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.