GREAT POLITICAL excitement! After years of neglect, a new team has taken over. That’s not just in Canberra, but also, not that far away, in the town of Gundagai.
We chanced to breakfast at the renowned Niagara cafe in the first week of the art deco gem’s reopening. The new owners have done a great job, restoring the booths and all.
Suddenly, Luke and Kym have gone from paying tradespeople to paying customers.
Families with Greek heritage got early into refrigerated foods in Australia, and specialised in fish, icecream (including Peter’s and Paul’s) and milkbars.
And so, successively, the Notara, Castrission and Loukissas families owned and ran the place from 1902, through the wondrous art deco modernisation in 1938, until it became too much a few years ago.
After opening up for a midnight meal for Prime Minister John Curtin and team in 1942, the place became a Labor Party shrine, accumulating signed photos commemorating the visit, and showing off the crockery used.
The new owners have stored the memorabilia, and promise to soon return it to display.
THE POLITICALLY COMMITTED often decry the “centre” as wishy-washy, and as cosying up to the other side. But, being less ideological, the centre can be more radical.
Just one piece of evidence is the recent electoral success of “community independents”, whose pronounced liberalism produced policies more radical than either main party, left or right.
Liberalism? Corporate capitalism has rewritten our political language (chronicled in Meals Matter), and that necessitates being more open to rethinking liberalism.
The liberalism of its often-acknowledged founder, John Locke, tends to live on with so-called “small-l” or “left-” or “social-” liberals, who have multiplied over recent decades.
They eschew extremes, and yet have become such a threat that the right’s “culture warriors” have ridiculed them variously as “chardonnay socialists”, “latte liberals”, “smoked salmon socialists”, “gauche caviar”, “Toskana-Fraktion”, “Salonsozialist”, “yuppies”, “politically correct”, “chattering classes”, “bobos”, “educated classes”, “liberal elite”, “inner-city greenies”, “mad left”, and on and on.
These liberals are committed to everyday, kitchen-table reality, which is perceived through practical experiences and face-to-face conversations, and informed by learning, with a consequent embrace of equality, tolerance, and democracy. Combined with the rejection of high authority and ideology and other extremes, these liberals are definitively radical in the sense of getting back to material basics.
The recent rise of so-called “teal” independents has been explained as “professional women” rejecting “merely” climate inaction, political corruption, and mistreatment of women.
They are better identified as genuine liberals, unimpressed by the Coalition’s obfuscations on global warming and women. Disturbed by political corruption and capture, they are determinedly “community” candidates, and I have already described their “kitchen table conversations” – grassroots exercises in interpersonal respect and participatory democracy.
Community independents belong to a centre that’s definitely not a weak compromise, not at least in terms of climate action, political integrity and gender equality.
Their policies are reliant on facts and expertise, not ideology, suggesting radicalism that’s not extreme, but literally getting to the root of the matter (deriving from Latin radix radicis).
Likewise, the Greens would appear to have somewhat furled their wilderness and class war wings, and boosted their liberal radicalism. “People have lost faith in a political system that puts the interests of a few big corporations ahead of the rest of us,” according to Max Chandler-Mather. So, heran “the biggest grassroots campaign in Greens’ history”, and won the Brisbane seat of Griffith.
Unusually for an Australian campaign, they established themselves as community carers by, for example, building a community garden on Defence land being disposed of to a developer. Their volunteer teams used some of the garden’s produce when helping out during covid lockdowns and after floods.
Historically, the major Australian parties – Labor and Liberal – represented the interests of the working class and bosses, respectively, although both always contained liberal elements.
Labor outgrew the class war with the Whitlam revolution of 1972, although its liberal leadership then fell in with neoliberalism. Labor’s agenda remains hypnotised by “jobs, jobs, jobs”, which is sunny way to support corporate capitalism.
We might be lucky, and the new Labor government might get behind the common-wealth of health, social justice, infrastructure, environment, education, research and the arts. But that means standing up to capitalist rule by profit.
Perhaps Labor needs to become the Labourer/Worker/Housekeeper/Carer/Professional/ Artisan/Farmer/Small businessperson/LGBTIQA+/Immigrant/Aged/Disabled/Indigenous/Abused/Student/Etc Party. A new name is not easy to come up with… Perhaps “Commonwealth Party”?
