The Network

The Network
This blog is no longer updated. Please click the picture to hop across to The Network

Sunday, July 31, 2005


The subject of this week's ABC's Background Briefing is JK Galbraith. It is an edited talk by Galbraith's official biographer, Richard Parker. If you can't listen to-day, don't miss it on Tuesday 2 August at 7pm. Galbraith is a hero of mine - one of the few economists who makes sense. Adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He has not been fashionable for three decades: his name can generate sniggers among the economic rational (irrational?) neo-classicists. But he makes sense. I will discuss my view of his contribution later in the week.


The Oz Feds have announced the provision of four family relationship centres in Victoria. From the description of these centres, it sounds like the Oz Feds are replicating a familiar model - could we say reinventing the wheel? - provided by many non-government organisations. The centres will offer free or low-cost help to broker disputes between separated parents and resolve marriage problems. They will also provide pre-marriage education and tips to improve relationships. The Oz Feds have some helpful websites on families and family law. Replicating old models of talk therapy and providing snazzy websites does not keep marriages together. While economic issues such as loss or lowering of income, work matters, and working conditions do not appear as headliners - like infidelity and abuse do - there is every reason to continue research on the contribution economics within marriage makes to marriage breakdown. Infidelity starts somewhere, abuse starts somewhere.

Dealing with the economic factors leading to marriage breakdown brings the public sphere into the private sphere. If we say the major factors in marriage breakdown are infidelity and abuse, then the causes of the breakdown of marriage can be left in the hands of individuals, leave it in the private sphere. When we talk about the economic impact on marriage, then we have to go beyond the private sphere into the public arena. There has to be examination of social conditions, educational factors, industrial relations policies, tax policies, access to jobs, education, geographical disability, health implications and more.

The Oz Feds want to do something about marriage breakdown - but more after the event than before. They also want to encourage women to have more children. Aussie women, perhaps, are like kangaroos. When there is insecurity of provision - drought in the case of kangaroos, job or income insecurity in the case of women - they postpone breeding.

In short, if the Oz Feds want to do more for families, if they want to be more constructive in the prevention of marriage breakdown, they have to do more and they have to look at the effects of policy on families. While I have had some cynical attitudes about the election of a Family First Senator in Victoria, I was impressed to hear Steve Fielding condemning aspects of the proposed changes to industrial relations laws. If you care about families, this is a great start. Insecurity of employment and many changes that have taken place in industrial awards and workplace agreements and AWAs in recent years militate against family life.

Putting families first is always a good policy - in this way we put the safety and well-being of children first; ensure sound economic units; and contribute to the well-being of the nation.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


The major polluters of Planet Earth have done their level best to ensure that pollution continues and their greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated for - at least - decades to come. This band of United Polluting Nations, comprising the US, Australia, India, China and South Korea have entered into a pact, Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate. The pact is noteworthy for two reasons. It includes two nations who, by themselves, account for one third of humanity. It has no enforceable targets. Australia and China are the world's largest coal exporters, while the United States is also a top exporter. Australia has been accused of being in the pockets of its major mining companies. The United Nations Environment Programme has welcomed the new Asia-Pacific partnership to develop new technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, but stressed that it was not a substitute for the Kyoto Protocol.

Christians need to lift their game in regard to the environment. From my place on the mountain top, I cannot see any significant Christian voice raised in protection of the planet and the proclamation of the sacred work of creation. Some, like Christians in Science, are trying though. BTW, read their lucid letter to Tony Blair on creation science and note the distinguished signatories.

Christians need to remember that our God gave us a trinity of responsibilities: to worship and have a right relationship with God; to love and respect one another as we, ourselves, wish to be loved and respected; and to tend God's creation and live in His image of creativity and productivity. Our lives have to be led within these parameters. To live outside these parameters is to bring about the opposites of these things. Failure to live in these parameters ensures that the essence of our humanity can be directed destructively.

