Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sunday Snippets - the week in review 4 May 08

I have really been enjoying Neil's irregular aeroplane series on Ninglun's Specials.

His Closely Watched Planes 3 featured, among others, the Super Constellation. This was a seriously good looking aeroplane. I thought that I had flown to New Zealand on the Super Constellation as a child, but looking at the dates it must have been the earlier version shown on the left.

This was a huge trip for us.

The trip started by night train from Armidale - David and I shared a sleeper compartment - down through a still flooded Hunter Valley, then to the ophthalmologist to have our eyes checked, followed by overnight at a Sydney hotel with a clock radio! We stayed up late checking different stations. Then to the airport to join this huge aeroplane in the afternoon.

Mind you, the main thing I remember about the flight itself is just how bored I got. I had been given some eye drops to dilate my pupils before the eye examination, and I still could not read. Once the initial excitement of the flight wore off, we just seemed to fly for a very long time.

The decision during the week by the Rudd Government to give gay couples equal rights under the law was a welcome one from my viewpoint. I explored this issue earlier in several posts and a dialogue in comments and posts with Neil, Marcellous and Arthur Vandelay among others. Those who are interested can find an entry point to the whole discussion here.

In his response to the decision, Arthur wrote:

The government’s position is manifestly unjust, and simply nonsensical in the absence of some appeal to religious dogma (which, this being a secular liberal democracy with a secular liberal democratic constitution, it has no business appealing to). Its moves to end discrimination in other areas of Federal law only serves to highlight how unjust and nonsensical its policy of maintaining discrimination against same-sex couples in marriage laws really is.

Which means, I think, that the days of such discrimination are numbered.

I am far from sure about this. Mr Rudd's steadfast refusal to countenance gay marriage, the probability that the Government will again over-rule the ACT Government if it tries to introduce civil union legislation, is a reflection not just of Mr Rudd's intrinsic conservatism on social issues but of political judgements about views held within the broader Australian community.

In this context, I was struck by the results of a Channel Nine on-line poll. Asked whether they supported the decision to give gay couples equal rights, 35,304 voted yes, 36,047 voted no. Channel Nine has a particular demographic, but I have found their on-line polls not a bad guide to first reactions to issues by the the broader Australian community. And here I see a constant conservative thread.

This week (3 May 1968) marked the fortieth anniversary of the start of the Paris student protests that were to bring the De Gaulle Government to its knees. These protests were one of the seminal events that led to fundamental re-shaping of views within western democracies, events that stand out in the minds of many, including cultural warriors such as Germainne Greer.

The thing that struck me listening to some of the commentators was the steady theme that the events of the period had over-turned the old social and intellectual order, replacing it with new values. I think that this is clearly right in areas such as marriage, gender roles or sexuality, less so in other areas.

However, I was also struck by another thing. Listening, there seemed to be an eery familiarity to the fifties and sixties. Just as the established social and to a degree intellectual order during that period fought back before being overwhelmed, so now are those who have become the new order under threat.

In saying this, I am not talking about the so-called culture wars, but about more fundamental change. As a simple example, religion is back.

I was going to give some examples to illustrate this point, but that might side-track. For the moment, I simply note that the quantity of coverage of religious issues on the blogosphere is huge.

In talking about the changes now underway, I have tried to caution those holding what are now orthodox mainstream views that they should not assume that their views will survive. There is an irony in this of course, for I have railed against the way in which the neo-liberals of the Keating period squeezed out alternative views. Yet here I am trying to warn the other side of a threat!

The link point is that I find theocracies, secular or religious, to be uncomfortable places. Conscious and unconscious assumptions about the self-evident rightness of particular views, the willingness to use suasion and state power to enforce, make for an unpleasant and sometimes dangerous life for those with different views.

The press this week carried stories Colonel Moe Davis's views on the Hicks case. To say that I was staggered would be an understatement.

When I wrote David Hicks, the Australian Dreyfus back in early January 2007 my focus was on process failure, as it was in the other cases I wrote about subsequently. In all cases, I have tried to be very careful about what I said because I did not have access to evidence. I also tried to be balanced. Yet now we find, if I interpret the stories correctly, that the only reason Mr Hicks was brought to trial was the need to solve a political problem created by the very process delays themselves.

Australia faces major changes and challenges over the next twenty years along every dimension of Australian life, from our external environment to the structure of the Australian economy and population.

To put this in perspective, I see those changes as being greater than those that took place between 1949 to 1969, a two decade period that fundamentally altered Australia.

In saying this, I am not talking about climate change. Climate change is a global problem. Rather, I am taking about more domestic issues that, at worst case, have the capacity to tear Australia apart.

The 2020 summit did not address these issues. The closest that we have come to talking about them is Mr Costello's focus on population aging and the concept of inter-generational change.

I am not a great supporter of Mr Costello. He is too like Mr Keating for my taste. He is also a wimp who failed to follow through the logic of some of his own views. Yet, and to my surprise, I now regret greatly that he did not have a chance to further develop his independent stance.

Well, Mr Costello, I never thought that I would say this. Please stay in politics. We need you!

Returning to my broader theme, we are going to have to rely on the Australian Government to steer us through the challenges ahead.

I think that a degree of conservatism in Government is going to be necessary just to hold society together. I think that we will get this whether we like it or not. But we also need a Government that can stand back, that can avoid gut reactions, that can develop new approaches. Here I am less confident.

In Alcopops and mixed drinks - The Head strikes, I expressed my concern at a decision that had, apparently, been based on gut reaction rather than evidence. In other posts I have explored my concerns about the way we now make and administer public policy.

My hope is that, through debate, we can improve our system so that we have the best chance of managing the challenges that we now and will face.


AV said...

I'll mull this over and may post a fuller response at mine. But briefly:

In this context, I was struck by the results of a Channel Nine on-line poll. Asked whether they supported the decision to give gay couples equal rights, 35,304 voted yes, 36,047 voted no. Channel Nine has a particular demographic, but I have found their on-line polls not a bad guide to first reactions to issues by the the broader Australian community. And here I see a constant conservative thread.

On the one hand, replace the word "gay couples" with "Asians" or "Aboriginal Australians" in that poll question, and it becomes clear what a sad reflection on our country it is that a question like that needs to be asked in the first place. On the other hand, the poll results indicate only a slim majority against giving gay couples equal rights. 10 years ago, 20 years ago--do you think the margin would have been as narrow?

Jim Belshaw said...

AV, you raise a few interesting points here. I started a comment, but then decided that it was worth a full post to explore some of the unknowns as I see them.