Last night I read Marion Maddox’s For God and Country: Religious Dynamics in Australian Federal Politics 2001. Maddox researched the work in 1999, during her time as an Australian Parliamentary Fellow, and her work include interviews with a number of federal politicians in the 38th and 39th Parliaments, discussing their personal religious beliefs and the relationship between those beliefs and their understanding and performance of their political duties, as well as the relationship between religion and specific political issues.
The book is worth a longer discussion than I’ll provide here – Maddox provides some subtle and interesting readings of how religious and secular discourses interact in complex ways in several recent Australian political debates, and I’ll no doubt want to examine some of those readings more deeply in the near future. While Maddox is respectful and earnest in her conduct and presentation of her interview results, I couldn’t avoid a certain jaw-dropping reaction to the following comments from Ross Cameron.
First on the GST (p. 142):
People are entitled to the fruits of their labour, so we need minimal taxation… Every impost on capital reduces the opportunities of those with the least, so we need to remove restraints on capital. Most church leaders are slaves to defunct economic thinking — and those who suffer most are the poor. At the deep inner core of the left is the belief that profit is morally wrong. But the two most offensive parables are the talents and the labourers in the vineyard. The parable of the labourers is challenging the view that says, ‘You shouldn’t be allowed any more than me, especially if you got it on the basis of a privilege I don’t enjoy’. I was giving a talk to secondary students a while ago, and one of them asked a question to the effect, ‘Isn’t it immoral that Company X posted Y billion dollars profit this year?’ They were saying, ‘Shouldn’t there be a limit on profits?’ That’s the kind of thinking that Christ was challenging.
I have to confess that it hadn’t previously occurred to me that unlimited corporate profits were what one might call a New Testament priority. The New Testament parables he cites (I’ve linked to translations for those interested) are, I think it’s fair to say, frequently interpreted in a different light… And I suspect that Cameron’s interpretation would have intrigued Max Weber. But, as Cameron says, perhaps that’s just another example of the kind of thinking Christ was challenging…
The other exchange that caught my eye was the following, initially on indigenous rights (p. 273-74):
There probably is some interventionist role for government. Two hundred years of suffering – and when Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall you can’t unscramble the egg. It’s the hardest policy area and greatest government failure since settlement… Indigenous leaders want their values respected – but they are values based in a nomadic economy with no room for the accumulation of capital. So, under their values, there can be no public hospitals, no public health, no literacy, no numeracy –
But you told me earlier you don’t want us to have public hospitals?
Well, no, it’s true that I see public ownership as the less desirable option. But what I mean is, the Indigenous leadership has selected land as the ground on which to fight – largely successfully – but is reliance on land empowering in the 21st Century?