporting candidates who can work within their parties to get good outcomes on issues such as the population debate. The Australia Votes website provides some helpful information to this end. Another site with some additional useful information is the Family Life International website, though be careful, this one seems to contain some errors (in particular it gives a tick to Gary Humphries, Senator for the ACT on gay marriage whereas in fact he has voted for it on, in my view completely spurious "Territory rights" grounds) and is overly directive in my view.
3. Finding out if your (new) candidate pro-life?
Perhaps the greatest scandal of this and recent elections is the degree of difficulty in finding out whether or not the candidates actually are pro-life or not. The websites above look at past voting patterns - but very few candidates have actually disclosed their views upfront.
That's a problem in an electorate like my own (Fraser) where the candidates are all new (if anyone can enlighten me on the views of the Liberal candidate I'd be grateful; the views of the Green and Secularist Party candidates are clear, and I think I can infer the views of Labor's Andrew Leigh though I'd be happy to be told I'm wrong about that).
The reason? They do not think that being labelled pro-life is going to win them any votes; quite the contrary.
And this represents to me the real failure of the pro-life movement in this country, and the reason why I think the rather simplistic approaches and naive readings of the parties urged upon us by some (including the Family Life site) do more harm than good. But perhaps this is an issue to come back to after the election...
4. Assess the parties overall
When it comes to your House of Reps vote, you do also need to consider which Party you think would make a better Government overall (particularly if you are lucky enough to live in a marginal seat!).
And that's where issues those broader family support issues and related topics such as economic management, housing, adequate aged care, education and everything else needs to be weighed up.
Who is in government is vitally important when it comes down to issues that will have a direct impact on Australia's culture of death, such as the environment and population debates. I'm not sure it is clearcut however which party offers the better chance of a positive outcome - that is something you will have to weigh up.
And the competence (and values) of the leaders, potential leaders (lest there be more coups!), and their potential Cabinets (the Rudd era aside, Cabinet Ministers have enormous power to shape policy within their portfolios in our system of Government).
I have to admit, that every time I think I've decided how to vote, one of the contenders (or their offsiders) says something utterly stupid.
Turning back the boats.
Today's gem - Tony Abbott saying I personally will decide which boats to turn back.
No Mr Abbott, please, leave it to the navy.
There is no way that a politician in Canberra should ever interfere in military operational decisions happening in real time where the situation could change in seconds.
And our PM should be focusing on the big issues, the policy directions and operational guidelines, not piddling around about boats.
Thankfully less than a week of this nonsense to go.