Friday, 28 December 2007


This was a great editorial:

"A Visa that lowers the bridge on asylum seekers" in The Age
IT IS not much of a choice: return to the country where you may have a genuine fear of persecution or stay in Australia where you will be prevented from living with anything resembling dignity. While your application for refugee status is being processed you will be allowed to live in the community but prohibited from earning a living and supporting your family. Access to Medicare or income and housing support will be denied. You will either have to work illegally and risk being detained or rely entirely on charity. The fear of destitution, family breakdown and physical and mental illness will hang over you like the terror from which you may have fled.This is the cruel reality for the nearly 3000 people who are living on bridging visa E, which provides them with legal status while their applications to remain in the country are being determined or reviewed, a process that can take several years in some cases. For some, their crime is that they have failed to apply for protection within 45 days of what is usually their lawful arrival in Australia. This punitive and draconian provision was introduced to encourage genuine claims for refugee status to be made quickly and to deter those that are not. What this fails to take into account is that applicants affected by trauma, who fear authority, do not speak English or lack the proper documentation may be unable to meet this requirement. The result is that they have few rights, except, perhaps, an abject day-to-day subsistence.The Rudd Labor Government has moved quickly to introduce a more compassionate system for those seeking asylum in Australia. It has pledged to dismantle the "Pacific Solution" and has already ended the nightmare of the seven Burmese asylum seekers held for more than a year on Nauru and given them refugee status. It is also re-examining the cases of the 74 Sri Lankans deemed by former immigration minister Kevin Andrews to be refugees, then told they would not be allowed into the country. Now, and with equal haste, it needs to resolve the many problems inherent in the country's overly complex, and in the case of E visas, inherently unfair bridging visa program that not only condemns many of those seeking protection to poverty and homelessness, but denies them basic human rights.The first step should be to abolish the 45-day rule and entrench the right to work and have access to medical and social security benefits in the E visa. Mindful of an immigration system that needs to, and should, protect Australia, the Government could then consider introducing an appealable process whereby work rights may be revoked if there is reason to believe an application has not been made in good faith. Such changes are necessary in a society interested in treating all people humanely. Practically, they would also lift the considerable burden of ensuring these asylum seekers' welfare from the shoulders of charitable community and religious groups who have assumed what is rightly the government's responsibility and who are, not surprisingly, buckling under the pressure. The benefits to the economy of these people being allowed to work are obvious.It is not in Australia's best interests to deprive people of their dignity and the right to earn a living. This can only reduce them to a state of fragility that would leave them ill-equipped to make sensible decisions about their future, and, should their applications to remain here be successful, seriously undermine their integration into society as strong, independent and resourceful citizens with existing and beneficial links to the community. Similarly, this country has a fundamental responsibility to ensure that those who are finally compelled to leave these shores do so not as broken people, but as people who have been given every opportunity to gather the financial resources and emotional strength needed to embark on a fruitful life elsewhere.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Think about Indigenous culture this Christmas

No Room At The Inn

An Open Letter to the Australian Nation from the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission of the National Council of Churches in Australia

At this time of the year, as we turn our minds to Christmas and reflect on the year that was (and what a year it was) and look forward to the year to come, I cannot help but think of many of my Indigenous brothers and sisters. This season of peace, hope and joy leads me to ask, ‘what peace, hope and joy will be given unto us with the coming of the Christ Child into the world?’ Over the last 237 years since Lt. James Cook arrived, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been denied a proper place within our own country. Just like Jesus’ family on returning to their home country we also have not been able to find a proper place for ourselves in our own land.

Too many other interests seem to distract the country where we once roamed freely. We have been turned away at the door and given scant attention and meagre generosity by the new Innkeepers. It is interesting that we, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, were not part of Federation, were forgotten about as the new wave of Immigrants came from the Mediterranean during the post war years and were not on the radar until the 1967 referendum. Except, of course, when we were allowed to lose our lives fighting for this country, or when we were seen as strange curiosities of a bygone era. Mostly, we were labelled as a troublesome few dissidents who should not expect the same rights as everyone else. Children were removed from their families because it was perceived that they were not being cared for to acceptable western standards. Or they were taken away simply so they could be given the ‘western makeover’ to fit better into western society. The only problem was that they still had a different colour than those holding up the bar of mainstream society.

This brings me to the question of an apology. The former Howard Government was against any apology as it was seen that the mainstream should not be held accountable for the past, and such an apology could hold the State open to litigation. It’s an interesting irony that in this corporate world we live in, mainstream Australia will hold accountable corporations for their past organisational failings, and yet the nation cannot live up to its own corporate responsibilities. As for the apology itself, the Nation is either Sorry or it’s not. Putting provisos on it (we regret etc.) is not an apology. If we are going to move forward then it is very important that the Nation says Sorry and accepts any consequences that might result. The present Rudd Government must take the lead on this and soon. The continual denial of the rights of Indigenous peoples, as Australian Citizens, has gone on for too long.

We have a right to education, health and the many opportunities that most Australians take for granted. Governments need to act now to correct these situations, which occur around the country not just the Northern Territory, and close the gap between us and the mainstream. As I’ve often said in other Forums, how can Australia set out to save the world when there is so much to be done at home? What credibility does Australia have if it is not working to correct the situations in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities? There needs to be a plan, not knee jerk reactions, to address these situations. The Millennium Development Goals help us in this area. These eight time bound and measurable goals discourage empty rhetoric. They encourage us to formulate concrete plans to build a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The first step to any action is recognition of what is currently happening. We have no real voice or say or control in what is happening to us. Outsiders are dictating our future. There is no national representative voice to carry our hopes, dreams and desires forward into the future. Hand picked advisors are not a representative voice. A process needs to be put into place where a representative voice can be heard and acted upon. National conventions need to be held so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can contribute to the process of forming this new voice and eventually own the outcomes.

People say that there is not one voice in Indigenous Australia, but surely that can also be said of mainstream Australia. Our Federal Parliament, with different parties and different factions, continues to exist. The one voice comes when these groups are allowed a forum like Parliament to reach compromise and consensus for the good of all. This forum will help lead us into a better tomorrow for our children and children’s children. The issue of whether we should be included in the preamble to the constitution of Australia can also be debated in these forums and a proposition then put forward to the Australian people in a future referendum.

These issues cannot be put off until tomorrow for tomorrow may never come. Many of our great Indigenous leaders are already passing on and we need their valuable input into these forums. As I reflect this Christmas time, I wonder if Australia will place their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians again in the stable, as Jesus was over 2,000 years ago, or will we be invited in to share fully in the Australia which is so gifted, diverse and forward looking. Will we begin to “Make Indigenous Poverty History” this Christmas? May the peace, hope and Joy of Christmas fill all Australians with the hope of a new tomorrow!

Graeme MundineExecutive SecretaryNational Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical CommissionNational Council of Churches in Australia

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

A Change!

Well I for one think the change in government is a step in the right direction. And given the absolute landslide result, it seems plenty of us all agree! With wall to wall Labor governments now, the Libs must be wondeirng when they became obsolete. I think they have simply moved too far to the right - I am a Kevin 07 fan, but I have to admit he's not really left enough for me. But I do acknoweldge that the country will ultimately be run by moderates - a truly left of centre candidate is not going to win. But niether is the far right-of-centre party - and I think the IR legislation tipped the balance over the edge, not to mention the US alliance etc etc. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing Labor now implement their policies - and who the Libs chose as their leader. It'll be some time before we see them in power again!