Put simply, if we do not act to enhance creation and protect it, then we embark on its destruction and our own and we move out of a right relationship with God and humanity. The opposite of creativity is destruction. When we choose God or Money, we choose creativity or destruction.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

'Millionaire's Factory' defends $10m salaries - Business - Business -

So the Macquarie Bank considers it has no responsibility to the community but responds only to some amorphous international going rate for executives. That's OK. Clearly they have never heard about sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind nor do they show any concern about where they should be going and how difficult they are making it for themselves to get there. The calls from shareholders and community demanding public and transparent accountability from major corporations have not yet reached a sufficient level of decibels to bring about change. The likes of Mac Bank think they can ignore the consequences of the decision as if there never will be consequences. I would remind them that time is a great sifter - a sifter of wheat, a sifter of chaff. The sifting process usually brings results for the world to see. A classic case is the National Australia Bank. For a long time, it was the bank who was first to put its interest rates up and last to put them down. While others were responsive to calls for putting women on boards, the National Australia Bank resisted - even when women were on the boards of its overseas subsidiaries. Now the National Australia Bank has been visited by woe upon woe. I am not suggesting any superstitious linkage - merely that the mindset which encourages one set of circumstances may also lay the foundations for another. How easy then to sow dubious seeds which bear fruit that is unattractive, unappealing, useless and possibly destructive.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Now I have your attention let's have a look at Costello's latest words of wisdom.

They would be laughable were they not downright offensive. The 'don't get down and dirty' white collar lawyer turned politician/treasurer telling workers that they can work through their breaks. So workers can negotiate away their lunch breaks and tea breaks? Will this happen on the executive floors of major corporations? Can we expect to see no more execs out to lunch in good restaurants because they have negotiated away such fripperies to justify their salaries? Wish....

Costello may not be shooting to kill but he is shooting from the hip. I thought productivity was the watch word from the managerial classes. Taylor and those who followed his science discovered about a hundred years ago the relationship between breaks and increased and sustained productivity through efficiency. Imagine working in a commercial laundry or a foundry with no break. Costello talks about the protection of the negotiating process so that this would happen only if employees wanted it. Now is he talking collective bargaining or not? I thought the Feds wanted individual contracts. I thought they wished to eliminate the workers' right to collective bargaining and the countervailing power which it gives workers. I notice no corrolary legislation being introduced outlawing any collective actions on the part of employers.

The proposed industrial law changes are about swinging the balance of power away from the negotiating table to the unequal power of the employer. Of course, these days we never hear the term "industrial democracy". Anything that establishes a balance of power between employer and employees is perceived by some to diminish the rights of the employer. In economic terms labour is seen as a factor of production. Other factors of production include technology, land, utilities such as fuel. Note none of the other factors of production are human - they are not social, they do not vote, they cannot express how they feel.

Managers are fond of saying that they look after the interests of stakeholders. I have yet to see employees, labour, treated as stakeholders. Perhaps, it is about time that labour was not seen as a factor of production. Employees, staff, human resources or however you choose to designate those who act in a productive capacity for the firm should be seen as stakeholders as should the human communities in which the firm is domiciled or to which the firm is connected. While a broad definition of stakeholding may occur with some firms, it is not widespread. Narrow definitions of stakeholding are linked to narrow ranges of corporate accountability.

The triple bottom line has penetrated corporate consciousness since John Elkington's Cannibals with Forks but has no universal take up - yet. Surely, a complementary goal would be a more socially conscious definition of the firm's stakeholder as a mainstream concept.


Bob Carr announced at 11 am to-day that he was standing down as Premier of New South Wales and Member for Maroubra effective as at Wednesday 3 August. Bob will retire as the longest serving Premier of NSW. Bob Carr entered the NSW Legislative Assembly in 1983 as the Labor Member for Maroubra, a seat in the south-eastern suburbs of Sydney based on the beachside suburb of Maroubra. Bob Carr has served as Premier since 1995. Prior to that he held several cabinet posts from 1984-1988 in previous Labor Governments led by Neville Wran and Barrie Unsworth - namely the portforlios Planning and Environment, Consumer Affairs and Heritage. He then lead the ALP as Leader of the Opposition from 1988 until he became Premier in 1995. He is the NSW Australian Labor Party's second longest serving leader since 1891.

