ERIC HODGENS: Common-wealth versus Common-loss.
Easter and Australian Politics.

Mar 30, 2018

Australia is a commonwealth, where seeking the common good brings prosperity, unlike the fostering of division which leads to decline if not death. An object lesson in the meaning of Easter.

“See, I have set before you this day: life and good, death and evil.” (Deut 30:15).

The scriptural writer offered this choice to the people. Being a lawyer, he saw obedience to the law that he was proposing as not only good, but life-giving. It was a life or death issue for him.

Easter puts the limelight on that most fundamental of all questions: what wins, life or death? The poster-boy for the Life party is Jesus of Nazareth whose followers knew that he died but believed that, in some transcendent way, he lived again. Ever optimistic, they opted for life.   Never say die. That faith has kept them going for two millennia despite every obstacle. Their peak celebration of resurrection is Easter.

I suspect that the numbers in this fundamentally optimistic camp are much bigger than we think. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile” is part of Australia’s cultural ethos. But it only works if we stick together.

There are four rules of thumb that make the communal enterprise work effectively.

  • Unity of purpose is a winner. Division is a loser.
  • The whole is more important than any one of its parts.
  • Things take time to happen: time is more important than space.
  • The reality is prior to the idea.

These four rules are the stated approach to leadership of Pope Francis. It is worth a look to see to what extent they apply to Australian politics today.

Our best times have been when we all pulled together on the same enterprise. The six colony-wide education acts of the 1870’s enriched the whole nation. Federating the six colonies in 1901 was a winner. The solidarity of the union movement at the turn of the century resulted in a fairer society. World War II united the nation in a common enterprise which persisted in the economic advance of the post-war decades.

Post-war migration policy offered opportunity to the new-comers while, at the same time, enriching the whole nation. Breaking down protectionism in the 1980s led to a more prosperous and productive economy which benefitted all.

Our relatively small nation has done well on the world sporting field. Pride in our national teams has welded us together. Team Australia includes us all.

20th century Australia had its social spats but prospered on a basic unity of purpose.

2001 was a turning point.  Australia’s Tampa incident and John Howard’s “we will decide who comes to this country” ushered in a period of politics of division which became world-wide three months later with the 7/11 attack on New York’s World Trade Centre. What is called “identity politics” focusses on what divides rather than unites us. George W. Bush’s instinct was to fight back. This led to two middle east wars which have now become three. Our USA alliance dragged Australia into the fray. Whole peoples are displaced. Refugees have multiplied creating social dilemmas for the whole world. In a mood of division, they are not welcome, and this calls out the worst in existing nations. Tragically Australia’s mood has changed for the worse.

Divisive politics is now the order of the day in the USA, UK, Europe and Australia. The common good is too often replaced by a me-first or NIMBY mood which seems pervasive in society. Ideology pervades politics, freezing out a flexible, adaptive dealing with reality. Australia is politically fractured.

Is healing possible? Can there be a resurrection moment? Of course, there can. But it will need a change of heart and mind from us all.  United we stand; divided we fall. I am only part of this commonwealth. I need to put in as well as take out.

Perhaps Joe Hockey’s line about the end of the age of entitlement should be taken seriously.

And John Kennedy’s “ask not what my country can do for me, but what I can do for my country?” deserves re-visiting. If we regain a sense of common good and commonwealth, we will be opting for life, not death.

And we will be experiencing again the real meaning of Easter.

Eric Hodgens is a Melbourne Catholic priest who is living in retirement.

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