Thursday, 22 November 2007


The following is an excerpt from the Sojourners: Faith, Politics and Culture website. In it, Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis comments on the bizarre move made by conservative Christian Coalition preacher Pat Robertson to endorse Republican presidential nominee Rudy Giuliani.
“ Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani for president is simply astonishing. Robertson - the television preacher who founded the 700 Club and once ran for president himself - has made opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage his political north star and has been a relentless champion of traditional marriage and family values.
“Remember Robertson's merciless attacks on President Bill Clinton's lapses of sexual morality with Monica Lewinsky? Or his comments about how the 9/11 attacks were the result of America's tolerance for homosexuals and abortion?
“Now Robertson is for Rudy, a thrice-married adulterous husband, who is estranged from his own children and is both pro-choice and pro-gay rights. According to Robertson's twisted moral logic, forgiving the social conservative shortcomings of Republicans is a Christian virtue, so long as the same virtue is never applied to Democrats. But Pat thinks Rudy can beat Hillary, and Pat really cares about winning for the Republicans.
“What exactly goes on in Pat Robertson's head has puzzled many of us for a long time. This endorsement ranks as one of the most unprincipled in recent political memory. Maybe principles never mattered much to Pat Robertson after all. Perhaps the pro-business economic conservatism of the Republican Party was always more important to the televangelist than saving unborn lives. Robertson's long-standing support of murderous Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, and his diamond investments thanks to Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko speak louder than words when it comes to Robertson's ethic of life. And that's not to mention the more than $400 million Robertson's empire made when he sold his International Family Network to Rupert Murdoch, after building it on tax-deductible contributions of thousands of CBN donors, many of modest means. He has put profits over principles for years.
“Richard Land, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, has taken a more consistent position. Land has clearly said that he won't support Giuliani if he becomes the Republican nominee, explaining, ‘I'm not willing or able to violate my moral conscience. It would be like asking an African American to choose between Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, or asking Abe Lincoln to vote for a pro-slavery candidate. I personally can't do it.’
“Land predicts that many social conservatives will just sit out this election if the Republicans decide to run Rudy. That's called standing for principle. Pat Robertson clearly has taken another position. His endorsement of Rudy Giuliani will seem to many to be unprincipled hypocrisy.” see
It did not come as any surprise to me that all of Pat Robertson’s posturing about family values was a put-on, designed to hide the fact he has a radical right-wing agenda and will happily manipulate the Christian vote in order to keep the Republicans in power. What does disappoint me is that I fear so many Christian voters simply will not think through the issue for themselves– Robertson’s endorsement will be enough for them. They’ll go blindly to the polls comfortable in the knowledge that someone else has done the “hard yards” of thinking through the election issues. They’ll vote Republican because that’s what good Christian voters do.
While things aren’t as bad as that in Australia, I fear many Christians simply do the same thing. They get the “Christian Values Checklist” put out by the Christian Democratic Party and, without really asking whether or not they agree with Fred Nile’s stance on school prayer and abortion, are just happy someone else has done the thinking for them, and they don’t need to bother.
It also worries me that Christians don’t seem to be aware of when their vote is being manipulated. Anyone who knows me knows that The West Wing is my favourite show. In Season Six, the Republican Party makes the unusual decision to run a presidential candidate who is, in fact, an atheist. This character, called Arnie Vinnick, is played by Alan Alda. Worried he will estrange the evangelical right if he does not profess some kind of faith, Vinnick’s advisors pressure him into attending a church service. After much soul-searching, Vinnick has this to say: “If you demand expressions of faith from your political leaders then you are just asking to be lied to...and it will be the easiest lie they’ve ever told”.

Twice during this election I’ve heard pastors banging on about “godly leadership” and choosing a prime minister based on whether or not they’re “godly men”. I hope for their own sake they are—but this will not influence my vote. Checklists may be useful in gaining a general picture of where parties stand on various issue, but at the end of the day if we vote based on a simplistic list we are just asking someone else to do the thinking for us. I hope we would vote based on our convictions, whatever they may be, after thinking good and hard about what sort of country we want Australia to be in the next four years.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Election Newsletter

The November/December edition of the Progression newsletter will be out next week, and will feature news, articles and opinion editorials about the upcoming election. If you would like to contribute any thoughts or comments please email us at the above address and we would be happy to include them.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Musings on Dobson and the next election

Here are some interesting thoughts from Proegression member Alan Matheson.

How is it possible to link James Dobson,Iran and World War 111,and CofC, in one breath? Far fetched!

Does the partnership and promotion by NSW and Vic Conference boards of Dobson's Focus on the Family(Aust) really matter and after all isn't FOF Aust somehow, different?
Should it be of any concern?
What if Dobson and FOF frighten Christians across Canada and the USA?

Well it has to be admitted that most members of Australian CofC wouldn't have a clue about Dobson or the state conference links.However for our sister churches in Canada and the USA,Dobson and his FOF are a frightening species to be avoided at all costs.

Dobson is leading an aggressive,nation wide campaign to ensure his man gets the prize. The past few months have seen him involved in everything, from closed door meetings with President Bush (May);to the secret maneuverings of clandestine groups like the Council for National Policy and the Arlington group(September);organising the religious right's "Values Voters Summit"(October),and mounting a highly visible and well organised media blitz(NY Times op ed etc). And his 6 million mailing list will not be far behind.
There's an arrogance about Dobson which is almost delusionary. As the Republican Party considered Giuliani's run, Dobson declared,"go ahead,nominate a candidate who does not share our values on abortion and gay marriage.Then try and beat Hillary without us".
US presidents have taken Australia into wars in Vietnam and Iraq on the basis of lies and deception.
Who becomes president,then, has implications not only for CofC, but for all Australians.
And CofC is the only denomination in Australia in a formal partnership with Dobson!

2.IRAN & WW111!
As scary, is Dobson's support for WW111.
Having failed in Iraq,and intoxicated with messianic dreams,the theocratic religious right,is now hell bent on war with Iran.
In October,Bush warned,"if you're interested in avoiding WW111,it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing Iran from having the knowledge necessary to make nuclear weapons".
In May,Dobson met with Bush to talk about Iran.Congress has set the scene(Kyl-Lieberman Senate resolution),and commentators,such as Seymour Hersh are spelling out in detail how the White House has requested,"that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long standing plans for a possible attack on Iran"(New Yorker 8.10.07;check "The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran....."Esquire 18.10.07)).Conservative commentator,Podhoretz(also close to Bush) was on SBS(30/10) predicting an invasion before the end of Bush's term.
Scott Ritter(former UN Weapons inspector) notes,"that Dobson, one of the most powerful and influential evangelical voices in America,would be invited to the White House to discuss President Bush's Iran policy is absurd,unless one makes the link between Bush's personal faith,the extreme religious beliefs of Dobson and the potential of Armageddon like conflict-WW111.At this point,the absurd becomes unthinkable,except it is too real".(Common Dreams 22.10.07).
Brian McLaren (Sojo 25.10.07/Beliefnet blog)):"I am disgusted,concerned,appalled and furious at the sabre rattling of our government......I suspect that many of my fellow Christians will in the name of God and Jesus, support and justify a preemptive war on matter how unprovoked,no matter how brutal and no matter how costly,both financially and morally".

It's sophistry at best, to try and argue as do the NSW & Vic Conferences, that FOF-Aust is different and separate from Dobson and his FOF, in the USA. FOF-Aus is an affiliate of FOF and directly linked and related to Dobson in the USA.

And if this doesn't worry you,then do some googling around (or Wikipedia it) Dobson and Joel Rosenberg and "The Ezekiel Option" and the breeding program for "red heifers".(Might need to have a yarn with your friendly OT lecturer to check the latter one out)!!.

All pretty disturbing really. And we're "related" to it.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Why Howard lost the debate

I thought I’d add my thoughts about last night’s debate to the mix, for what they’re worth!

I have to say upfront that I am not a fan of John Howard, and so quite possibly I was less eager to hear his point of view or award him brownie points than in the case of Kevin Rudd. But despite that I was really surprised by Mr Howard’s lackluster performance, his refusal to answer questions asked by Mr Rudd as well as the panel of journalists and his seeming inability to engage with Mr Rudd on issues where I thought he could have scored a few points. He seemed, quite frankly, old and snippy, and much more negative than Mr Rudd, which is strange as it’s usually the Opposition who comes across as the most negative.

I think Mr Howard’s first mistake was to elect to go second. I would have understood the decision if he was planning to rebuff some of Mr Rudd’s opening remarks in his own opening statement, but all he did was deliver a prepared speech that seemed almost nonsensical. In his opening remarks Mr Rudd put forward a clear plan for the future without unnecessary negative remarks. Mr Howard spent much of his time going on and on about Labor claiming Australia’s current state of prosperity was because of the mining boom – but it didn’t make sense because Mr Rudd hadn’t talked much about the mining boom in his opening remarks. If all Mr Howard was going to do was deliver a prepared speech, he should have gone first.

His second mistake was to blunder around not answering questions. On Iraq, climate change, interest rates and child care he just did not adequately answer the question or explain his reasoning.

Thirdly, and most oddly, he totally misused his questions for Mr Rudd. Asking the leader of the Opposition why he didn’t spend more time talking with the US President about climate change when he himself has ignored the issue for 11 years was just plain stupid. Voters are particularly anti-government on both Australian/US relations and climate change, and for him to bring it up in the same question was a spectacular mistake, as testified to by the worm. This was compounded by him saying we as a country needed to protect “America’s prestige” – may I ask why? This didn’t go down well at all. Then he asked a vague question about Mr Rudd guaranteeing his election promises – which gave Mr Rudd the opportunity to freely electioneer for a few minutes before closing statements. He also missed the opportunity to point out that if Labor wins, we will be a completely Labor-dominated country, which does worry voters.

Fourthly, he was just too negative, calling Mr Rudd “pessimistic” just seemed petty and pathetic, and quite untrue, as Mr Rudd was almost bounding across the stage with energy and enthusiasm, while it looked as though Mr Howard might need a good lie down.