The “Liberal” name is already taken by the occasionally liberal party of Robert Menzies, but whose main demand is “freedom” for money, and which now has to choose between becoming a “broad church” or a reality-inventing, fact-denying, cynical rump.
Likewise, the National Party has to decide between being a Country Party, concerned with increasingly perilous bread-and-butter rural issues, or Trumpian authoritarians.
Perhaps the party system is doomed, anyway, as a relic of hierarchies with “party discipline” under the Leader, announcing policy, allocating ministries, and making “captain’s picks”.
Rather than rely on backroom deals, sloganised messaging and last-minute hi-vis pageantry, Members and Senators might deliberate on the floor of parliament. Now that’s an idea.
The community independents have shown the way. And let’s not forget that a thriving democracy in a complex society requires a highly informed citizenry, and therefore strong public education, responsible media, and a committed and open public service.
With determination, it’s possible that a new centre might hold, and a radical centre at that.
To repeat, by “centre”, I do not speak of midway between two extremes, but caring, honest, informed and pragmatic “liberalism”.
This Federal election is powered by Kitchen Table Conversations, a technique developed in Melbourne in the late 1990s and which has mobilised the constant political chatter around tables, in cafés and over drinks
THE “CLIMATE” INDEPENDENTS expected to win an increased number of seats on 21 May, and conceivably the balance of power, are propelled by KTC.
This is the mobilising technique of “Kitchen Table Conversations”. Self-selected hosts invite perhaps nine others around to discuss the political issues they find important, and to plan possible actions. A coordinating group collate reports from the kitchens to help find and inform a local candidate.
A relatively spontaneous, and still quite loose, movement is now significant in Australian politics (and I would like to learn about similar techniques elsewhere in the world).
Various “Voices 4”, “climate”, “teal” or “community” independents have sprung up in Coalition electorates, with voters disgruntled principally about lack of action on the climate emergency, and on an independent commission on corruption.
Behind that, kitchen-table activists respond to perceptions that political parties have failed participatory democracy.
While progressive on some core issues, participants thus far tend to be relatively comfortable, financially, so that campaigns lack neither professional access, nor funds.
Compiling a definitive list of KTC-propelled candidates proves tricky, initially because I have not checked through all possibilities. Climate 200 has published a list of those it supports, but others remain sufficiently independent as to refuse all outside funding. Other estimates suggest more than two dozen “teal” candidates. My attempted list (below) contains four up for re-election, plus eleven newcomers in city seats held by Liberals, and six rural candidates mainly challenging Nationals.
The mechanism was adopted famously in the rural Victorian seat of Indi in 2013, when Cathy McGowan replaced Sophie Mirabella (and was succeeded by fellow independent Helen Haines). In like manner, in 2019, Zali Steggall spectacularly beat former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Warringah.
KTC had originated even earlier, among women worried by the aggressive neoliberalism of Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett as he closed schools, privatised government activities, and dismantled democracy.
Introducing a new booklet on the topic, Mary Crooks relates how, in 1996, she lunched with two friends (Sandra Hart and Angela Munro) at the Red Sage Café in Clifton Hill (Melbourne). “Despite the Kennett government being re-elected for a second term, we sensed a groundswell of community unease across Victoria,” Crooks recalls.
At a second meeting, Crooks took along an ad for the position of executive director of the Victoria Women’s Trust. She got the job, and developed the grassroots mechanism. The initial name of the “Red Sage Project” (after the café) was soon changed to Purple Sage to avoid political confusion (and setting off a palette of colours, often teal). Working with other respected community groups, the project engaged as many as 6000 women and men across the state “in a thoughtful deliberation of the key issues and the actions they could think about taking”.
The model very much belongs to the (traditionally womanly) domain of the kitchen table, and the treatment of women has remained prominent.
In the new booklet, Mary Crooks and Leah McPherson advise: “Hosts will need to provide some drinks and light snacks. This may be as simple as tea, coffee, and a packet of biscuits.” This contrasts with political candidates drinking a beer at the traditionally male pub (although photo-ops have lately included sipping tea in workplaces).
Crooks and McPherson accept that “Core Group” organisers might enjoy a proper meal for a post-mortem: “You may wish to organise a lunch or dinner together, share a drink at the pub or café, or enjoy a peaceful walk to decompress.”
These domestic get-togethers should be viewed as a deliberate alternative to the presently dominant conversations at board tables, business lunches and cocktail parties among politicians, billionaires and lobbyists, titillating each other with coal mines, highways, new airports, outsourcing opportunities, and cuts to public education. (For more on “state capture”, read this recent report.)
