Sunday, 1 July 2012

The bleak mid-winter in the People's Republic of Canberra...

It is a pretty bleak mid-winter here in Canberra at the moment, both weather, Church and politics wise, as a number of stories I've been alerted to by various readers (for which my thanks) make clear. 


Outside the sky is grey, the wind freeezing, and July looks set to follow May in being one of the coldest on record. 

My garden is still harbouring a few goodies (parsnips, carrots and that useful tuber, Jerusalem artichokes, in particular are great winter veges) but on the whole even my green manure crops are showing reluctance to do much!

In fact weather-wise, Canberra is experiencing odd extremes at the moment - extraordinarily cold nights (nineteen below zero in May) but slightly warmer than average days.

And those somewhat bizarre juxtapositions seem to extend to Church and State here as well!

On federalism, democracy and policy paralysis

The big stories in Federal politics this week were all about the ongoing subversion of our democratic system by a combination of the courts and the Opposition.

Our parliamentarians spent a week weeping crocodile tears over yet more loss of lives caused by the sinking of boatloads of asylum seekers.  Yet this special debate came to nothing, as the Greens refused to compromise (well what's new!) on anything but full onshore processing, and the Opposition continued to its campaign to prove what we already knew, namely that democracy can be made unworkable if one but puts one's mind to it.

One could never hope for policy pragmaticism from the anti-life Greens: they appear to be playing a long game, and have been for some time now.  They know they have to destroy Labor if they are ever to take Government.  And they know that they have to push the Liberals to the conservative extreme in order to make themselves look even vaguely palatable as an alternative.  So far they seem to be succeeding on both fronts...

One can still hope that the Liberal-National Party Coalition might yet see sense however. 

Unfortunately, Tony Abbott seems to be locked into the asylum-seekers as invaders mentality.  Presumably that means the loss of ships at sea is to be viewed as if they were the Spanish Armada attempting to invade England, rather than the desperate souls they actually are...

The end result is that we now have an Expert Committee set up to ponder the problem.  Right.  I'm not holding my breath...

Chaplains and the Executive power

The other similarly Court imposed drama of the last week or so was the outcome of a constitutional challenge to the funding of chaplains in schools.

The good news was the Court's swift affirmation that, unlike the US for example, there is no separation of Church and State in Australia, so the Federal Government can, subject to the few restrictions imposed by the Australian Constitution (viz no establishment of a religion and no religious test for Federal officers) in principle fund religious activities.  The bad news was that it rendered hundreds of other Federal grants programs invalid due to a highly restrictive reading of the Executive power.

Some want to view this positively, as a victory for smaller Government.  I'm afraid I can't see it, particularly in view of the legislation swiftly passed that allegedly validated all of these programs!

The fundamental problem in our Federation is that the Federal Government raises around 80% of the revenue - but doesn't have the Constitutional power to spend it directly in some of the big costs areas like schools and hospitals.  And the ongoing policy failures in those two areas nicely illustrate the principle that the best way of getting accountability is for the level of Government that raises the money to be held accountable for how it is spent.

In reality, in my view, the most effective accountability mechanism in Australia is the Senate Estimate process, under which public servants get grilled on the programs they run. It is a process that is based on scrutiny of Government spending, not compliance with legislation. And it is the process that has uncovered most of the major rorts and maladministration that have occurred at the Federal level.

If you want genuine accountability, the presence of absence of legislation won't normally ensure it.  Why?  Because the level of scrutiny bills get going through parliament is highly variable (unsurprising given the vast volumes of stuff the Parliament deals with), and actually enforcing it then depends first on having the money to go to court, and then on the court's creative interpretation (or all too often effective subversion) of it. 

Marriage 'equality'

And to complete the Federal trifecta, this week saw the release of the Senate Committee Reports on assorted attempts to legislate for same sex marriage.  The outcomes are largely predictable...

Opposition to a mosque is not racism!