Bob was born in 1947 and grew up in Sydney's south-east at Matraville. From childhood, he has been a well known history buff with a penchant for American history, particulary the American Civil War. He graduated from the University of New South Wales (not far from home) with a B.A. (Hons). He came into the public eye as a journalist with the ABC Radio current affairs programs, AM and PM 1969-72. He did a stint as Education Officer for the Labour Council of NSW from 1972-78 and went on then to become Industrial Relations reporter for The Bulletin from 1978-83. His awards have included that of Fulbright Distinguished Fellow and the World Conservation Union International Parks Merit Award. He is the author of Thoughtlines: Reflections of a Public Man (2002) and What Australia Means to Me (2003). Also the subject of two biographies Bob Carr: The Reluctant Leader and Bob Carr: A Self-Made Man

His future is unclear - at least to the general public. He has done much - but left much undone. All in all, though, he is one of the most brilliant - if not the most brilliant - of Australia's Premiers. Let's hope that Bob and Helena have a peaceful and constructive retirement - and may they still continue to make strong contributions to Australian life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


A great post is here on the matter of identity given the sad events experienced by Jean Charles de Menezes, Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon.


The possibility has been raised that unfair dismissal laws could be scrapped for all workers. It is a marvel to me. Costello turns up and plays the Christian card at large gatherings of Pentecostal Christians such as Hillsong and Catch the Fire. It is clearly only skin deep. Integral to the Judaeo-Christian tradition is ethical practice in the workplace and in trade. Justice - economic justice, justice for workers, justice for those on the lower socio-economic rungs - is an integral part of our relationship with God and our worship. The Book of Amos though written in the eighth century BCE is so relevant. Amos paints a picture of people very involved in worship, to the extent where they did even more than was strictly required. Yet these same people could not wait for the sabbath and holy days to be over so that trade could begin and they could continue with their sharp and unjust business practices. Peter Costello needs to remember that the Christian life does not consist of turning up at Christian gatherings and meetings. It is about what you do. Jesus had something to say about this. Not only is Australia moving away from Christian norms and standards regarding workplace relations, see how far we are moving away from international standards and treaties to which this nation is a signatory by looking at the work of the International Labour Organization. And check out the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Shoot to kill: on the horns of a moral dilemma

London's police chief has said there is now a shoot-to-kill policy in place. The speedy five bullet shooting in full public view of Jean-Charles de Menezes has brought into stark reality enforcement options for those charged with the responsibility of public safety.

The War against Terror is challenging democratic societies - particularly those like the USA, Britain, and Australia who participate in the war in Iraq. The impact of terrorism is not only in events such as the Bali bombing. There is significant impact on our civil and political rights. Most of us will only have experienced this as queues and detailed security checks at airports. We have to remember that in Australia laws have already been introduced and/or altered in quite draconian ways and further tightening is proposed. Britain is currently going down the same road. Our laws derive from British common law which includes great documents of liberty such as the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. It is only in recent times that British police have carried guns - now we have moved to a dramatic shoot-to-kill policy carried out in public. This gives pause for thought. When this can happen in London the capital of a country renowned for liberty and a high level of personal freedom; for British common sense; for getting on with things - where to from here?

Saturday, July 23, 2005


At the moment, there is little time for tirades, sound offs, rants and having a whinge at the world. I am a volunteer for the Melbourne Writers Festival which this year happens from 19-29 August.

Since Thursday, three shifts a day of somewhere between ten and twenty people have been sticking labels on envelopes and putting programmes in envelopes and placing envelopes in boxes in a room a long way up the stairs of the Malthouse Theatre and then carrying them down at 4pm each afternoon to the people from Australia Post. By the time we are finished (which won't be until early next week) it is estimated that almost 10,000 programs will have been sent out. If you are not on the mailing list, just go to the Festival website and leave your name and address. I won't get to see lots of the things that I want to see but high on my list of priorites are Shane Maloney, Alexander McCall Smith, and the Koorie Cultural Centre presentation of By Us and About Us. As you can see, I love a little bit of crime! Hope to see you there. You might like to leave some comments on what you intend to see and afterwards comment on what you enjoyed.