In pursuit of the “delicious revolution” in Meals Matter, I recognise meal conversations as the essential ground of democracy, because table chat covers not only regular meals past, future and present, but also the wider meals of schools, hospitals and aged care, and all that surrounds them – table talk naturally encompasses life’s essentials.
Courtly banquets were centres of political proposals and intrigue. Regicide has been plotted at aristocratic feasts, and so, too, revolutions have been planned in coffee-houses, and people’s victories celebrated in street banquets.
Some might defend digital media as furthering political discourse, but online chat drifts too far from social foundations in food sharing.
Politics emerges from the pleasure of the stomach, “especially through participatory democracy, in which everybody labors at everyday meals and converses, so that knowledge collects up and distributes”. The political economy is to be “rewritten by living well” (Symons, Meals Matter, 2020: 272-273).
Long live table politics!
The “community”, “climate”, “Voices 4” and “teal” independents seeking lower-house re-election are: Helen Haines in Victoria, Rebekha Sharkie in South Australia, Zali Steggall in NSW, and Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania.
As to newcomers in Liberal city seats, we’re speaking of at least: Nicolette Boele in Bradfield; Jo Dyer in Boothby; Kate Chaney in Curtin; Zoe Daniel in Goldstein; Claire Miles in Casey; Despi O’Connor in Flinders; Monique Ryan in Kooyong; Sophie Scamps in Mackellar; Allegra Spender in Wentworth; Georgia Steele in Hughes; and Kylea Tink in North Sydney.
Taking a swing at rural, mainly National seats, similar candidates include: Penny Ackery (Hume), Kate Hook (Calare), Suzie Holt (Groom), Hanabeth Luke (Page), Caz Heise (Cowper), and Rob Priestly (Nicholls).
The campaigns are unique to each electorate, but all wanting to “do politics differently”, and they generally feature climate action, and integrity in parliament, and they listen at kitchen table, fireside and pub get-togethers.
SCOTT MORRISON would never make a good waiter. He’s a total “fake”, as certified by recent Australian of the year Grace Tame.
She responded to the Prime Minister’s attempt to effuse sympathetically, when a mother inquired about cuts to NDIS payments for her child with autism.
Scott Morrison and his wife were unable to conceive for the better part of two decades. Nearly giving up on IVF, at the age of 39, Jenny gave birth to the first of the couple’s two daughters.
“She is our miracle child, the answer to a lifetime of prayer and 14 years of painful, invasive, heartbreaking treatment,” Scott wrote in 2009.
So, in a televised leaders’ debate the other night, he replied, concerning the future of the NDIS, “Jenny and I have been blessed, we’ve got two children” – and here he stumbled – “that don’t – that haven’t had to go through that.” He added: “And so for parents, with children who are disabled, I can only try and understand your aspirations for those children.”
Along with the famous photo of her sideways look at Morrison, Grace Tame tweeted that “autism blesses those of us who have it with the ability to spot fakes from a mile off”.
In a classic non-apology, the Prime Minister later said he was “deeply sorry” about the way his comments were “sought to be represented by our political opponents in the middle of an election,” and that he had intended to “respect the challenges they [?] face, not the opposite”.
He’s a fake leader. He pretends to the role – as a “bully” to some, and “friend” to all the “quiet Australians”, while leaving CEOs, lobbyists and cronies to run the place.
Serious waiters are not fakes. They actually care for people. They help them have a good time, and cope with the full range from angry ignorance to gratitude. They have seen it all – couples in love, couples parting, two-timing spouses, drunken politicians, business wheeler-dealers, tearful families, wedding parties, and new-borns in baskets. They have studied the strangest dietary preferences, and all manner of anxiety.
We have had personal experience. Strangers would try to say the “right thing” when confronting our beautiful son, whose disabilities were in plain evidence. They would say things like: “It’s wonderful what science comes up with”. Or they promised a “miracle” from God.
At restaurants, Lawrence would often cry, and possibly be calmed by listening to the Wiggles. But, truly, the better the restaurant, the happier he was.
Perhaps the noise levels were more comfortable. Perhaps he joined our enjoyment. Perhaps the waiters knew what do. Whatever it was, we confirmed the effect time and again.
There was much that Lawrence couldn’t do (he was blind, never said a word, and remained unable to walk or even grip an object). But, among some wondrous abilities, he could spot fakes.
