Category Archives: NSW Election 2011

Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 5

Well, we’ve come to the end. I hope this series has been helpful for all the category “A”ers in thinking through how to use your vote wisely on Saturday. Before I give today’s issue and non-issue I need to say one very important thing.

Your involvement in democracy doesn’t end when you leave the polling station and get your sausage sandwich on Saturday morning. Though Australia and the state of New South Wales fall into the category of “representative democracy”, that is we elect people to make decisions for us, as citizens we still have the opportunity to play a huge roll in the way we are governed. As Christians, we need to seek out these opportunities for thoughtful engagement (whether it be meeting with our representatives about issues that are important to us, writing to the papers, participating in public inquiries, etc.). All these things sound far scarier than they are. I’m not wanting to sound all American and optimistic but if you aren’t happy with the way our governments are moving on certain issues and you have made no attempt at engagement then there is a problem. The Centre for Christian Living’s next public meeting is on how we do that public engagement stuff in a way that doesn’t make us look like whining prats so try and get there if you live in the Sydney area.

Issue 3: Community Services (formerly DoCS)

In this final post I want to address an area that I get the impression a great many Christians don’t really understand – the work of NSW Community Services. This is a hard issue to discuss because of the sensitive nature of the work this group does in and around the protection of children.

Christians are defenders of community. Christians believe that community is what we are built for. This is why we are so devastated when community is interrupted, perverted or circumvented. We are devastated when those who are naturally vulnerable, particularly because of their age and development, are exploited or abused. We are devastated because these acts of injustice rob the vulnerable of the care and love rightfully theirs.

And so we champion the work of those who defend the cause of the fatherless.

A few words on the health of the (now sub) department; in 2008 the Wood Report handed down 111 recommendations for improving child welfare in NSW. The basic findings of the report were that the organisation is seriously under-funded, under-staffed and over-worked. A great many of the frustrations that people have with the department are explained by these three observations from Justice Wood. I want to encourage Christians to stop DoCS bashing, to recognise our role as community members in raising and protecting children and to demand that our future government respond to Wood’s findings with more staff and more funding for Community Services.

Though none of the major parties has campaigned on the issue of Community Services you can compare the Labor and Greens platforms on their campaign pages. I wasn’t able to find anything on the Liberal website about this issue (if someone finds it I’ll give the link). I’m also happy to link up any of the other minor parties.

I am slightly concerned that as part of the Coalition’s public sector slashing rhetoric, one of the things they intend to “review” is the Community Services call-centre in the name of more “caseworkers” (that is, localise the work of DoCS). Certainly they’ve given this impression in the past. This, in my humble opinion, would be a mistake. The Call-receiving centre is full of highly trained staff that are able to gather relevant information and then give it to the caseworkers on the ground in a way that enables them to act. It’s been a good initiative, and it’s provided a much more thorough picture of the scale of the problem of child abuse and neglect in NSW which has in turn helped the organisation fight the issue.

Non-Issue 3: Law and Order

I was just about to begin writing a compelling, thought provoking piece on why Christians need to send the message to our elected representatives that community-embedded services are a better use of our money than prisons and that we won’t think they’re “soft on crime” if they want to pursue solutions than just locking people up. But as it turns out someone beat me to it. Have a read of the Social Issues Executive’s paper on the topic here.  You can also read what Peter Jensen had to say about this in his 2010 Sydney Synod address here.

We are almost never going to get thoughtful debate on the issue of Law and Order in an election campaign when “tough on crime” is such an easy catch-phrase to spout. Christians should seek to engage our elected representatives on crime reduction and workable justice once the how-to-vote cards have settled and the cardboard cubicles have long been packed away.

6 Comments

Filed under NSW Election 2011

Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 4

This post is part of a series

T minus 3 days to go until the election and I am (just quietly) getting a bit excited. I’ve gone to Below the Line and made my own personal how-to-vote sheet, I’ve got a feel for the quirky parties I’d never heard of by starting here and going from there, I’ve chosen a polling station that I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to get a steak sandwich at. See! Democracy can be fun!

Today I’ve got another issue and non-issue for you. As always I welcome feedback and clarification.