Meanwhile in local politics, a leaflet asking residents to ask some hard questions about the proposed construction of a mosque in Canberra's fastgrowing Gunghalin area is being labelled as potentially 'racist' by the ACT Government.

It would be nice if local Multicultural Affairs Minister learnt enough about Islam to know that Islam is  not, in fact a race, or restricted primarily to a particular racial group, but is rather a religion encompassing adherents of many races.

More fundamentally, the Minister's comments suggest that she really does not understand the differing social impacts that a Christian Church used mainly on Sundays for worship, and a mosque, which has its major prayers on a weekday and is generally a major social centre for its adherents, could have.

Instead, the local politically-correct ACT Government is trying to crash this proposal through without enabling residents the chance to have the impacts properly assessed, and without being able to have the real debate that needs to be had about just what kind of ideology would be preached there...

Pray for a new, strong and holy Archbishop for Canberra! 

And on the subject of preaching, I can't leave this round up without commenting on some dark nuggets from the July edition of the archdiocesan rag, The Voice.

The first is a council of despair by 'Archdiocesan faith formation and spiritality co-ordinator' Shane Dwyer, talking about the Year of Grace.  In it, he talks about encouraging the spiritual life of our children and grandchildren.  But then he suggests that actually making them go to Mass may be a step too far!

Mr Dwyer says:

"Too readily we can focus on what we can't easily get children to do - to come to Mass for example.  While that remains a good thing to ask of them, it may take a while to bring them to that point - if they ever get there at all."

Instead, he thinks it would be a great thing if we just settled for saying a prayer with them....

But if you are wondering how a diocesan employee could be encouraging parents to permit their children to miss Mass, look no further than the monthly editorial piece by Archdiocesan Administrator Monsignor John Woods.

Msgr Woods provides, inter alia, an interestingly nuanced defence of (now fortunately retired) Bishop Pat Power's call for 'reform' of the Church (ie dropping its teaching on homosexual acts, the impossibility of ordaining women, and more), based on that old progressive hoary, the 'dignity of the individual conscience'.

According to Mgsr Woods the Church should engage in 'qualified dialogue' in the face of calls from those listening to 'the discerned voice of conscience' (instead of what the Church actually requires, viz a conscience informed by the actual teachings of the Church).

Pray that the Pope swiftly finds us a strong, holy Archbishop who is prepared to teach the faith, and clear out the Augean stables!


A Canberra Observer said...

your thesis on the Greens is worrying indeed.

At least 2 bishops who undertook fasting to pray for their success are no longer in harness ...

Felix said...

The High Court's decision in the chaplaincy case (Williams) isn't a mandate for "small government". But it is a move resiling from an unfettered executive.

Which makes it a shame that the Coalition and the Greens couldn't get together and impose any sensible restrictions on the Government's fix-it Bill.

It remains to be seen whether the High Court will be so lenient if the fix-it should be the subject of judicial deliberation.

conor said...

Kate I also am a member of the Canberra-Goulburn archdiocese but with very different views to yourself. While I'm happy to defend your right to express your views, I just want to say that ! endorse the views expressed by Mgr Woods in Catholic Voice and I greatly admire the views and leadership of Bishop Power. Re Catholic Voice, it's the first time since Arch. Carroll retired that the paper has been allowed to report anything other than the orthodox Vatican line on anything.


Kate Edwards said...

Interesting comment Connor - glad you would 'defend my right' to express my own views on my own blog! Presumably because you would admit that they certainly wouldn't make it into the Voice or any diocesan outlet...

Firstly I'd have to ask what you mean by the orthodox 'Vatican' line - or do you just orthodox catholic? Because really, a diocesan catholic newspaper ought to be 'orthodox' surely?

That said, I would never have regarded The Voice as a bastian of orthodoxy! In fact it regularly features book reviews and opinion pieces of dubious orthodoxy and frequently advocates heteropraxy.

Good to know that AB Coleridge was moderating out the worst of it though!

As the for the cult of Bishop Power, I've already had my say elsewhere on this blog on that subject...