Of course, Mr Rudd should not escape our criticism either. He should have been clearer about his interim targets for climate change and he needed to explain clearly why he supports disengaging from the Iraq war while at the same time leaving troops in Afghanistan. Though it is clear the situations are markedly different, it needed to be spelled out, as Mr Howard directly attacked him on this point. Mr Rudd did also rely a little on slogans. But it worked – at the end of the debate I could quite clearly pinpoint what Labor were planning to do if elected, and name several policies, whereas I really had no idea what the Liberals were offering. However, Mr Howard has never debated well, and has won the previous two elections…but I think that this time that might change. Labor has not been a worthy opponent for the past few years, but now they seem to have their act together there might be a different tale to tell on November 24.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Human rights in Australia

For all you facebookers out there, I recently joined a a human rights group on there which had this story to tell:

"Before dawn yesterday morning (Tuesday 16 October) a 40 year old Sri Lankan man was deported, after spending the night in solitary confinement at Maribyrnong Detention Centre. His last terrifying night in Australia can only have exacerbated his already fraught mental state - which had already passed the point of cutting open his throat and writing a letter in his own blood to detention staff, begging for psychiatric help. Despite his begging, on his last night he was not allowed to speak to friends and supporters who have been his only comfort in the past 2 years of his detention, for reasons that the detention centre staff sourced to 'the Privacy Act'. He has now been sent back to Sri Lanka, to his history of torture and terror, the memories of watching his infant daughter beaten and his wife raped. Back to the land where he had his penis burned with hot irons, his legs bashed and bruised, his face broken, all because he changed his political affiliations.Australia is - and ought to be - more than an economy. It is a nation that prides itself on giving people a fair go, providing opportunities, not to mention respect for freedom, justice and human rights.In the first 3 days of the election campaign those ideals have already been so dramatically flouted that I am compelled to write this letter, in dread anticipation that it's only going to get worse. I have visited people in detention for over 5 years and have seen these horrors time and time again. Tax cuts are all very well, but what is it to be economically rich, and morally bankrupt? This nation is more than an economy. "
by jessie@thejusticeproject

Being half Sri Lankan, I can testify that these things happen in Sri Lanka. I can't believe we sent him back.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Just a link

I found a web site named revolution in Jesus land and while I haven't read enough of it to have an opinion yet, I can say it looks interesting.

Of much interest is a partial transcript of a litergy by Shane Claiborne (whom I am about to Google to find more info on).

With governments that kill…
…we will not comply.

With the theology of empire…
…we will not comply.

With the business of militarism…
…we will not comply.

With the hoarding of riches
…we will not comply.

With the dissemination of fear
…we will not comply.

But today we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God…
…we pledge allegiance.

To the peace that is not like Rome’s…
…we pledge allegiance.

To the Gospel of enemy love
…we pledge allegiance.

To the poor and the broken…
…we pledge allegiance.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Birthday musings

As I'm turning 30 tomorrow I have felt rather reflective today, and so this post will be slightly more personal than usual.

It occurred to me that I have spent most of my 20's unlearning everything I thought I knew when I turned 20! And most of that has been to do with my faith. I've been reading an essay recently which sums up where I am right now in terms of theology, faith and culture, how we relate as Christians to other faiths is an extract:

"Theology is incomplete. We have not captures the singular truth for all times (despite what we may think), but theology is a continual process of interpreting and understanding God in the contexts of new situations, new experiences and, in the light of new knowledge and new insights. Theology is about understanding the now in light of the present revelation. The Christian faith is ever renewing itself, as it works for and longs for the coming of the kingdom...All thought is shaped by the society which produces it. We inherit unexamined mindsets that colour all our ideals."

So I hope you can ponder on that for a while.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Support Burmese Protestors

I confess I felt a swell of pride and solidarity with the Burmese monks this week as I watched the protests get underway in Rangoon.

At least 30,000 people led by about 15,000 monks clad in orange and red robes swarmed through the streets of Burma's main city, with some activists saying 100,000 were involved.

Crowds of people thronged the roadside, many with tears in their eyes. About 10,000 monks and supporters set off from the Shwedagon Pagoda and past the offices of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. As the monks walked by chanting prayers for peace, NLD officials came to the footpath and bowed in respect to the clergy before joining the marchers.

"We are marching for the people," one monk said to the crowd, and urged supporters to remain peaceful and avoid political slogans.

I think the reason I was really moved by this spectacle is that it was watching faith in action. In our Christian tradition, we have often been at the forefront of social change, forcing an end to oppression, but unfortunately many times we have stood by and let the oppression, poverty and injustice go on unchallenged. We may not believe what these monks believe - but we have to admire their integrity and the way they have embraced action in their faith. Now we need "Christian" nations to support their effort.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Absurd censorship in America

It hardly seems possible, but the American government has taken to banning certain religious texts from prison libraries.

The ban includes texts by theologians Reinhold Niebuhr or Karl Barth, as well as popular inspirational work such as Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life or Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

As The New York Times put it, "chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries."

The news reports seem implausible. The idea of government bureaucrats drafting a list of approved books on religion seems like something out of Soviet-era Russia, not the United States of America, where freedom of religion – even for those behind prison walls – is supposed to be sacrosanct.

But the reports are true. All of the books and authors named above have been removed from prison libraries. In some instances, according to the Times, chaplains have been forced to dismantle "libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups."

The contents of the "approved" list seem capricious. For example, "80 of the 120 titles on the list for Judaism are from the same Orthodox publishing house," and the list for Christianity "lack[s] materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations."

The Bureau of Prisons says they merely want to ensure prisons are not recruiting grounds for terrorists and other militant groups. So why are they removing the vast majority of materials on faith and religion? And if prisoners are not free to pursue their own faith journeys, what cause for hope should they have?

Christians from across the political and theological spectrum are outraged. As Mark Earley, president and chief executive officer of Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship, told the Times, "It's swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. There's no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism."

I wonder if Rick Warren had not so vocally opposed aspects of the Bush Administration, would he still find himself on the banned list?

Thursday, 13 September 2007

China: future or social justice nightmare?

This was an interesting comment on Australia's international relations with China from Chin Jin:

"Since the 1990's, Western countries have not consistently pursued democracy and human rights. In dealing with the remaining authoritarian countries, the West has been dazzled by trade and economic prospects, and inclined to adopt a policy of appeasement.

"Instead, the great democracies need to maintain a consistent strategic vision, a far-sightedness that will lead the world not merely to economic prosperity, but to the creation of more democratic societies which live together in peace, and which respect the rule of law and uphold the human rights of each citizen. They should remember the extraordinary events of 1989-91, when communist governments in Europe, under pressure, gave up their power. The lessons of that time can be applied elsewhere.

"The Asia Pacific region contains some of the world's largest and long standing democracies: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. It also contains authoritarian regimes, hopefully near the end of their tenure: Vietnam, North Korea, Burma, and largest of all, China. The region incorporates the biggest developed nation, and the biggest developing one. So far, annual APEC Summits have concentrated on economic issues. But by ignoring issues of human rights, freedom and democracy, the democratic countries show weakness and make implicit concessions to the authoritarian regimes. And they kowtow unnecessarily to China, the largest authoritarian regime of all.

"The rise of an autocratic China will not be a blessing to the world, and the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan cannot be indifferent to this. We would call on the democracies within APEC to use the next summit meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate their moral obligation to encourage authoritarian regimes along the road to democracy.

"The members of APEC have worked together to sustain economic growth through a commitment to open trade, investment and economic reform. While that is useful, in our view it is an unbalanced development. Democracy and human dignity are also necessary as values in their own right, and as long term guarantees of economic development and social justice.
As the political opposition to the Chinese Communist Government, we want to highlight the situation of the Chinese people and the repressive nature of the Chinese regime, and help their voices to be heard. They too deserve the opportunity of all-round development as human beings. They too deserve human rights, the rule of law, freedom of expression, an independent media, social justice and democracy.

"The Chinese regime receives little political pressure or criticism from the international community. Mostly it enjoys a benign international environment to maintain its repressive rule. Meanwhile there are many brave dissidents inside China, but they are limited in what they can do. They face censorship and the danger of harassment, police violence and imprisonment for themselves and their families. When they do speak out, the West tends to ignore them. Through the Chinese overseas democratic movement, we are trying to give them a voice. We want China to progress from repressive one-party rule, towards human rights and democracy. Until the Chinese regime gives up its political monopoly, we will continue to speak out."

This is particularly interesting, given Rudd seems to be aligning himself with China (the future) while Howard clings on to America (the patriarchal past). But social justice must operate on the world stage too, and we will need to find ways of being able to have a relationship while pushing for change. Is it possible? Or does the very fact of the existence of a relationship mean blind eyes must be turned? That has certainly been the case in the Aus-US alliance.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Newsletter and APEC musings

Hi everyone, the September-October newsletter will be out this weekend - if you're not on the mailing list shoot me an email and I'll be happy to include you. One of the articles is an in-depth look at how the government bungled the Haneef investigation - it makes for interesting reading!