At good places, waiters would organise clear soup or a mash, so we could feed him. (Ultimately, though, he was happier and healthier just being tube fed.)
And, invariably, good waiters did not carry on about science or God; they just said something sensible.
We can’t exactly remember the best-ever response, but we know it was by a waiter, and where he was – Café di Stasio in St Kilda. His intent was something like: “He will look after you, and you will look after him.”
I dedicated my latest book, Meals Matter, to “Marion, Dorothy, and Lawrence Symons Maddox (1999-2009), who together have taught me so much about meals, and thereby everything”.
AT THE TIME OF THE DISASTROUS BRISBANE FLOODS of January 1974, I was acting for some months as Whitlam minister Tom Uren’s media officer in Canberra.
Planners in his new Department of Urban and Regional Development explained to me that the flooding was exacerbated by laissez-faire development, whether chopping down trees upstream that hastened run-off, further speeding up rivers as flood “mitigation” or, incredibly, subdividing housing blocks on flood plains.
I suggested to Uren that he issue a media statement about the environmentally-destructive policies. Tom refused. He believed it wrong to score political points when people were losing their lives and property.
While humbled by Tom Uren’s decency, I’ve never been sure that he chose, at least in this case, the better way to practise his unchallenged love for humanity and nature.
Back then, the Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was famously pro-development, and never let up as a ferocious and ignorant detractor of the Whitlam Labor Government.
The pattern has continued until now, nearly five decades later, and with incontestably worsening floods.
One difference now is the featuring of climate change. Back then, the more generalised fear was that too many people were sold too much technology, destroying biodiversity and unleashing harmful chemicals in a race to disaster.
This broader concern about resource depletion, loss of species, pollution, etc, might yet prove more realistic. For example, with pandemic lockdowns, investigators found that the rate of heart attacks dropped, in synch with the clearer skies.
That health improvement was detected in the U.S., and much of the air there is cleaner than other parts of the world.
A WHO report recently recognised air pollution as the “the single biggest environmental threat to human health”. That’s illnesses and deaths from the same fossil fuels that produce the greenhouse effect.
THE AUSTRALIAN REPUBLICAN Movement has proposed a two-step model for appointing a “head of state” to replace Queen Elizabeth (or King Charles, Andrew, Harry or whomever). Of all people, republicans shouldn’t cling like this to the monarchical archetype.
The simple fact is that the head of state is (or should be) the people. We are in charge. Our appointment merely requires simple assertion: Australia belongs to the people! The #AusRepublic proposal betrays nostalgia for hierarchical rule by our betters – “something higher than the politicians”, when it is actually us.
According to the ARM model, the head of state would be little more than “ceremonial”, that is, perform as pseudo-royalty. In terms of power, this official could merely ask members of the House of Representatives who has their “confidence” to form a government. If that’s no-one, the HOS calls an election. Parliament could do that by itself.
So far, Australia has largely got away with a mediocre Constitution, no Bill of Rights, and little by way of a popular or even elite understanding of civics, liberal theory, political philosophy, jurisprudence, republicanism, or however you want to approach the requisite knowledge.
A republic is not achieved by merely replacing a powerful, foreign “figurehead’ with a powerless one. However, getting an Australian republic even half right would require massive research, contemplation, education, inspiration and debate.
The inadequate comprehension around these parts showed up, as Marion Maddox pointed out, when the 1998 Constitutional Convention opted for recognition in the Preamble of some supreme “generic God”. Come on, the supreme national authority is the people, with only the natural economy/ecosystem more formidable.
Since at least the 1930s, when William Cooper petitioned for enfranchisement, direct representation in parliament, and land rights, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander campaigners have sought serious constitutional recognition, with Treaty pressures escalating from the 1970s.
That might sound gradual. Discussion has scarcely even emerged on the constitutional status of corporations. As I show in Meals Matter: A radical economics through gastronomy, corporate apologists have got away with claiming the human right of “liberty” for businesses, while denigrating government by the people. No republic is wanted, when money runs things.
A republic would require renewed investigation of familiar topics – the role of the judiciary, States’ rights, taxation, border security, health, education, etc. – but often in unfamiliar ways. A proper democracy requires a real commitment to education, research and the arts, and not just training, tech and the leisure industries, for example.
