A response to the Prime Minister’s speech to the Australian Christians Conference

May 4, 2021

Dear Scott,
You have got yourself into a bit of strife from commentators who have found your speech at the Australian Christian Churches Conference to breach the convention of separation between Church and State; also, for your assertion that the devil is using the social media platform for evil. I, on the other hand, found much in your talk with which I could agree, my problem is that I see no evidence that what you said is taken at all seriously in your life as Prime Minister.

Let me explain. You made quite a point of agreeing with the late Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and his emphasis that God’s dealing with us, and by implication, our dealing with one another, should not be transactional but covenantal. This is a point Lord Sacks makes over, and over again in his writings, and it is a point with which I absolutely concur. As creator, God covenants with the whole creation for good. A covenant is a total commitment to the person or object to whom we are bound. A marital relationship is covenantal, each partner is bound to the other for good. As Prime Minister, you are bound to Australia and its people. Australia and its people must always come before loyalty to your party, or the benefactors of your party. What is the evidence this is so?

You and your government appear always to act in a transactional manner, not in a covenantal way. You transact with stakeholders who support your party’s ideology. You transact on the floor of the house to achieve political victory, not the passing of good policy. You transact with members of your own party who have fallen short of community expectation to minimise fallout for the government rather than remaining committed to the highest possible ethical standards.

Good on you for quoting Jonathan Sacks, but it does not mean very much if your actions do not reflect the words. It is not good to slip into hyperbole, but the government you are leading looks to be the most transactional Australia has ever experienced.

You made a good point about the importance of community. Humans are essentially social beings. None of us can survive on our own. Believing in community requires a level of altruism and denial of self for the sake of the greater good. Private ownership lies at the heart of your government’s ideology. Commitment to profit is the one objective of private ownership. Commitment to public ownership arises out of the belief that some aspects of life are best held in common trust for the sake of all. Many acts of privatisation have been catastrophic in term of the common good.

You made a particularly good point about the value which must be given to every individual, regardless of their identity: politically, ethnically, socially, gender orientation etc. You decried what is appropriately called identity politics. But is not this the very thing your government does?  Three-word slogans beloved of your side of politics are all about identity politics. Making sure government largesse is distributed in seats which might pay political return, is identity politics. The theatre of question time is full-blown identity politics. I have long been an advocate for environmental responsibility, instead of my arguments being taken seriously I am easily dismissed as a left-wing socialist. Lately many on your side of politics dismiss as ‘woke’ arguments for justice and social cohesion. This is full throttle identity politics.

As I heard you speak about valuing everyone for who they are, a picture came into my mind of parliamentary question time.  Debate on the culture of parliament as a safe workplace for women was continuing. Tanya Plibersek was making what any reasonable person would agree to be a rational, sensible and mostly party-political free speech. You were at the government dispatch box with your back to her for almost her whole speech. With the best will in the world, I cannot see how valuing the individual for who they are, rather than through their identity (in this case political identity), plays out in your world.

Now let us turn for one moment to social media. I do not personally hold a positive view of this medium and refuse to use Facebook or Twitter. However, ‘the devil’ no more uses this medium for evil than any other instrument in daily life. The truth of the matter is that anything with the capacity for good equally has the capacity for evil. Every human being is capable of both. Triumph and tragedy walk with all of us. Evil does not have an empire of its own. Christians are not dualists. When the light shines the darkness must go, and light must shine on the dark side of social media.

Your fellow ‘conservatives’ do not want the light to shine on the basis that everyone has the right to ‘freedom of speech’. It is good to see that your colleague Craig Kelly has had his social media account closed, despite his behaviour being defended by yourself. It should always be unacceptable for those in positions of authority to post material which is irrefutably false. It should also be totally unacceptable for social media to be used to slander others. Part of the problem is that your side of politics runs quickly to shout ‘cancel culture’ when falsehood is being called out for what it is.

As I have said, I am not a fan of social media, no doubt I am a child of my generation, but please do not bat bad behaviour on social media to the ‘devil’ when your side of politics is reluctant to rein in unacceptable behaviour.

Scott, good on you for being unafraid to give testimony to your faith. Good on you for being unafraid to identify with “Australian Christians”. Please be aware however that there are thousands more fellow Christians who struggle to understand how a covenantal prime minister can allow families to languish on Christmas Island, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain so equivocal about the future of the planet, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain utterly captive to his party’s ‘identity politics’.

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