Monday, July 18, 2005

7.30 Report - 14/07/2005: Clarke, Dawe and Costello

In case anyone missed John Clarke and Bryan Dawe on the 7.30 Report last week - it's a doozy. If you ever wondered about right wing incidents in the life of Jesus and forgot to ask this will provide some insights.

Vale - Sir Ronald Wilson!

Sir Ronald Wilson's contribution to the nation's life and the life of the Body of Christ is significant. The Bringing Them Home Report will always be his most significant memorial. For him, though, there was a sense of unfinished business because of the mean spirit in which this nation received it. Sir Ronald made a significant contribution to those who were treated as most insignificant by this nation. I don't think that Sir Ronald will have much difficulty passing the Pearly Gates Finals (Matthew 25:40). The Uniting Church and the Wellspring Community - as will many in this nation - mourn his passing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

STEVE VIZARD: Public apology but public forgiveness?

Steve Vizard has apologized publicly to "my friends, to my colleagues, to my family and to the public at large". Here is an individual in public life. He has apologized in a public way to friends, colleagues and family who can personally show forgiveness to him should they choose. With them, he will also have opportunity, one presumes, to make a more intimate apology. How can or how will the 'public at large' demonstrate if and how they forgive Steve Vizard. Already there are queries about the penalty he will receive compared with that received by Rene Rivkin. Vizard's crime is seen to be a more serious breach of law and trust because he used information gained as a Director of a company. Rivkin did not. He received informaton in the course of someone coming to look at his house for sale. Quite a difference. Vizard was a person who had made himself very popular and ingratiated himself with people. Rivkin was a problematic personality with a troubling childhood and troubling history ending tragically in suicide. Could some people have taken the opportunity to settle scores with Rivkin while others took pains to see Vizard avoided prison? These questions may or not become clear - but time will provide answers as natural justice works it relentless way forward.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Managing Administrative Reform in DIMIA - 14 July 2005

I have long held the view that the Howard Government is toxic to human beings and other living things. The Palmer Report was released yesterday and it confirms this view for me. The report is noteworthy for its rich and damning language. No wonder Howard looked ill at ease at the press conference with Vanstone. All the while, though, there is little or no mention by the press or anyone else of Philip Ruddock's seminal role in all of this. It appears he will escape uncriticised. The Shergold speech also confirms the shifting of the deckchairs on the Titanic and it is doubtful whether Metcalfe is the person to bring to fruition what is demanded by the recommendations of the Palmer report. The speech also raises questions about the senior positions to which the former senior executive of DIMIA are being relocated. Is this the transmigration of incompetence? When one looks at what Palmer found lacking in DIMIA and when one considers the salaries received by senior executives, the sheer laziness and incompetence is a marvel. Some of the recommendations are of the kind that one would have thought basic to any competent practice. But then the please your master attitude of the department was set above the welfare of human beings - and when toughness, incompetence, and counter-productive budgetary management delivered the result their masters wanted...well, then, why bother.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Unemployed should pay for own dole - CIS - Breaking News - National - Breaking News

The ultra-conservative right never disappoint. Just when you think that their agenda is nearing its end, wait for it - there's more to come. More inequality, more selfishness, more lack of care for the less fortunate, more survival of the economic fittest. Hands up those who are willing to take a punt on those who are unable to work or unable to find work being able to meet their own basic needs? Stand up and be counted if you support such a policy. I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. Actually, I'm more interested in the CEOs of major corporations being able to fund their own futures instead of the obscenities we see - particularly this year at the Macquarie Bank.