Issue 2: The environment

As I mentioned in my first post, issues surrounding the environment didn’t get a hearing on the ACL’s NSW Votes website, and they got a naive treatment in the ACVI’s tick-box sheet.

One of the main reasons I hear that Christians in politics seem reticent to talk about the environment in any detail is that “Christians disagree on it”. But Christian ethics is not herd morality but heard morality. As we read the Bible and appreciate the richness of its teaching in the context of the story of salvation through Jesus Christ we come to a Christian understanding of things. This is what sets us apart from political parties. Where political parties can change their stance on issues based on a show of hands, Christians together approach the world Bible opened, thoughtfully loving the culture we are engaged in.

This has implications not only into our inter-personal relations but also our person-creation relations. Christians care for the environment as part of what I’ll clumsily call “the creation mandate” but also because of where we’re headed (our eschatology).

We care for the environment because we were created as two gardeners, who were to love the earth by working and guarding it (Gen 1-2). Though the earth now produces thorns and thistles (and floods and droughts) as a result of the fall, nevertheless our responsibility to love the world through working it and guarding it carries on (Gen 3). Now we shouldn’t think “Ok, the property developers and strip miners can “work” the ground and the conservationists can “guard” the ground and those are both goods!” Notice that Adam is charged with both responsibilities at once.

We also care about the environment because of our future (eschatology). Many Christians argue that “it’s all going to burn anyway so who cares”. I would argue that this is a misunderstanding of 2 Peter 3 but I haven’t got the space to go into this here. Douglas Moo has written extensively on this topic and you can hear a talk where he explains out the arguments for this creation being renewed and not replaced here.

As voters, we have a rare chance to make our environmental concern stretch beyond our recycling bins, our worm-farms, our veggie plots. As voters we can elect a government that works and guards the environment. One that presents the world we’re borrowing from God back to him at the end of this world and say “we did as best we could to reverse the effects of our own sinfulness”. Christians need to make environmental concern an important factor they consider in voting on Saturday.

To help you with this, a number of conservation groups in NSW came together to produce a paper for people trying to think through what good outcomes for the environment look like in NSW. It’s called the Natural Advantage Report and you can find it here.

So as before,

  • Go to the NSW Electoral Commission website and find out who’s standing for your electorate here. (if you don’t know which electorate you live in go here first)
  • There you’ll find the email addresses of the people standing (candidates) in your electorate.
  • Send your candidates an email asking them, should they win your seat, what they would do to work and guard our creation in NSW and sustain it for the future.

Non-issue 2: Foreign Policy

Last night I received an email from the ACL mailing list telling me why I shouldn’t vote for the Greens. In it they listed a number of policy areas that ‘[m]any Christians ought to be concerned by’. Have a look at the list and think about which issue seems to be the odd one out:

  • same-sex marriage
  • euthanasia
  • abortion
  • protections for religious freedom
  • Christian schools
  • Israel

Israel?!

I was so intrigued that I did some digging. The background to the comment is as it turns out, Fiona Byrne (Greens candidate for Marrickville – tipped by the ABC’s political analyst Anthony Green to win the seat) as Mayor of Marrickville supported a boycott of Israel to send the message to this country that the international community is deeply concerned by their human rights violations – particularly in the Gaza strip. Fiona Byrne is on the record as saying that she would support such measures being implemented at a state level (Crikey Story here).

I want to say two things about this; one pragmatic and one theological.

Firstly, it needs to be remembered that Foreign policy is a federal not a state issue. State governments can make pronouncements like boycotts, but ultimately these are symbolic rather than having any formal force. Moreover the chance of this actually getting a hearing in parliament is so small that it isn’t worth worrying about.