But we’re a long way from a fundamental understanding when even political philosophers fail to recognise that John Locke argued his liberal case in basic economic terms, i.e., the human need to eat and to cooperate on that within nature. My next book will cover more of that.
PS: Governors’ residences could be put to good use as retreats for Australians of the Year, poets laureate, writers, playwrights, thinkers … generating more discussions like Grace Tame’s than the present Governor General’s. Yarralumla’s State Dining Room could experiment with banquets, given that’s what political economies are centred on (again, see Meals Matter).
IMAGINE IF Captain Phillip and his charges sailed from Botany Bay into Port Jackson today. Never fear, we would be secure. The Minister for Home Affairs would quickly round up the poorly-armed marines, would-be settlers, miserable convicts and people smugglers.
Before being whisked away, the intruders would have noted an astoundingly “uncultivated continent” of oil refineries, container terminals, waterfront mansions, soaring apartment blocks and vast urban stretches. Around the coast, they might possibly have sighted some patches of agribusiness, somewhere amid the rest being burnt.
That was the strange, industrial Australia I tried to evoke in One Continuous Picnic, my gastronomic history, published in 1982. Forty years ago, the place was feeding on cans, frozen packets and plastic. Fresh, local foods were widely assumed to be doomed. Indigenous culture was discarded. Little nuance was needed. A “land without peasants”. We only ateon rather than of the land.
My history found exceptions, including instances of the colonists resorting to, and sometimes enjoying, native foods. More importantly, I spent a couple of introductory pages celebrating Aboriginal eating, apologising that topic would require another book (and subsequent appearances include Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, 2014, and its response, Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu debate, 2021).
My sole example was Western Desert people, rounded up for the British atomic tests. Relying on a paper by anthropologist Dr Richard Gould, I sketched their “complicated skills and culture which had sustained them perhaps 40,000 years in apparently inhospitable conditions … They survived not so much through great physical endurance as through knowledge – their ‘cognitive map’.”
I mentioned them, I said, to “highlight our own profoundly novel way of feeding”, contrasting their “respect for the immediate environment and the invaders’ indifference”.
In the mid-1990s, I learned about semi-permanent settlement and complex horticulture, when Marion Maddox and I wrote a book on the Hindmarsh Island affair, involving the Ngarrindjeri of the Murray Mouth.
Incidentally, such was the well-financed legal ferocity of that anti-Indigenous campaign, including Slapp writs (Strategic lawsuits against public participation), through which obsessed parties from Tony Abbott to Chris Kenny assisted John Howard into power, that, understandably, no publisher would touch our revelations.
Speaking of an “uncultivated continent”, especially when covering Indigenous supervision, was a simplification; but my main contrast was between what I had discovered in Italy, where people still then enjoyed good cooking, fresh markets, and handy gardens, orchards and vineyards, and Australian in 1982.
Mine certainly wasn’t a terra nullius argument, since the book opened with “the patrols to round up remnants of the 10,000 or more Aborigines who once roamed the Western desert”. If anything, I guess, it was overly influenced by Wilderness Society-type thinking.
Much more has been written about Australian food since, both about the successes before the First Fleet, and the at least partially improved prospects, but my book had established eating as historically insightful (against the widespread acceptance there was nothing to write about), and I stick to the broad case.
My latest contribution, Meals Matter (2020), generalises the claim to assert that capitalism has systematically uncultivated the world, by having trivialised gastronomic talk, along with separating people from the soil, and imposing globalised machine production, and plastics.
I’m sure Meals Matter will also turn out to be overly-simplified in important respects. Yet I believe, again, that gastronomy can correct prevailing political and economic theory. Many of us keep trying.
Pugnacious ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged a “no” to same-sex marriage to help “stop political correctness in its tracks“. Instead, the government’s postal survey found 62% in favour and 38% opposed, and so demonstrated strong Australian support for political correctness.
Tony Abbott deplores the “long march of the left through our institutions”. As he also told a group opposed to equal marriage in New York recently: “It’s not just the loss of Christian faith”; the politically correct also promote the “slow erosion” of “Western civilisation”.
How wrong could he get! But let me just explain here that the end of traditional marriage is a good thing.
Firstly, even professed proponents no longer really want traditional marriage; they want little more than “what I like to think is traditional marriage”.
In a pastoral letter entitled Don’t Mess with Marriage, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference defend specifically “traditional marriage”. However, among many errors and omissions, the Bishops fail to mention that traditional marriage has included gold ring-wearing priests having “married” the church. The tradition for nuns “marrying” Jesus dates back at least as far as St Catherine of Siena, who saw herself as a bride of Christ, after a vision of the infant Jesus giving her a wedding ring.