The Melbourne Institute Survey of Households

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment is based on the survey of households. It is telling us a lot at the moment about the collapse of consumer confidence because of John Howard's proposed changes to industrial relations legislation. I have blogged the link for the reader's information and convenience

The IR facts behind the PM's 'truth' - Kenneth Davidson - Opinion

John Howard has always had his ideological list. Some things have taken longer to get up than others. He hasn't got to the abolition of compulsory voting yet - although there have been some minor flurries particularly by his sidekick, Nick Minchin. There have been industrial relations changes before but they have been limited by comparison with what is now planned. What is now planned is happening because he has the power now - power given to him by the majority of Australians to control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Minority voices with legitimate arguments will be howled down - if not by Liberal Party votes then by taxpayer funded government advertising. There'll be plenty of spin on this wicket and the truth will be flipped as much as a ball from Shane Warne! How pleased will be Howard's masters - the Lords and Ladies of Mammon.

Including managers' high pay makes for misleading truth - Tim Colebatch

It is well said that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics but this time the statistics are detailed and enable themselves to be separated from the lies and damned lies that are undergirding an industrial relations campaign that is nothing full of nothing but hubris. Using executive salaries to boost a case which will cut wages in real terms and make employment even more insecure is the height of cynicism. Already consumer sentiment is falling as exposed in the Westpac survey. Check with retailers. Working people know it is the time to be wary.

PM's spin inflates value of wage deals - National -

Well, there it is. Lies have to be told to promote individual contracts. "Honest John" raises his head again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


What are the consequences of individual contracts in the workplace?

I'll bet pounds to peanuts that Bill Farmer, ex-DIMIA, was on an individual contract which is a thou shalt please thy master or else document. Someone was on the radio over the weekend saying that what happened in Immigration would not have happened under the old time mandarins, so&so and so&so. He didn't mention one vital factor - these people would not have been on contract with defined time limits. Tenure in a position either in the bureaucracy or universities has a lot of negative baggage but there is also positive stuff - and one thing is being able to give fearless advice if you are a public servant.

At the moment, we see the great sideshow of John Howard and Peter Costello selling themselves as The Workers' Friends. The fact is that what they are trying to do is please employers. Now the scenario is that lower costs will benefit employers and employers will feel more able to offer more jobs. My experience as a union organizer across a range of industries showed me the level of ignorance of employers and the can't be bothered to take on board industrial law attitude of employers. To sum up: a lot of employers in small business are ignorant and a lot of employers in both small and big business can't be bothered to do the right thing by their employees. Why should ignorance or disdain be supported by government policy.

If employers take industrial law precautions and act ethically, they are unlikely to come off worst in relation to unfair dismissal claims. But, if they want the quick fix to satisfy their hubris, then they are likely to get what they richly deserve. They can be as much part of the problem as the employee they disdain.

No, changes to industrial law are to benefit employers. Contracts are designed to decrease the cost of labour over the long term.

There are two ways to reduce wages

1. Increase the power of the market. This means increase the power of employers and/or create an oversupply of labour so that people will have to take anything at any price just to get their foot in the door.
2. Decrease taxation levels so that what the labour market through the price of labour does not provide, the government can alleviate through being seen to be Santa Clause through tax cuts.

What all this means is that there are two levelling factors going on here:
1. The driving down of the price/cost of labour to internationally competitive levels
2. The driving down of taxation on income to internationally competitive levels.

Trouble is low-income people can't win either way - they have no power to bargain when things are individualised and they are treated shabbily in relation to taxation levels compared to the wealthy and the upper middle.

Of course, tax cuts of the proportion that are currently delivered are only possible because the GST has delivered to government riches beyond its wildest dreams. So through GST there is a flat rate of taxation (except for some luxury good items) for rich and poor.

Thought Costello's criticism of the new Anglican Primate, Archbishop Aspinall, where he denounced him for not being an expert on IR was a bit rich. If Labor was on the ball, it could have chipped back that Costello was possibly an expert on IR but only at employer level. He knew nothing of representing the best interests of working people only screwing them and their organisations on behalf of employers.

So the international agenda rolls on. The church, to the best of my knowledge, has never set out to develop a theology of labour relations. In fact, I have to tell you that a couple of major denominations (including my own) were among the worst offenders. There couldn't be a better time for Christians to embark on such a task. An internationalised economy where poor labour practices are driving down pay and conditions for those who labour for livelihood is, in many countries, doing nothing more than building the population of the slavery of the working poor.