With all the fuss about APEC I'm sure some of you have some strong views/opinions on the matter. If you want them included in the newsletter, write an email over the next few days. I did hear an interesting comment about the Bush/Howard alliance - that Bush is as unpopular in Australia as he is in America (with most of us anyway!) and no more so than on the topics of Iraq and climate change. And on these two positions he is wholeheartedly supported by Howard. I don't know of this is such a wise election ploy by Howard, as feeling on both these issues is strongly negative. Still, I will be interested in seeing how Rudd plans to maintain his "committed to the American alliance" stand while at the same time holding differing opinions on both these issues.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

End to Pacific Solution

This is an issue we addressed in our very first Progression newsletter: that the so-called "Pacific Solution" for asylum seekers is unjust, inhumane and also, stupidly costly. One very economically-minded and Liberal-voting friend told me, after reading the article, that he was now converted to ending the Pacific Solution based purely on cost alone. Now it seems Oxfam is bringing the issue to our attention once more. This is an SMH article:

The so-called Pacific solution for asylum seekers is a taxpayer rip-off that fuels mental illness among refugees and should be scrapped, a new report claims.
The findings are from an analysis by aid organisation Oxfam Australia and refugee advocacy group A Just Australia released on the sixth anniversary of the arrival of the Tampa and its cargo of asylum seekers rescued from the Indian Ocean.
The report analyses the financial, legal, human and regional cost of the so-called Pacific solution which sent asylum seekers to offshore detention centres.
The solution was developed by the government in 2001 in a crackdown on unauthorised immigration and to try to stem the numbers of asylum seekers accessing Australian courts in an increasingly costly litigation process.
But the report said taxpayers have spent more than $1 billion since 2001 to process fewer than 1,700 asylum seekers in Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island - a cost of more than $500,000 per person.
"By comparison, the latest estimates from (the immigration department) suggest that to process 1,700 asylum seekers for 90 days each at Villawood detention centre in Sydney would have cost around $35 million - around 3.5 per cent of the cost of processing them offshore," the report said.
Most detainees have spent two years on Nauru, it said, with some being held for up to six years and many developing psychological illnesses in detention.
"Most, if not all, of these asylum seekers have paid a substantial personal toll through poor mental and physical health and wellbeing," the report said.
"There have also been detrimental impacts on Australia's democratic and legal system, Australia's regional relationships and the international system of protection of refugees and asylum seekers."
Oxfam and A Just Australia recommended offshore processing be abolished.
"We believe it is critical that the Australian government end the Pacific solution and the offshore detention and processing of asylum-seekers on Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island," the document said.
"Instead, asylum-seekers reaching excised areas of Australia by boat should be processed in mainland Australia in the same way as other asylum-seekers."
The report demanded an audit into the full financial costs of running offshore detention centres, and the scrapping of arrangements that allow refugees to be resettled in the US and other third countries.
The report also called for an inquiry into whether offshore processing and the excision of islands from Australia's migration zone had decreased the number of refugee boat arrivals, as claimed by the government.
The federal government is expected to open a new detention centre on Christmas Island later this year, built at a cost of about $400 million.

Are people mad? Even if all you care about is dollars and cents, this just doesn't add up.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Rudd and the strip club

Well there had to be a story like this eventually - the question I'm interested in, is, does it matter? To be honest, I was personally disappointed in Kevin Rudd. I dislike strip clubs, I think they devalue women, and I would have expected more from a Christian and also someone who has such a strong wife, and daughter.

But despite this, I'm not sure if it matters politically. Should it? I don't know. Rudd was honest when it all came out, something that seems to distinguish him from Howard, who is seen as increasingly dishonest. If there are only so many times you can lie to the public and get away with it, John Howard must have used up all his nine lives. In a yahoo poll, the overwhelming majority said it would not affect him in the polls - and let's remember, this happened four years ago. Bush's shady past of cocaine etc didn't stop him getting elected. However, I can see it hurting his Christian vote.

So what do you think?

Friday, 10 August 2007

Leaders try for Christian vote

Here is an interesting news story...

Up to 100,000 Christians in 850 churches across Australia watched a live telecast from Canberra of the two leaders pitching their Christian values to the converted in a bid for votes.

Prime Minister John Howard hit the right notes, drawing more applause from Christians at one Sydney church while Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd won more votes - just.

About 500 Hillsong churchgoers, mostly aged 25 to 35 years, listened attentively for more than two hours the two leaders, after a rousing round of prayers for good governance and leadership.

Afterwards, five out of ten churchgoers said they would vote for Mr Rudd, while four preferred Mr Howard and one was undecided.

However, it was Mr Howard's stance on Christian identity that drew the only two bursts of spontaneous applause.

Heterosexual marriage and the affirmation of Christianity as the dominant Australian religion were apparently more popular than Mr Rudd's attack on Work Choices, climate change and foreign aid.

Indeed, Mr Rudd's support for state-based same-sex relationship registers only drew suspicion from churchgoers who feared they will only lead to gay marriage and adoption.

Assurances about the preservation and affirmation of Christianity relative to other religions was captured best by Mr Howard, 49-year-old teacher Marlene Matthew said.

"While we give others the ability to practice their faith, christians should still have the right to practice without fear," she said.

Pastor Carole Simister, 56, said Muslims were given more freedom in Australia than Christians received in Islamic countries.

Mr Howard's reference to political correctness-gone-mad when citing the example of nativity scenes being banned for fear of offending other religions drew wide applause.

"I always find it odd that you have to demonstrate your tolerance by denying your own heritage," Mr Howard said to vast approval.

Mr Rudd may have suffered by speaking second, later in the night to about 100 fewer people after supper.

But his stance education and foreign aid appealed to 27-year-old charity worker Rowan Vansleve.

"I will vote for Rudd, if not the Greens. Mr Rudd looked like a charismatic leader," Mr Vansleve said.

Mr Rudd offered student Aaron Chamberlin a vision for the future he thought Mr Howard lacked.

"John Howard spoke a lot about the past and what has been done but there was lack of direction for where we are going to go. Rudd, while unproven, offered more direction."

I find it sad Christians are more stressed out about same sex civil rights that foreign aid, but I thought this was encouraging, seeing how the Hillsong crowd is predominantly conservative. Still, it's a little annoying the prospective leaders have to "win" the Christian vote.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Tne Haneef bungle

This was part of an interesting read from the SMH opinion pieces...

Nothing is more important to Australia's security than public confidence in the Government's ability to make the right laws, and the ability of the police and the justice system to enforce them. That confidence has been sorely tested by the conduct of the case against Haneef, now on remand after appearing in court charged over an alleged connection with attempted terrorist bombings in London and Glasgow. The case against Haneef was not only weak, but contained serious errors of fact. On what we know, it would not surprise if Mr Bugg were to find it was so flimsy as to be no case at all.

Even if Mr Bugg decides the original case should proceed, serious questions will remain. How could the prosecution claim in court on the morning of July 14 that Haneef's SIM card had been found in the would-be bombers' vehicle at Glasgow Airport when federal police already knew it had not, and why was that error not corrected that day? Why were police interviews with Haneef misreported to the court in a way that incriminated Haneef? Was all this incompetence or something more sinister, and who was responsible, the police or the prosecution? Regardless of whether Haneef has a case to answer, the prosecution certainly does.

If Mr Bugg does not provide answers to why the case has been mishandled, others must. What is needed is a short, sharp inquiry. It should be conducted by either the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity which has oversight of the federal police. Presumably neither body would hold an inquiry while charges are pending against Haneef for fear of prejudicing the case. However, if the charges are dropped, an inquiry could - and should - proceed immediately.

Whatever the DPP decides about the court case, the Government appears determined to deport Haneef for reasons which it will not share with the public. There may be good reasons for keeping secret certain evidence concerning Haneef, but there is no such excuse for failing to expose the bungling to the strong light of day.

I for one am sick of the terrorist card being played again, seemingly without good reason. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

World Vision and Amazing Grace

Hi all, sorry it's been a while, I an my entire family have been battling chicken pox and flu
Lots has happened in the past few weeks - the Haneef disaster, new if anyone wants to drop me a line with some commentary, that would be great.

In the meantime...if any of you live near Penrith I thought you might be interested in the opportunity to see the Amazing Grace movie and support World Vision at the same time.

The movie itself is the story of William Wilberforce and his fight to end slavery. It has got rave reviews, and looks to be a great way of inspiring Christians and non-Christians alive to join the fight for social justice.

Hawkesbury World Vision Club is hosting a screening at Hoyts Penrith Plaza on Wednesday, August 8 at about 6.30pm (exact time TBC). The cost is $20 and that includes seeing the movie, a goody-bag with chocolates, popcorn, water and information about World Vision projects, and a cup of coffee and gourmet cupcake in the foyer after the show. All profits will go towards World Vision projects.