But the bigger question is why does this show up on a list of issues Christians should be concerned about? Could it be that it reveals a shonky understanding of our eschatology (a view that elevates the Nation-State of Israel as having cosmic importance in the coming of Christ) present within the ranks of the ACL? I’m trying to be generous here but I can’t for the life of me figure out any other explanation. I’d welcome some further information if you have any but I’m going to suggest that if Israeli-Palestinian relations is factoring into who you should vote for on Saturday, you may be over analysing this whole thing 🙂

5 Comments

Filed under NSW Election 2011

Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 3

This post is part of a series

Well as promised yesterday, we’re going to start dealing with the issues. Over the next three days I’m going to suggest three policy areas that, I think, should have a bearing on the way we vote and then I’m also going to suggest three policy areas I think shouldn’t influence the way you vote (you’ll see what I mean later). Truly, there are far more areas of concern than these three, but I guess I’m trying to lift our gaze a little to see just how far reaching the Christian worldview is in the sphere of political thought.

Issue 1: Public Education

I was a bit nervous making this my issue number 1, because that gives the impression that I think it’s the most important issue, which I don’t. I was also nervous because I used to be a public high-school teacher and so this might seem like a conflict of interest. In writing this I don’t mean to demean the great work that private school teachers do. I think that’s enough caveats, lets begin.

Why should Christians in NSW care about public education – particularly at a time when more and more Christian parents believe the right thing to do is to send their children to a private school, be it a church school or an independent Christian school?

Well the answer lies in how we come to know God. Since the Reformation, protestant Christians have known the importance of having access to the Scriptures in our own tongue. God has gone into print. This is how he communicates with us. When we want to know about God we dive for the Bible. It’s why translators like Tyndale and Wycliffe demanded that the Bible be written in language the plough-boy could understand. It’s why linguistics and language preservation matters so much to Christians (through Bible translation). It’s why the first schools in NSW were church schools.

And so, because Christians have such a massive commitment to a written book, we likewise have a commitment to literacy. The only way to ensure we have a literate public is to have a well-funded public education system.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to argue that there is a cohort of students who are emerging from our schools in NSW that are not getting the literacy skills that they will need to participate fully in our society (or read the Bible for themselves) – and that through no fault of their teachers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to notice  things like class sizes ballooning; lack of adequate air conditioning so that classrooms are in excess of 44°C; inadequate funding for teachers aids, especially for kids with learning difficulties; low morale and high staff turn-over in our schools – any one of these things is concerning but together they represent a cause that Christians should be championing.

A few words on vouchers. From what we can gather from the ACVI’s survey I mentioned a few days ago they are in favour of the so-called “voucher system”. In this system the government allocates your child a certain amount of money for education. The theory goes that parents who send their kids to private schools are “taxed twice” (in that they are taxed for the provision of public schools and then “taxed” again when they pay their school fees). The voucher system means that parents are only taxed for the voucher system, and then they are free to decide where that money is spent, be it in public education, the private sector or to recoup the costs of home schooling.

Sounds good right? Well the fact that it sounds good is kind of the problem. It is a system that sounds good to a choice-rich, individualist society. But what if you live in Wilcannia and it’s not financially viable for a private school to run (indeed it’s not financially viable for a public school to run) then we need a robust public system that is unreasonably generous in the eyes of an economic rationalist to ensure that kids in that community can read (and perhaps one day read of King Jesus).

This is a drum I need to keep banging again and again; Christians at their core are not meant to act in self-interest. We are meant to be people who seek to serve. In this circumstance it means that you are going to pay taxes so that those who can’t afford education can still access it – and to a high standard.

So –

  • Go to the NSW Electoral Commission website and find out who’s standing for your electorate here. (if you don’t know which electorate you live in go here first)
  • There you’ll find the email addresses of the people standing (candidates) in your electorate.
  • Send your candidates an email asking them, should they win your seat, what they would do to fix some of the problems I’ve listed above (and others you might be able to think of).

Christians care about public education system.

Non-Issue 1: Ethics in SRE time

“WHAT?! Why is this a non-issue?” I hear many bellow.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am livid about the St James ethics classes being taught during SRE time. I’ve written about it here. My major concerns are:

  • Ethics classes suggest that other parts of school are “values neutral” to use a Howardian phrase. This is deeply insulting to me as a former teacher.
  • Due process was not followed – there was no public inquiry and the trial was a sham.
  • The Ethics programme cannot fix the problem it was designed to (non-attendance in SRE does not equate to attendance in ethics classes)

But, and it pains me to say it, we lost. The legislation was introduced.