Until late in the nineteenth century in Australia, traditional marriage meant depriving a wife of property rights (and she became property herself). In 1969, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission lifted the general female award minimum wage, but out of deference to men as the “traditional” breadwinners to only 85% of the male wage. The patriarchal marriage was so sacrosanct until recently that police remained reluctant to intervene in a “domestic”.
Historically, marriage has been highly diverse, including polygamy. But let us concentrate on the tradition of child brides. As recently as 1942, the state of Tasmania raised the minimum legal age of marriage from 12 to 16 for girls, and from 14 to 18 for boys, and Tasmania led the other states on that. The Australian Marriage Act of 1961 still allowed girls of 14 or 15 to marry in “unusual and exceptional circumstances”, although that provision was amended in 1991.
Such traditional marriages might now be illegal, but religious “conscientious objection” is so strong that a few such weddings are still performed surreptitiously in Australia.
Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin recently fulminated on Fox News against the silence of “feminist warriors” on these child brides. Blaming the politically correct’s hesitation to criticise other cultures, Credlin said that “in other faiths, we call it paedophilia, but not when it comes to Islam”. But how post-fact could Credlin get?
Worldwide, an estimated more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. That includes massive numbers of Christians. Especially in Africa, Christian-predominant nations still encourage child brides. UNICEF figures show 16% of Ethiopian women aged from 20 to 24 were married before 15, and 41% before 18. In the Central African Republic (where 80% of the population are Christian), 29% were married by the age of 15, and 68% by 18. (For comparison, 3% were married under 15 in Iran, and 5% in Iraq.)
In the US, the statutory minimum age varies between 13 and 17, depending on the state. However, 25 states have not set minimum ages, instead relying on the “traditional” minimum – taken to be 12 for girls and 14 for for boys.
Many American Christians defend child brides, arguing that the girls are of child-bearing age, and, anyhow, Mary was probably 14 when she carried Jesus. Such claims were reasserted recently to defend Judge Roy Moore, the Republican’s fundamentalist Senate candidate now accused of harassing and sexually assaulting girls as young as 14. He is said to be socially inept, and in his early 30s notoriously haunted a shopping mall in search of a young bride.
Kristof interviewed Sherry Johnson, who was raped by both a Pentecostal minister and a parishioner, and gave birth to a daughter when she was 10. A judge approved the marriage to end the rape investigation, telling her, “What we want is for you to get married.”
“It was a terrible life,” Johnson recalls. Married at 11, she missed school, and spent her days changing nappies, arguing with her husband and struggling to pay expenses. She ended up with nine children, and periodically abandoned by her husband.
Proponents of “traditional marriage” have to accept that conservative Republican states tend to have higher proportions of sexually-active school students, teenage mothers, users of prostitution, married “swingers”, and divorce.
As to strongly Democrat states, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone wrote in Red Families v. Blue Families (2010):
the most visible representatives of blue family values [that is, the politically correct] bristle at restrictions on sexuality, insistence on marriage or the stigmatization of single parents. Their secret, however, is that they encourage their children to simultaneously combine public tolerance with private discipline, and their children then overwhelmingly choose to raise their own children within two-parent families.
So the deeper problem seems to be the political choices that conservatives make, underinvesting in public education and social services (including contraception). This underinvestment leaves red [Republican] states poorer and less educated — and thus prone to a fraying of the social fabric.
Australian right-wingers, including Tony Abbott, claim to uphold “the traditional stance of the centre-right in the English speaking tradition”, which is “to be pro-market and to be socially conservative”.
To translate, Abbott-style conservatives are proudly both neo-liberal (cutting social services, and undermining public health and education), and wanting to prop up the ensuing disaster through the promulgation of fundamentalist religious values, plus divisive fear-mongering, and dog-whistle politics.
Such “no” leaders are sexually obsessed. For example, in Don’t Mess with Marriage, the Catholic Bishops warn against, among other consequences, “sex-education classes that teach the goodness of homosexual activity” (as opposed to teaching “the badness” or perhaps “evil” of homosexual activity?).