So come along and have a great time! Drop me an email if you're interested.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Second newsletter

Our second newsletter will be out tomorrow; for all you members, it will be emailed to you. The July-August edition includes a feature article on Iraq discussing possible exit strategies, a response to Australian Christian Lobby's Jim Wallace's opinion piece on Church and State, and heaps more!

If you'd like a complimentary copy to find our more about Progression, please email us and we'd be happy to send you one.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

This was an address by the Rev.Shayne Blackman to the NATSIEC ‘Hearts are Burning’ Forum in in Townsville on 4 May 2005 but is timely now because of the questions we're asking about Indigenous people, social justice and Christianity. Here is half of it:

"Imagine if you will a plant in a pot whose roots have been constrained for years by the confines of that hard pot. Indigenous people have been that plant whose deep reaching roots have been constrained by the confines of a system. The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress works to develop formulations and responses to break this symbolic pot so that Indigenous people can reach into their deep spirituality so that they can bear good fruit.

Roots that reach to the core of Indigenous spirituality bear the marks of Peace, Order and good government. The system of Law. Assent. Culture. The word of God. Consistency, Values, Character formation, Beliefs. The fruits that bear from roots that are awakened and nourished in Indigenous spirituality include Justice, Community Development, Fellowship and Prosperity to name but a few. Indeed the fruit that bears from a nurturing of this spirituality are some of the richest gifts a nation could ask for.

Gifts that contribute to a contemporary Australian society born from Indigenous soil and spirituality while retaining the unique identity of their creators.

This unique identity and reaching into our Indigenous spirituality is core in achieving things through our own processes and structures in line with the law which was handed down to us by the creator when He formed this land. It is about restoring a Shalom, a magaya to this land and all of the people living in it.

We all been witness to the passing of a truly great leader John Paul II, a leader that transcended the boundaries of religion, nations and prejudice. We have also been witness to an unprecedented era of violence perpetuated through terrorism, non more so evident than in war-torn Iraq. No doubt we are all aware of the graphic images of bloodied streets and carnage broadcast through the mass media. As the war continues, the issue of terrorism and violence will continue to play a central role in the stories we hear and see every day. This will probably be more evident in Australia now that Douglas Wood an Australian has been caught in Iraq by insurgents and held hostage. These images will no doubt have struck a nerve with Australians and the rest of the world as it hits closer to home.

But while violence perpetuated through terrorism is deplorable, I would draw your attention to the violence at home: violence you will rarely see on any media, nor a violence perpetuated through terrorism or civil acts of war but a violence of the spirit, body and mind; a violence perpetuated through poverty and broad-ranging misaligned Governmental policies that do not respond to the needs of Indigenous people.

It was once said by Mahatma Gandhi that poverty is the worst form of violence. I would like to add that poverty is also the worst form of terrorism. We as Indigenous Australians have unceremoniously experienced the worst form of terrorism for most of this century. I hardly need mention the vents of the first half of the century that shaped the unfortunate destiny for succeeding generations of Indigenous people.

The latter half of the century, and the new, has seen little improvement in the emotional terrorism felt by Indigenous people.

Though well intentioned, Governmental responses have inadequately responded to Indigenous aspirations and it is at this juncture I would like to elaborate on the increasingly important role organisations like
Congress are playing in providing pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The world view of Indigenous Australians differs largely from the view held by the majority of mainstream Australia. Some confronting questions arise when considers that Indigenous Australians were not living in a spiritual Terra Nullius prior to European settlement. Indigenous spirituality played and will always play a central role in the lives of many Indigenous people. Yet it is a fact that Indigenous Australians are now unceremoniously living in conditions befitting of a third world nation.

It is a fact that Indigenous Australians on all socio-economic indicators consistently rank below the national average. It is a fact that many Indigenous people remain affected by relatively recent experiences to which they were subjected because of their Aboriginality.
Australians who know the facts of the frontier may be unaware of what followed the defeat and dispossession of Aboriginal people over much of settled Australia. Survivors were subjected to government policies that attempted variously to displace, convert, isolate and eventually assimilate them.

This, in combination with the fact that Indigenous people are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life due to ill health, and will die 20 years younger on average than non-Indigenous Australians, does not help the outlook.

Let us take an example. If expenditure on hospital care is excluded, less is spent per capita on Indigenous health than on the health of other Australians. However, Aboriginal people are admitted to hospital sicker, often with more than one illness, and they stay longer. Recent research has found that for every dollar spent on non-Indigenous Australians, about $1.08 is spent on Indigenous Australians, yet we are three times as sick (ATSIC statistics).

Socio-economic disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians include higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of education and home ownership, health risk behaviours including higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption and exposure to violence.

There are other factors attributed to loss of control and feelings of hopelessness that combine to influence this poor socio-economic outlook. In Queensland alone, approximately 72% of Indigenous households live in rented premises compared to 28% of all Queenslanders. Of those living in private dwellings: 2% do not have running water connected; 2% do not have electricity or gas connected; 3% do not have a toilet; 4% do not have bathing facilities (source: Blue Care).

One hundred years on and Indigenous people still do not have an environment that quells the terrorism felt in their hearts and minds in their own land. One hundred years later, the life of Indigenous people is still sadly crippled by the subtle chains of discrimination and shackles of poverty. One hundred years on and Indigenous people still live on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

Indigenous people are still languishing in the corners of Australian society and still feel like exiles in their own land.Let us not however be disheartened or wallow in the valley of despair but hopeful of a nation that embraces a conciliatory path toward the palace of justice and recognition for all Indigenous Australians.

For The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations (Psalm 33:10-11)"

You can read the rest at

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Conservatism and values in Australia

More food for thought by Clive Hamilton:

“Most Australians, including those caught up in consumer lifestyles, feel the prevailing value system is warped. They believe Australia has become too selfish and superficial, that people have lost touch with the more desirable standards of personal behaviour such as self-restraint, mutual respect and generosity. Conservatives have been much more adept than progressives at tapping into these concerns, even though in the name of choice they promote the very market values and consumerist goals that corrode the values we seek.

“The desire of most Australians for a society built on core human values has been twisted into support for a retrograde conservative morality including vilification of single mothers, hostility towards gay relationships and attempts to demonise the “undeserving” poor. The values of a decent society have been overlaid by outdated prejudices and positions based on particular religious conviction.”

Clive then goes onto advocate what he calls a "politics of wellbeing", which I'll go into at a later date. I thought this was interesting in terms of why conservative politics often appeal to Christians.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Howard's plan racist?

There has been a lot of controversy over Howard's plan for Indigenous communities. To get us started on some debate, here is a news report:

"The federal government's sweeping plans to halt the abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory are racist and won't work, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope says.
"I think by any definition of racism, this is racist," Mr Stanhope says in News Limited reports.

"Give me an example of any racist action anywhere in the world that has ever successfully led to change," he said.

Under the federal government's unprecedented reforms, half of welfare payments for indigenous people in the NT will be quarantined for food and essentials, while access to other benefits will be dependent on children's school attendance.

The election-year plan also includes bans on alcohol and pornography in indigenous communities.

Meanwhile, Rex Wild, QC, is glad that the problem is now at the centre of the nation's attention.

The intervention, which involves bans on alcohol and hardcore pornography, welfare restrictions, increases in police numbers and compulsory health checks for Aboriginal children, followed the release of a damning report on the abuse of youngsters in the region co-chaired by Mr Wild and Aboriginal health worker Pat Anderson.

"I think the detail of it is not necessarily correct, but the pleasing thing is that the matter is getting national attention big time and that's a very good thing," Mr Wild told the Seven Network.

He said he was concerned that the federal plan was flagged to last six months, when a much longer blueprint was needed.

"Our concern has always been the short-term outcomes that are obtained in these things are just not sufficient," he said.
"(In the report) we talked about the need to spend 15 years or so on this project in the hope of turning around the problems in Aboriginal communities.

"It won't happen in five minutes; it won't happen in six months. It needs to be something properly resourced and properly explained to Aboriginal people and properly done in consultation with Aboriginal people."
He said Aboriginal people the inquiry spoke to wanted more interaction.

"What they want done is for re-empowerment of Aboriginal people, for the leadership of the Aboriginal people to be recognised within the Aboriginal community so that they can work with government departments and senior people who visit and work out programs, projects and plans, with long-term initiatives and objectives that they can be a part of."

My opinion? Howard has successfully played wedge politics once more. He manages to be "seen" to be doing something but at the same time reinforces all the same old prejudices against Indigenous people. White people don't abuse their children? Don't use welfare payments to buy drugs and alcohol? We would all agree that the current situation is terrible, but playing the race card doesn't help at all.

Let's give Indigenous communities what they really need (and what they have needed for many years. It's funny how these issues "come to light" in election years). First of all, let's apologise for what we did to them in the first place. Let's develop policies that help long-term, that empower the communities and work with people to educate them. Let's make it a priority...but not use it as electioneering grandstanding.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

US Religious Right in Australia

The following was contributed by Progression member Alan Matheson, a retired minister with Churches of's interesting reading.