Had you asked me about this in January I would have said it isn’t all bad. This is one of the areas Christians were able to hold a gritted smile, in the knowledge that Labor is going to be trounced at this election and then the Liberal Party (who spoke against the legislation) would be elected and reverse the decision. I myself, not traditionally a Liberal voter, could see this as a good that would come from having a NSW Liberal government. But then they stabbed us in the back. In early February the Liberal education spokesman announced that, should they win government, they had no intention of reversing the decision (a story on this here). Their reasoning? Because it’s already enshrined in law…

umm… bu… wai…

The logic of this is bizarre. Someone needs to explain to the Liberal Party’s Adrian Piccoli that part of being a government is that YOU GET TO CHANGE AND MAKE NEW LAWS. Ultimately it seems the Liberal party has realised that victory is so certain for them that they can cut loose the interest groups that they have traditionally relied upon to catapult them into government – on this occasion it was the conservative Christian vote.

So the chess board looks very different now. After the election we will have a government and an opposition that are both in favour of the ethics classes. Unless there is a huge upsurge of support for the minor parties who are against ethics classes in the place of SRE (an outcome that is unlikely) then this is actually an issue you shouldn’t worry about in your voting this Saturday.

9 Comments

Filed under NSW Election 2011

Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 2

This post is part of a series

Today I want to explain as simply as possible what you’re going to have to do in order to vote on Saturday. Voting in NSW elections is a bit more complicated than voting federally. The complications are good, in that they give you more control over exactly what your vote ends up doing, but they’re bad in that… well… they’re more complicated!

Before we disentangle you on that though, a little year 6 Australian political system refresher –

Australia has three tiers of government: Local (generally called ‘council’); State; and Federal. The local government’s head is called a Mayor (or Shire President), The state’s head is a Premier and the federal leader is called the Prime Minister. You vote in local council elections every four years, state elections every four years and federal elections roughly every three years.

Our state government (like our federal government) has two houses. In the lower house (or Legislative Assembly) your area, probably your suburb/village and the few suburbs around you, has one representative who [theoretically] acts in the interests of your local community. In the upper house (or Legislative Council) everyone in NSW has a say on the same group of people and selects 42 people from across the state to represent all of us.

To make sure that these levels of government don’t tread on each others’ toes too much, over the last century Australia has figured out which government should be in charge of what (e.g. Local Councils have no jurisdiction over our armed forces and Federal governments have no control over your wheelie bins). This has changed over time. There was a time when Universities were a matter for each state, but this was changed in the 70s, more recently the former Rudd government made plans for taking over hospital care from the states. For a simple explanation of which government does what go here.

So when we’re talking about our state government, it looks after things like the police, electricity, public transport, prisons, schools, public heath and the agricultural sector.

Now, voting in the NSW state election is a little different to voting federally. You still have two pieces of paper because you’re electing people to two different houses.

The way your vote is counted is still the same (if you’re not sure how that bit works watch this vid – it’s from the Federal Election but the gist is still the same):

But unlike the Federal election you don’t need to put a number in every box. Allow me to illustrate:

Lets pretend in your electorate there are three people running for office.

Candidate 1 is from the Puppy Slayers Party (PSP)

Candidate 2 is from the We Like Puppies Party (WLPP)

Candidate 3 is from the Puppies are OK but Lets Not Go Crazy Party (PAOKLNGCP).

Just say your preference was for the WLPP party to win, you hated the PSP and you didn’t mind the PAOKLNGCP.What you could do is put a “1” in the WLPP box, a “2” in the PAOKLNGCP box and then stop there. You don’t have to have your vote eventually be directed to the PSP.

Why does this matter? Well what this means is that you can prevent your vote electing someone you don’t like. The great thing about this is if you live in an electorate that is “safe” for a party you don’t like, you can actually prevent your vote being counted as one of there’s, after preferences have been worked out.

The upper house (big sheet) is also more complicated. To explain that, I’m going to leave the instructions to our friends at below the line. Below the line takes the time out of filling in your big piece of paper, while at the same time giving you optimal control over where your vote gets cast. You can sit at home and organise your vote and it’ll give you a print out, telling you (given your preferences) what numbers to put where on your sheet. It’s a fabulous resource and one I’d encourage everyone to use – especially Christians concerned about the ethical implications of their vote.