But basing “traditional marriage” on reproductive sex hardly works. Most immediately, other animal species successfully procreate without any tradition of marriage. In turn, embracing childless heterosexual marriages leads to shaky generalities about the “potential” for procreation. The Bishops want an institution, “open to the procreation of children”. The real concern therefore must be the social control/licensing of procreation.
For sexually-preoccupied conservatives, meals don’t matter (or don’t matter enough).
If we take marriage basically to be an institutional foundation for meal-sharing, it is then ideally a core commune of equals.
That explains, for example, the main problem with child marriage: juveniles are typically ill-equipped emotionally, educationally and financially to form an equal partnership, seeking “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” together.
Even the Bishops have a sneaking appreciation of marriage’s gastronomic basis, declaring that the union is “centred around … the wellbeing of the spouses”. Admittedly, the union also aims towards “the generation and wellbeing of children.” But, even in that requirement, “well-being” still counts.
In a little more detail, the Bishops accept:
Each marriage, from its beginning, is the ‘foundation-in-waiting’ of a new family and each marriage-based family is a basic ‘cell’ of society. Families also provide the social stability necessary for the future by modelling love and communion, welcoming and raising new life, taking care of the weak, sick and aged. The principal ‘public’ significance of the marriage-based family is precisely in being the nursery for raising healthy, well-rounded, virtuous citizens.
Once the Bishops have added something about marriage establishing a “nursery for, and household for sustaining, healthy, well-rounded, virtuous citizens”, even they might one day vote “yes”.
Note: I wrote previously about the “habitually divisive” Tony Abbott’s close relationship with the openly gay Christopher Pearson. As Abbott said: “Christopher was the aesthete; I was the athlete; he was a reformed Maoist and I was a lifelong conservative. Yet he had made it his mission to take me under his wing.”
The other night I commemorated the anniversary of my conscientious objection case. This was a court hearing to determine that I actually held beliefs that prevented me from being conscripted for the Vietnam War. It was a while ago, but as you might imagine, trying to establish beliefs under cross-examination jolted me enough not to forget (existential threat does not permit complexities).
The alternatives of win or gaol loomed so large that, even three decades later, an exhibition on so-called National Service at the Australian archives in Canberra just made me laugh. For there was the tiny wooden Tattersall’s gambling casket from which they drew our life-and-death birthday marbles. And there was a typewritten letter from Minister for the Army Malcolm Fraser sending off young people with corrections scrawled in pen.
The other night was the anniversary of the day we were summoned back to hear the magistrate’s verdict on the evidence provided by me and two witnesses. My father Christopher and uncle Lawrence confirmed talking to me over the years about the issues. Both had fought in WWII, my father still saying it had been the right thing to do, and his brother believing he should have refused.
Several supporters had warned against appearing without a lawyer, especially in front of a magistrate who by then had a string of knock-backs to his name. But I was only 20.
On that day, the magistrate entered, summarised my case, stopped, and, without mentioning anything asserted by the newbie barrister challenging me, found my case justified, and left the courtroom. I remain convinced he changed his mind half way through his prepared statement.
I was not going to gaol for refusing to train to kill. I was not, like so many peers, to
participate directly in death and destruction. Instead, my father took us out to dinner at the Fiddlers Three in Cremorne, where I was allowed to order anything I wanted – duck à l’orange and chocolate mousse.
On this anniversary, with my usual dinner companions at the Hannah Gadsby show (confronting in a different way), what was I to do? Celebrate alone at home with a bottle of red?
In the end, I decided to try the nearby Returned Services League club…
The club is decorated with medals, and a Tasmanian artist’s depiction of various WWI soldiers doing their thing (set number 962 of a run of 1000 prints). A glass case inside the entrance displays a book, whose pages would seem to be turned every two days to name soldiers to be remembered.
And the club has lots of poker machines, and bright lights and jangling sounds. Originally, at such clubs, ex-soldiers recalled dead comrades, but gambling facilities have subsidised expansion into mini-Trump casinos. Members, including presumably now even former enemies, can lose themselves in spinning images.
The club was surprisingly big and busy. As well as the Gallipoli lounge, poker machines reach into the “Kokoda Terrace outside smoking area with comfortable seating and table service”. The main dining is the “All You Can Eat restaurant – Buffet 88”. I went to the smaller, almost empty Poppies Cafe for the largest hamburger with the lot and chips that I’ve been served.
Many young men (mainly men) died for this, and others returned so damaged that their PTSD afflicts partners, and is passed on to the next generation. My grandfather, uncle and mother remain right.