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Monday, July 30, 2007

Bonhoeffer, Ethics and Kevin Rudd

Miss Eagle is thinking - hard. I don't know whether this will be the first or last post of this kind or whether this will the first post of a work in progress. I write four blogs. These blogs reflect the constant interests of a life of sixty-three and a bit years. The links are on the side bars. The blogs cover desert spirituality, social comment, home decor, and food. Into these blogs come other constants: books, film and television, rugby league football - particularly State of Origin, and - occasionally - craft and the refurbishment of furniture and furnishings.

The Eagle's Nest was the first blog but, as it progressed, it seemed too much of a jumble to put all my interests on one blog. As well, readers interested in one topic were not necessarily interested in any of the others. While there is occasional social comment in The Trad Pad and Oz Tucker which is relevant to their topics, I have - to this time - kept this blog free of social comment: a rant free zone.

But what I want to explore is in the manner of a spiritual reflection so this blog seems to be the most appropriate place to write about it. Elections for a Federal Government are due in Australia and are expected by December 2007. The government is a coalition of two conservative parties, the Liberal Party and the National Party. The major party of opposition is the Australian Labor Party. There are a few independents sitting in the House of Representatives. In the Senate there are a smattering of minor parties: The Greens, The Australian Democrats, Family First.

Our Prime Minister is John Howard. The Leader of the Opposition is Kevin Rudd. Until the last few years, religion has never been an issue in Australian politics as it is in the politics of the USA. Australians have never been fond of people who wear their religion on their sleeve. And they have been even less fond of politicians who display such a tendency. But this has changed or is changing. Pentecostal churches and their mega churches have acted as a lightning rod for this development.

Pentecostal churches have sought to mobilise their constituencies and have actually sought political power and influence. Politicians are always mesmerised by numbers and are only too happy to turn up to churches that can guarantee an audience of 5/6000 people.

John Howard was raised a Methodist. While he courts conservative Christians, there is little indication by the Prime Minister of his own faith in practice. We do not have any seminal statements of faith.

On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, has been more overt about his faith and has actually bought into the debate of faith in public and political life. Rudd was raised a Catholic, lived in an Anglican college at the Australian National University (ANU) and married an Anglican. I am not quite certain but I believe he now attends an Anglican Church.

During Howard's tenure as Prime Minister, his government has been seen to implement policies which cut across Christian ethics:

  1. Detention of refugees in concentration camp like facilities
  2. Management of harsh immigration policies which have also scooped up Australian citizens into a disastrous web of detention and deportation
  3. Questionable attitudes based on the ethnic origins of Australian citizens and residents
  4. Xenophobic attitudes
  5. Introduction of legislation which has eliminated a just balance of workplace relations between employer and employee
  6. Failure to apologise to indigenous Australians for horrendous public policy such as that revealed by the Stolen Generations report, Bringing Them Home
  7. Poor funding and administration of public policy issues relating to Aboriginal people.
  8. A recent sudden interest in Aboriginal issues to the extent that the army has been sent to Aboriginal communities and constructive policies are being abolished at the stroke of a pen.
  9. Failure to sign up to Kyoto and - until recently - denigration of anything to do with climate change or altering behaviour to save the planet.

This list is a short list and for more details of these and other similar policies and attitudes you, dear Reader, are referred to The Eagle's Nest.

Kevin Rudd was elected Leader of the Australian Labor Party on 4 December 2006. While he was a familiar face on Australian television, Australians are still getting to know who Kevin Rudd is and what he stands for. He is ahead in the polls and it seems likely that in 2008 Australian government will have changed hands and Kevin Rudd will be Prime Minister.

Among those who long for the Howard Government and its meanness to humanity and the environment to depart from the halls of power, there is mounting concern about the man who would become Prime Minister. Who is he really? What does he stand for?

These questions are commonly being raised because, on a number of contentious issues, Rudd has supported the Howard Government when great ethical questions have been and are integral to such issues. People refer to Rudd's "me-too-ism".

The latest evidence of this is in the area of Tasmanian forest policy where Rudd has indicated that he will not move away from the policy of the Howard Government. This is clearly because a powerful trade union supports this policy. A more environmentally friendly policy enunciated by Rudd's predecessor brought protests from this union and cost the ALP two seats in Tasmania.

To-day - and this is the catalyst for Miss Eagle's personal ethical reflection - Martin Flanagan is questioning Rudd's decision and relates Rudd's statements to his previous declared admiration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his ethics. Martin Flanagan is a distinguished writer and journalist and a favourite commentator of Miss E. He is the brother of the much-awarded Tasmanian writer, Richard Flanagan.

Miss Eagle has had half-a-lifetime of active political involvement within the ALP ( as candidate and political staffer) and the trade union movement (as an active member and a union organiser). She is in retirement. She resigned from the ALP six years ago. She keeps up trade union linkages particularly through the Your Rights at Work campaign. Miss Eagle thinks she can see what Rudd is doing. He is not going to be distracted from the goal - and certainly not when he is so far ahead of the Prime Minister in the polls. The Prime Minister is a master of what is known as "wedge politics" and Rudd seems to have developed some deft skills in avoiding the wedge.

When Rudd takes a me-too stand, it seems to have the effect of taking contention out of the political debate. Flanagan describes this aptly thus: The game he is currently playing with the Prime Minister is known in yacht racing as tacking.

So the ethical question is this:
Opinion polls are showing that a majority of Australians want a change of government. There are great moral reasons - in the view of many but not all Australians - why the Prime Minister should leave office. How ethical is Rudd's position of tacking, of keeping on track, on keeping the campaign ship on an even keel?

Miss Eagle has raised similar questions at The Eagle's Nest asking for Rudd to display his backbone, to let us know his vision, to let us know what are those issues from which he would never resile his position.

Is Kevin Rudd correct? Just as Bonhoeffer was prepared to accept the murder of Hitler as a necessary but lesser evil in the affairs of state, is Rudd's attitude of tacking and me-tooing his way to The Lodge a small price to pay, a lesser evil, to rid this nation of Howard's tainted governance? Is the failure to enunciate a clear, environmentally friendly forest policy less important than doing what it takes to rid the nation of the Howard Government?


  1. You raise some interesting points. A government must be elected to do some good. Do the people (of whatever country) elect a government that puts forth too extreme a view, even if that view is visionary?
    Certainly in the UK, Tony Blair made the Labour Party electable after years of it going nowhere by dragging it to the centre. (Learning from Clinton) But what did he do with his power once he had it? Nothing truly socialist.
    And is it actually right for a party to pretend one thing while electioneering, knowing all the time that they will veer into a somewhat different direction once elected? Is that not making a unilateral decision when you are supposed to representing those who have elected you based on what you said then?
    And yet perhaps it is right for a party and an individual to do what they can to get elected - within reason - as long as afterwards they don't forget their original vision.
    I don't know the answer.

  2. Nice Post, Miss Eagle.
    Having watched the appalling Bacon in Tasmania, last night, on 4 Corners, I cannot help say that Rudd is looks like he is steering a rudderless ship. I want a LEADER who will stand up and be counted, on the forests (and on other things too). But Bacon is so aggressive, the "ugly face of Labor Politics, that I think Rudd needs to learn to have a conscience, and to believe in something (anything) before he can legitimately claim a tradition from Bonhoeffer.

    As it stands, I cannot see any link, I am afraid.