JERRY ROBERTS. The Labor Party, religion, sex and that sort of thing

Nov 15, 2019

The second greatest disaster for Labor following the May election loss is the daily earbashing from mainstream media dishing out gratuitous advice to the Party on how to change policies and win the next election. Absolutely the greatest disaster is the possibility that people within the Party will listen to this stream of right-wing drivel. Labor has enough trouble digesting its own internal review.

On Tuesday 5 November — Guy Fawkes night on Melbourne Cup day — I was invited to the West Australian headquarters of the ALP in trendy, riverfront East Perth for a briefing on the Government’s religious legislation. Senator Louise Pratt and a panel of three young women gave our well-attended meeting detailed analysis of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019. Frankly, they scared the daylights out of me, confirming my initial impression that the legislation is dangerous, unnecessary and should be tossed out in its entirety.

On the Sunday immediately preceding the Labor meeting I discussed the issue with the Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Kay Goldsworthy, after the service at our suburban church. There we were, in broad daylight, talking about religion and politics. As far as I am aware, nobody dobbed us in to ASIO or retrieved our finger prints from the coffee mugs. This is a free country. I doubt if people in any other country on earth enjoy a greater degree of religious freedom than we do in Australia. We should count our blessings. The proposed legislation will make us less free and clutter up our law courts with even more stuff that does not belong there.

Fortunately, decisive opposition to the legislation is coming from the business world where owners and managers have enough problems keeping their firms afloat without having to worry about the religious affiliations of their employees. In the Weekend Australian of 26 October Katrina Grace Kelly identified the fundamental flaw — “no one can concur even on what problem the legislation is designed to solve.”

“I’ve read the draft law several times over,” wrote Katrina. “Whether it is read in the morning or evening, while sitting down or standing up, while drunk or sober, it is in every light unacceptable.”

The immediate concern is that cynical political operators in the mould of John Howard will “wedge” Labor on religion and the Party will forsake solidarity with the courageous members of the LGBTIQ community in the hope of winning votes in Western Sydney.

In the bigger picture, beyond partisan politics, the concern is the way Western democracies, including ours, are tearing themselves to pieces in self-indulgent squabbles over religion, sex and that sort of thing while the totalitarian States get on with the job and build up their economic and military strength.

In the September-October edition of Foreign Affairs, Yale scholar Odd Arne Westad quotes legendary American diplomat George Kennan whose Long Telegram from Moscow in February 1946 predicted the course of the Cold War. A year later Kennan, using the pseudonym “X,” published an extended version of the telegram in Foreign Affairs under the title, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.”

The Yale historian’s article today is called “The Sources of Chinese Conduct” and relates to the religious criticism above and directly to Michael Keating’s recent comments on Australian budgetary constraints (Scott Morrison and the “Quiet Australians,” Pearls and Irritations 6 November).

Professor Westad writes: “He (Kennan) warned in his article that ‘exhibitions of indecision, disunity and internal disintegration’ within the United States were the biggest danger the country faced. Kennan also warned against complacency about funding for common purposes. Like 70 years ago, to compete today, the United States needs to spend money, which necessarily means higher contributions from wealthy Americans and corporations in order to provide top-quality skills training, world-class infrastructure and cutting-edge research and development. Competing with China cannot be done on the cheap.

“Ultimately, Kennan argued, American power depended on the United States’ ability to ‘create among the peoples of the world generally the impression of a country which knows what it wants, which is coping successfully with the problems of its internal life and with the responsibilities of a world power and which has a spiritual vitality capable of holding its own among the major ideological currents of the time.’ ‘

The issues are the same today, argues Westad, who is the author of “The Cold War, A World History.” Will the United States abandon domestic discord in favour of consensus? “If some unifying factor does not intervene, the decline in the United States’ ability to act purposefully will, sooner than most people imagine, mean not just a multipolar world but an unruly world — one in which fear, hatred and ambition hold everyone hostage to the basest instincts of the human imagination.”

Substitute the word “Australia” for “United States” in the above text and we see the challenges now facing our country. The Australian Labor Party has risen to such challenges in the past and can do so again.

Jerry Roberts is a member of the ALP.

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