In a bizarre move, James Dobson's Focus on the Family has recently entered into a formal partnership with the New South Wales Conference of Churches of Christ.
Churches of Christ (CoC) are a diverse and an increasingly fragmented denomination. It's one in which the local congregation is pre-eminent. Yet with government funding it operates some of the largest aged care companies in the nation. It's the only denomination, for example, to host a congregation established by the international, inter denominational organisation, Celebrate Messiah; it also has a congregation which gives away motor vehicles to attract audiences at it's services.
It was a church founded on a commitment to work for 'the unity of the Body of Christ". Yet the majority of its congregations have little to do with the ecumenical movement, and most of its state conferences are not members of the National Council of Churches of Australia's (NCCA) state ecumenical councils. It continues however, to hold a tenuous membership with both the NCCA and the World Council of Churches.
Its membership has shrunk to such a degree it is no longer recognised as a separate denomination in the national census.
James Dobson on the other hand, is perhaps one of the most significant and aggressive figures in the political and religious right in the USA. The relationship, then, with a small conservative denomination on the other side of the world is intriguing.
Dobson is described as," the most important and political influential evangelical leader in the United States". His radio program reaches 3 million people; his weekly column appears in 500 newspapers; 4 million letters are handled each month by his organisation/s; his mailing list is said to contain more than 6 million names, and his call centre, handles 5000 calls a day. It's said that it was Dobson who delivered George Bush, his second term. A recently published analysis of Dobson's organisations, ("The Jesus Machine", by Dan Gilgoff, 2007) describes Focus on the Family, as "the most powerful organisation in Christian Right history".
There is hardly a religious or political new right organisation on which his cash or footprint does not appear. Whether it is the Christian Coalition, Council for National Policy, Moral Majority, Religious Roundtable, Christian Freedom Foundation or the Alliance Defence Fund, Dobson has been present. His other organisation, the Family Research Council is regarded as the number one Christian political organisation in America.
While issues such as creationism are important, it is family, abortion and homosexuality, which are the battle cries of Focus on the Family. When the National Evangelical Alliance moved to develop a Biblically based environmental policy, it was Dobson who led the campaign against such a move.
So what's a partnership between one of the richest and influential religious right organisations, and a small conservative denomination on the other side of the world, all about? Well it may not mean anything more than the founding director of Dobson's operation in Australia is a minister of Churches of Christ! On the other hand, all state conferences in Australia are cash strapped and some survive by selling off assets, others by becoming more effective entrepreneurs. A partnership with a resource rich organisation, then, has some attractions. Dobson's mailing lists are some of the biggest in the world, so this maybe just another move to expand the list. Such lists are the lifeblood of American para church organisations.
National days of prayer, political prayer meetings, nations under God, campaigns against homosexuals, and conferences on Christian values, are the essence of the Dobson "machine". NSW members of Churches of Chris would be also comfortable with such a political and religious agenda.
For Focus on the Family, it also provides a formal relationship and a toehold into an established Australian denomination. CofC in NSW, while not a member of the NCCA's state ecumenical council, it is a member of a conservative grouping of churches, which could provide another access point for Dobson to move.
For the moment, it's a strange relationship.
And one of the ironies of this relationship, is just as it is being formalised, Dobson is mounting a full scale on attack on Fred Thompson, a Republican presidential hopeful, who just happens to be a member of Churches of Christ!

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Church and State

The relationship between the Church and the state is one that must concern us greatly, as citizens and as Christians. Part of the reason we started Progression was the concern that despite what we may believe, we do not have the right to legislate what we consider "righteousness" on others who may not adhere to our own brand of morality.

This issue of the church's place in politics was front and centre last week after Cardinal George Pell's comments to Catholic MP's who voted in favour of stem cell research.

Here is an extract from the Catholic News:
"Catholic politicians in NSW, including Premier Morris Iemma, say they will vote for controversial stem cell legislation despite a warning by Cardinal George Pell that they risk being barred from communion. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Mr Iemma and his deputy, John Watkins, will defy the church's warnings that they face "consequences" in their religious lives to support a bill to expand stem cell research in NSW. Sydney Cardinal Pell said Catholic MPs would need to think seriously about taking Holy Communion, the sacrament central to Catholic life, if they voted for therapeutic cloning. Mr Iemma and Mr Watkins yesterday confirmed they would back the bill, while the Nationals MP Adrian Piccoli, another practising Catholic, said he would support the bill, adding "I would like to see them try and stop me [taking Holy Communion]." Mr Piccoli said: "The cardinal's comments are unacceptable. We don't accept that Muslims should influence politics, so I don't see why Catholics should." "I'm going to vote for it," Mr Piccoli told The Australian. "Muslims are berated for trying to bring religion into politics, so I'm not going to be accused of the same thing. "This is a decision for my conscience, and what is in the best interests of my electorate." A spokesman for Mr Iemma said the Premier would continue to take Holy Communion despite Cardinal Pell's warning."

Certainly, the church must speak out on ethical issues - I don't think any of us would doubt that. But the question of which issue and how this is achieved, is an interesting question. Apart from the obvious controversy about stem cell research, did Cardinal Pell have the right to make it personal for the MPs in question?

I'd be interested in your opinions.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Manifestations of Injustice

I am currently reading Clive Hamilton's piece "What's Left? The Death of Social Democracy" in Quarterly Essay, issue 21, 2006.

It's very interesting, and I'm sure will form the basis for many discussions on this blog! Here's an extract I found very challenging in terms of thinking about what we, as Christians, should be thinking about as we come up to the next election:

"Three manifestations of injustice continue to blight our society. Firstly, poverty remains present in Australia, with around 10 to 15 per cent of the population at any one time suffering significant material deprivation. This is manifestly unacceptable and is all the more unconscionable because it persists in a land of affluence.

"Secondly, the circumstances of many indigenous Australians are a matter of national shame. Indigenous people no longer experience institutionalised discrimination, land rights have been granted and extensive attempts have been made by governments to provide social services and income support. Yet it must be said that the remedies prescribed by social democracy appear to have had little impact on the parlous state of many indigenous communities.

"Thirdly, the members of one minority group, those people with physical disabilities, despite important forms of progress, continue to suffer neglect. In a country like Australia, people with disabilities are perhaps the last minority genuinely feared by the majority."

It's this last group I want to reflect on, because I fear Clive is right. Over the last few years I have personally come into contact with two young people with brain damage who are forced to live in nursing homes because there are no facilities for them. And there are many more. Another friend with a child incapable of walking has to raise the $5000 needed for a wheelchair herself with little or no government help. Respite care relies on community volunteers, often young people with no skills or experience in dealing with disabled people. Another friend told me that when she was told her newborn baby girl would be physically and intellectually impaired for life, the doctor said, "put her in an institution and forget about her". What's even more outrageous is when I told that story to a midwife I know, she said, "yep, it happens all the time." I could hardly believe it - are we in 2007 or 1707?

I'd like your opinions on this, and some ideas about how to go about changing it.

Friday, 25 May 2007

National Day of Thanksgiving Insulting

It’s National Day of Thanksgiving again, and this year’s event has sparked some intense debate – because it falls on Sorry Day.

This year they’re at least paying some tribute to our Indigenous people: here is an excerpt from the Governor Generals statement that is being read at all National Day of Thanksgiving official functions (mostly churches):

This year we honour our Indigenous people, the original inhabitants and traditional owners of the land, for their contribution to the success of modern Australia - in times of war and peace, on the sporting arena, on the land, and in many other fields of endeavour.”

But is it too little, too late? Here is an article provided by a Progression member: The National Day of Thanksgiving (NDOT), on May 26 2007, is "a unique opportunity for Australians to celebrate and give thanks for our God given heritage as a nation".

But it's a con. It's a diversion and a deliberate sabotage of one of the years most significant times for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) communities. And it also should be a time of deep remorse, reconciliation and commitment by all Australians, for apologies and action. May 26 is Sorry Day and the Long Walk; the 40th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum is commemorated on May 27, and that day also marks the beginning of the National Week of Reconciliation.This will be followed by the 50th anniversary of the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee on July 8-15.

The paternalism and arrogance of the religious right and its NDOT is breathtaking. Challenged two years ago that they were trampling over the Indigenous communities Sorry Day, the organiser of NDOT responded, "we hadn't even thought of that,we weren't aware when Sorry Day was".
There are pages and pages on "ideas" (employers can hold morning teas for their employees); "suggestions"( a thank you morning tea for your local police); or "gift cards and ribbons" - "$2 a pack of 6" - for your boss, local police or fire brigade,but not a word about morning tea for "our First Nation".