That’s enough procedural stuff. Tomorrow, we’re going to start dealing with the issues and the parties – Over the next three posts I’m going to suggest one issue a day you should care about as a Christian voter. Then I’m also going to suggest (and this is a bit cheeky) three issues you shouldn’t care about as you think through voting on Saturday.

2 Comments

Filed under NSW Election 2011

Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 1

This is the first post in a week-long series on Christian voting and the NSW election. Given that you’re reading this I’m going to assume you’re one of two types of people:

Person A is the Christian political apatharge (to coin a term). But the week before an election their conscience is pricked and they realise they’ve been like a day-dreaming kid in class. So they dive for Google to get easily digestible information in order to sate their pricked conscience, vote in a way someone else told them to, and then go back to watching Biggest Loser.

Person B is a Christian political Kerry O’Brien – across the Australian political landscape and able to quote obscure legislation like a modern-day Rainman. But more than this – they’re familiar with all the dominant schools of thought on Church-State relations; they’ve decided that Augustine and Aquinas, Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas are all morons; they’ve determined their own path forward on political-theological-ethical engagement and they’re here just to ‘check up’ on me.

In these posts, I’m mainly going to be writing for the A types (sorry Kerry). B’ers are most welcome but I’m not going to be pitching things to you. Of course I should note before I continue you might be in a C or D category – not Christians but interested in or apathetic to politics. Welcome – I hope you too find some interesting food for thought and that I can help to debunk some of the hideous stereotypes surrounding Christians in the political sphere.

But while we’re on the topic of Christians working in the realm of politics I want to dedicate my entire first post to just that topic. What we’re going to look at is a tale of two political organisations – the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and the Australian Christian Values Institute (ACVI). I’ve written elsewhere about these two in the national arena but I want to write again about their foray into state politics.

These two organisations have taken two different approaches to educating the public about what the political parties think and believe. The ACL has released the website NSW Votes, where they surveyed a number of the parties standing for the NSW election and asked them to give short answers to 22 questions. The website is clear – easy to navigate and, above all, the parties are the ones answering the questions. I’ll return to the content of the questions later.

The ACVI on the other hand has, once again, released a Christian Values Checklist, a tick-a-box how-to-vote sheet with 21 questions.

I want to illustrate the problems with using the checklist method of explaining complex ideas by running my own checklist. In it I’m going to compare the survey styles of the ACL and the ACVI.

Now as you can see, I’ve asked questions here that, in general, favour the ACL’s survey over the ACVI. But there are obvious problems with my survey:

  • It doesn’t demonstrate that a positive answer is more “Christian” than a negative.
  • It switches between questions framed in the negative or the affirmative.
  • It doesn’t recognise that “support” has a wide definitional range and so telling us that the survey uses the word is pretty useless.
  • It ultimately doesn’t give the surveyed organisations a chance to answer for themselves.

Here we find the major flaws in the ACVI checklist. It reduces Christianity down to a set of “values” (by which I think it means things that make us grumpy). The questions are framed in a way that favours parties that sit on the right-of-centre. It seems to suggest that all parties “[s]upport greater care of God’s environment” without acknowledging the massive rifts between them on how we actually pull that off. And of course, it relies on source material that may not reflect a party’s current stance on issues.

Aside from anything else, there are clear errors on the ACVI checklist. The Liberal party has publicly announced they have no intention of repealing the school ethics legislation – for example.

Now in saying this, I don’t mean to convey that the ACL website is perfect and should be the source of all your information about what to do next Saturday. This site, doesn’t have a single question about the environment, adoption law and the Community Services department or the provision of public education. I think these are massive blind-spots on topics that all spring from our doctrinal convictions (our creation mandate, our theology of adoption and our commitment to the understood Word). It’s these topics that I’ll be addressing this week, along with a few other things you need to know about how to vote in a state election.

I’m looking forward to your comments, if there’s anything you want clarification on or anything that you desperately want me to cover before Saturday, let me know.

17 Comments

Filed under NSW Election 2011