It's white Christian triumphalism at its best. It's a time for "re-dedication of our nation to God", to declare God's "prophetic vision for our Nation", to "proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over our Nation", and as one of the speakers to the Parliamentary Prayer Network prophesied, it's time for "Christians to take over the world and that Australia is on the brink of becoming a theocracy".

But there's still another agenda behind all this thanksgiving. For the organisers it's not only "a vehicle to assist in restoring Christian values", it's also "an effective tool to engage in mission and evangelism". Why then is it being endorsed, promoted and supported by the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?
For "Kevin from Queensland", I guess its a matter of covering all bases in an election year; for "Jeffery of Yarralumla", anything to be noticed; and for "John from Kirribilli", anything, to divert people's attention from Sorry Day,Long Walks and Reconciliation. There's no mistaking the PM's message, it's about "recognising Indigenous Australians" and certainly not about apologies and regrets.Even allowing for the cynical use by politicians of religious occasions, their enthusiasm for the Day is intriguing.

Instead of main line churches, it's a collection of the cream of Australia's religious right. Of the sixty two, nine are companies profiting from the Day,(including a television station,five radio stations,a bookshop and a media agency); and some seventeen, are local congregations,"prayer groups" and "ministers associations". One man, founded and directs another four organisations (Australian Heart Ministries,Australian Heart Productions,, and the Fatherhood Foundation,( "women only want a sperm donor to validate their reproductive needs....and a poor sucker to pay for it"), while a woman either,directs or represents another four. Life Ministries, is closely allied to the Christian Democratic Party; Hope Generation is an "incorporated member of the Assemblies of God (AOG)", while another half-dozen organisations are led by AOG ministers. And so it goes on.

Why would the Governor General be endorsing organisations promoting Christian Zionism (Intercessors for Melbourne,Youth Arise and the Australian Prayer Network),or has kindergarten kids making banners with "the blood of Jesus Christ" on them(Miracle Education).

Why would the Prime Minister be lining up with the call for a ten-year moratorium on Muslim migration to Australia (Saltshakers, Catch the Fire)! Does he really believe the world was created in seven days as do organisations he endorses (Creation Ministries International,Campus Crusade for Christ)? And frankly, what's the Opposition Leader doing, promoting the National Alliance of Christian Leaders, which supports the "scrapping of the UN", and believes that "multiculturalism is fundamentally flawed"?

The Day of Thanksgiving will only confirm for ATSI communities what they already know, people are too busy running their own agendas, and if the religious right has it's way, Aboriginal communities will continue to stand "alone in their quest for justice". A few months after the First Day of Mourning back in 1938, Doug Nicholls, Yorta Yorta man,pastor and black activist, looked around in despair and anger, and said that nothing will change until, "White people learn to think black". It's a shameful day,this National Day of Thanksgiving, as it once again tramples over the hurt and injustice of Aboriginal Australians.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Falwell's Legacy

There’s been a lot of talk in the past few days about the legacy of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who died last week.

Most of us have heard of Falwell – the prominent hard-right US conservative who blamed “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians – who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle – the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America” for contributing to the September 11 terror attacks. I can respect his commitment to his beliefs, even if I respect little else – Falwell once supported segregation, and said some really intelligent things like, “Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions” and, “AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals”. Like me, Falwell was passionate about the role of spirituality in politics. But his vision was frightening, and best demonstrated by this quote: “The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country”.

It got me thinking about what our role – as Christians – should be in the political forum. I found this quote by the Catholic Bishops, which to me summed it up perfectly – our faith should be “principled but not ideological, political but not partisan, engaged but not used”. If we join church and state, as Falwell would have us do, we kill grace. We become the Pharisees, we become rules and regulations. We cannot give voice to the powerless and the dispossessed, because they are now under our power and we have dispossessed them. We play politics rather than speaking truth. We give up intelligent, lively, truth-seeking debate for party lines.

The death of Falwell made me think about the other prominent hard-right public figures – Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Fred Nile – and it struck me that they’re getting older. I don’t doubt they have young men and women in the wings being groomed to take their places – but it does give me hope that maybe our generation can be engaged – really engaged – in ways that matter. I suddenly caught myself humming the John Mayer tune, “We just feel like we don't have the means/to rise above and beat it/so we keep waiting/waiting on the world to change/one day our generation/is gonna rule the population, so we keep on waiting/waiting on the world to change.”

One day our generation really will “rule the population”. Hopefully, it will be a new generation of switched-on Christians and non-Christians alike– and we have a big responsibility.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

We're in the press

From the Hawkesbury Gazette 16 May 2007

Christian voice from right-wing wilderness
Gail Knox

FORMER Hawkesbury resident Emma Whale has joined forces with fellow Christian John Chisholm to help battle the right-wing hijacking of the Christian voice in the lead-up to the Federal Election.

A Blue Mountains resident and mother-of two, Mrs Whale and Mr Chisholm last week launched the Progression: Christians for Social Justice lobby group, and urged anyone, Christian or not, to log on and find out more about their campaign for a wider Christian voice to be heard.
"We feel there are so many Christians not only not represented, but actually misrepresented by conservative Christian lobby groups and conservative Christian political parties," Mrs Whale said. "We also believe the Gospel is misrepresented and Christianity is misrepresented to mainstream Australia... The impression people have is that if you say you're a Christian, then you must be conservative.
"There are so many Christians who don't think like that, but they have don't have a voice. Their voice is drowned out by the monologue of the religious right. "That's all anyone hears. "The conservative groups have hijacked the Christian voice."
Mrs Whale said conservative groups had reduced Christianity to a "very narrowly defined set of moral values". "We're concerned there is an over-emphasis on sexual issues," she said. "Jesus spoke out again and again about oppression, about the poor and social justice issues. He never mentioned homosexuality and abortion. "If you've got a real conviction on those issues, that's fine, but they shouldn't be the defining issues (for Christians). "We've got people in our group who are morally conservative, but they don't believe it's their right to impose their opinion on others."
Mrs Whale said protecting the environment was also a moral and ethical issue. She said she realised the Australian Christian Lobby group was opposed to homosexual marriage. "But why should we prevent homosexuals having the same civil rights as other people?" she asked. "It's not our duty to legislate for other people's morality. "Homosexual couples don't have access to a lot of legal rights. How can Christians be in favour of marginalising groups is beyond me." Mrs Whale said her new group was also "very concerned" about Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile's attitudes on a range of issues, particularly towards Muslims. "We worry Christian politics is polarising people.
How can Christians be in favour of marginalising people, of creating dissension and division in society? "That's not in keeping with Christ's message of 'love your neighbour as yourself'. "It's all based on fear – fear of homosexuals, fear of Muslims, fear of the unknown." Mrs Whale said being a Christian was "essentially about a change of heart". "It's about living life in as loving and peaceful way as you can. Marginalising people is doing violence to them. "You can't legislate righteousness. "
Mrs Whale said the Australian Christian Lobby had not spoken out against "hard right fanaticism", such as Mr Nile's position. "And Family First always run an anti-Green campaign, so it's as if you can't vote Green and be a Christian at the same time. "But a lot of Greens' policies are shaped by social justice concerns."
Mrs Whale said such a black-and-white approach polarised people. "People with left leanings are immediately turned off Christianity. "They think they would have to be like Fred Nile. It's such a travesty. It's locking people out of Christianity. "Our faith informs what we do, but anybody passionate about social justice issues can join our non-denominational group. "This will be an exciting journey. Please join us."

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Newsletter and a few thoughts

We've put together our first newsletter for Progression, so if you'd like to read it, drop a line to and we'll email you a copy. If you like it, then you can become a member of Progression and we'll send you them on a regular basis.
If you disagree with us passionately, feel free to keep logging on to the blog and engage us in some debate in the comments.

So, if we're sending you a newsletter, then what is this blog? Well, it is a bit of a testing ground and a bit of a communication tool. We're hoping people find us here and think about what we have to say and then consider joining us.
It is also a way of inventing ourselves, you see Progression has been formed out of several conversations about the role of Christians in politics, the role of the right wing in Christianity and the role of Generations X and Y in Christian political thinking. Those of us who are involved in the group all know what we believe, but the posts on here will help us build a comprehensive idea of where the group stands on a variety of issues.
Members are able to put things up here for purposes of debate, to play Devil's advocate, to inspire discussion and to work out the group's position (perhaps with fear and trembling).
Some of these posts might make it into the newsletter, others might allow us to decide we don't, corporately, hold a particular view or feel the need to argue a particular case.
In short, it is our think tank and we're letting everyone in to see our thought processes and our genesis as an organisation.

Perhaps this is a dangerous thing, but we're in favour of debate and we'd rather have honest and open dissent amongst Christians than live in a fairy land where we pretend all Christians agree on everything. Politically we're hoping to be neither left nor right, but as the right is currently carrying the Christian debate, you might find us favoring the left while we try and find that balance.

So, regardless of your political leanings, feel free to join us.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Where do you sit politically?

I recently found this website,, which proved to be very interesting. After answering a few questions, you can pin point where you are on a political graph (see image above). Not only does the scale tell you where you in the "old" terms of Left/Right, it also shows where you sit in terms of the Authoritarian/Libertarian scale. The rationale behind having a graph, instead of a straight-line scale makes sense. The traditional Left/Right line fails to take into account that we someone may have traditional left-leaning views when it comes to social liberty, for example, but still support a free market and a capitalist economy. And we can't put Stalin and Mandela in the same "Left" basket without acknowledging the massive differences between the two, namely Stalin was Authoritarian Left and Mandela Libertarian Left. Out of interest, when I did mine, I was right on Mandela's pin point.

Where our current crop of leaders falls is interesting. That George W Bush is way out there in "right field" shouldn't surprise anyone, but what did startle me was how many of our leaders are up in the Authoritarian Right (including our PM). Does this, I wonder, have any correlation to the fact we're all so gung-ho at the moment? That we've now engaged in another never-ending war?

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Jim Wallace on ABC

Jim Wallace, head of the conservative Australian Christian Lobby, was featured recently on the ABC's Difference of Opinion panel.

The topic was Muslims in Australia, and Mr Wallace was joined by three other panel members - a Muslim woman activist, an ex-Muslim psychologist and a non-believing Jew.

While the discussion was generally positive about how to reach out to moderate Muslims, bridge cultural differences in society and so forth, Mr Wallace made two comments that should be investigated further.

Firstly, he condemned moderate Muslims for not speaking out against the hard-right of their religion. Good and well, but Mr Wallace did not at any stage in the course of the debate speak out against the hard-right of his own religion, either. It seems a little arrogant to criticise Muslims for being silent when it comes to the radical fundamentalists of their religion, when Mr Wallace has chosen not to distance moderate Christians from groups such as the Christian Democrats. When Fred Nile issues press releases with "No More Muslims" plastered across the top, and calling areas where Muslims live places where "Aussie values are despised", the Australian Christian Lobby has a duty to speak up and censor this kind of inflammatory, bigoted, ignorant garbage. After all, they claim to be representing moderate Christians.

Secondly, Mr Wallace made the claim that the problem was with Islam itself - that if someone was taken through the teachings of the Koran, they could either become a peaceful loving person, or a hard-right fanatic. But if someone was taken through Christianity - more specifically the teachings of Jesus - then they could only end up a peaceful loving person. Well, firstly I'm not sure where Mr Wallace has been living for the past few years, but as a member of the audience pointed out, Christians have been plenty responsible for the violence in the Middle East (this lady was herself a Christian, and had lived in the Middle East for the past 10 years). They've just recently put the civilian death toll in Iraq at 250,000 conservatively, but probably more like 600,000. A war that was justified and lauded by the Religious Right.

The Bible has been used to justify slavery, murder of homosexuals, torture...the list goes on. To a certain extent I agree - the teachings of Jesus are peaceful and loving. I only wish Christians would pay a bit more attention to what Jesus actually said. But they don't, and therein lies the problem.

So come on, Mr Wallace. If the Australian Christian Lobby doesn't want to be seen as just one more step in the rise of the Religious Right, speak out against the fanatical right of our own religion, and own up to some of its ugly truths. Only then can true change occur.

Values Checklist

so, apparently these are the Christian Values you should be using to inform your voting choices.
And, it's just so obvious why we're looking at these things, because Jesus almost never shut up about important issues like the Age of consent and the immorality of Drug injecting rooms, right?
And, am I just too cynical when I think that they've just shoehorned renewable energy and God's environment into a list.
Oh and 'they' in this case is The Australian Christian Values Institute.
Well, OK we could just ridicule these things. But can we come up with a better list?
What would Jesus Vote?

  1. Feeds widows and orphans

in response to Fred Nile's "No More Muslims"

Last month prominent conservative Christian politician Fred Nile issued a press release with these words emblazoned across the top: “No More Muslims”. In the release Mr Nile called for an immediate moratorium of all Islamic immigration, claiming instead that Australia should provide refuge for Christians who were being persecuted across the world at the hands of Islamist nations. He also stated that within New South Wales, Islamic communities were places where “Aussie values were despised (CDP, March 11).

While reading the release, I was reminded of an incident which happened a couple of years ago, when I was a journalist with my local newspaper. At the time I was covering the police rounds, which meant every Monday I would sit with a senior police officer, trawl through the week’s worth of crimes and note down any which were considered newsworthy. One morning we had flicked through 30 or so crimes when we came across a crime that had been committed by a young Aboriginal man. The police officer turned to me and said, “See, you let them in and they just cause trouble.”

I found this remark astounding – not merely because of the officer’s rank and position – but mostly because of how completely groundless his observation was. We had just finished sifting through more than 30 crimes, most of which had been committed by white men. In the past few months I had covered police stories, I couldn’t remember another single one which had been committed by an Indigenous person – certainly, no serious crime that had been worthy of a newspaper’s attention. It seemed to me that if we were to seek out who was really causing the trouble, it was white men between the ages of 25 and 30. And yet, in this police officer’s mind, the incident had merely confirmed his deeply-held belief – the Aboriginal population was what was wrong with the local area.

Humans need a victim. In his brilliant article “Violence and the Scapegoat”, ex-CEO of World Vision, Phillip Hunt quotes French Catholic academic Rene Girard. Girard states, “Violence in a society is resolved by blaming a victim. A victim is identified. They are accused as being responsible for the violence in society.” (Hunt,Violence and the Scapegoat). Hunt explains that when a victim is identified, something amazing happens – the community can be of one mind. There is a common purpose and social cohesion, as a community bands together against a common threat. Anyone’s who’s read “1984” can identify with this – while there is a simple, common enemy, society can rest easy.

This “victim” changes according to the current age, and specific society. It has been communists, Hindus, Buddhists and black Americans. Once, it was the Jews. Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, had this advice in how to deal with the Jewish people, “…set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.(reference)” Luther’s words were later used by Nazi Germany to justify their extermination of the Jewish people.

Now, right across the western world, it seems the Muslims have taken the place of “victim”. One example is Professor Raphael Israeli, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, currently traversing the globe claiming Muslims make life untenable. No one would disagree that Islamic extremism is dangerous, nor that controversial Sheik Alhilali’s comments about Jews, women and the west are ignorant, racist and unhelpful. However, to condemn an entirety of people because of the extremism of a minority is ridiculous. Are all pro-life activists to be judged because of James Charles Kopp, who murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian because he performed abortions? Are Indian Christians to be judged because the Christian terrorists of the National Liberation Front of Tripura gunned down more than forty non-Christians in 2005?

Not only does Mr Nile vilify an entire group of people with his comments, he also makes a remarkable suggestion that Australia should deny clemency to refugees based on their religious affiliation. This, to me, sits at odds with Jesus’ claim, “Love your neighbour.” There are no qualifications to Christ’s claim. Love your neighbour…if they believe what you believe. Love your neighbour…if they belong to a group pf people who share the same values as you do. Love your neighbour…if they haven’t done anything to upset you. No. Christ’s call is simply this: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. It’s as startling now as it was 2000 years ago, because it makes no sense to the world, and it’s pretty tricky to achieve.

In his article, Hunt also quotes Gil Bailie, who sums up the Gospel in these words, “The Gospels tell a perfectly typical story of victimisation with astonishing insight into the role of religious zeal and mob psychology played in it…the story is told from the point of view of the victim.” Christ has always sided with the oppressed and the victimsed. Mr Nile’s assertions that Muslims should not be let loose in Australia does two things: it undermines the truth of the gospel, and it creates an “Us and Them” mentality based on fear and distortion of the truth. How can mainstream Muslims assimilate into society when they are accused of “despising Aussie values” based on nothing more than they are Muslims? It closes the door of acceptance in their face, and if Christians honestly believe they want to “convert” Muslims, insulting them seems a strange way to go about it. We all want open discussion and productive dialogue, and we want to find ways of living together. But this press release seems to do nothing but incite more contempt and misunderstanding. Is this what “Christian politics” has sunk to in our country? Cheap points scored with a society desperate for a victim on the basis of fear and hatred? Again, the commandment to “Love your neighbour” seems so distant.

Still, there are pockets of hope: inter-faith dialogue being one. For example, the National Council of Churches and the South Australian Jewish Community Council have received significant government and community support to genuinely engage in discussions between Muslims, Jews and Christians. On a more populist note, the recent U2 concerts across the globe saw Bono wearing a “co-exist” sign, featuring a crescent moon, a Jewish star and a cross. Hunt closes his argument with another Bailie quote, “empathy for the victim and the needs for our rituals of victimization are incompatible”. (reference). I hope that as Christians we would chose to identify with Christ, with the victim, and not become part of the victimizing culture that leads nowhere, except to more violence.