Monday, July 11, 2005

PUBLIC FORGIVENESS: possible impacts

Following my post on Public Forgiveness, I have gone on to wonder what effect the process might have on the implementation of new policies and regulations. As Andrew Metcalfe takes over as the new Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), the question arises whether he will be seen to be part of the problem or whether he will become part of the solution. Will the changing of the guard at DIMIA amount only to a change of deckchairs on the Titanic.

If there is a dialogue of public forgiveness, surely assurances would be given and the the publicity surrounding the event would ensure that real change occurred. The reconciliation following the public forgiveness dialogue could include a more inclusive role for significant stakeholders such as refugee and asylum seeker organisations.


Left: Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This topic has been stirring in mind over many years - ever since Bill Clinton made a public apology for his actions with Monica Lewinsky. Much hatred surrounded Bill Clinton and there was no doubt the Republican Party was out to get him in a big, big way and were not going to let go. But, it occurred to me, if a public figure apologises sincerely on an issue that has affected the public life of a nation then how can that figure be told he or she is forgiven. How can forgiveness be demonstrated, how can dialogue be entered into.

This is the case with Bill Farmer on his resignation from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMIA). There are a lot of us in this nation who have been highly critical of Bill Farmer and his department. His department has been heavy handed, inhumane and unjust. This has been demonstrated beyond argument. Bill Farmer as a bureaucrat, not able to take media grabs as a Minister does, took the one opportunity he had - an appearance before a Parliamentary Committee - to apologise. He is now leaving his position and his deputy takes the leadership. We don't know yet how good he will be at his job and how well he will bring change to a department sorely in need of it. Then there is the Department of Immigration itself. Bill Farmer is one person. Clearly, there were many, many others only too willing to take a hardline, inhumane stance in implementing the policies and rules and regulations of DIMIA. Can a whole Department say sorry? Can a whole Department be forgiven? If so, what is the process? Corporate collectives such as businesses, bureaucracies, clubs and so on can take on identities and characteristics of their own just as individuals do. Because of this, my view is that responsibilities and actions demanded of the individual can, for the most part, be expected of them. So for these corporate collectives, there should be opportunities for them to apologise, take part in dialogue, and be part of a forgiveness process with those who are stakeholders.

South Africa has led the way with defining new approaches and processes with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The premise is simple - vengeful bloodletting would hinder national progress into a new era. This so often happens in national life as well. Roadblocks to a new country, a new vision.

This is the case in Australia with the ups and downs of reconciliation with the First Peoples of this land and the Prime Minister's reluctance to say sorry. What is the measure of a nation who is willing to excoriate figures and collectives in public life but has no room for a process of dialogue, forgiveness, and reconciliation?

I have no process to suggest. I just want those who read this to consider and if there is sufficient agreement perhaps the nation can begin to discuss how we bring to our public life a discourse of apology, dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation.

FORGIVENESS: How hard it is....

On my mind since the London Bombing has been the matter of forgiveness.
Each of us needs to know the grace and journey of forgiveness in our lives.
But forgiveness is not an easy thing - especially when there is much to forgive.
The more there is to forgive, the more challenging,
the more time it takes for grace to take its foothold in our hearts.


And forgive us…
As we also have forgiven
Matthew 6:12

Measure for measure
The measure we give
Is the measure we get
How does the balance tip
What is the measure I am forgiven
What is the measure I give

Time for time
How much? How often?
The going out, the keeping in?
How does the balance tip?
Is seventy times seven more than enough
What more can be asked of us

Mercy for mercy
We live for that imparted to us
But what do we give another?
How does the balance tip?
The hope of mercy given to us
Is the birthright of others too

Weight for weight
If forgiveness is small
So is our love.
This does the balance show.
For love to grow large,
Forgiveness must grow.
So does the balance show.

© Brigid O’Carroll Walsh 1996

Sunday, July 10, 2005


The Prime Minister, John Howard to-day announced the resignation of Bill Farmer AO from his position of Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. See New Senior Appointments - 10 July 2005. Ordinarily, this would be a matter for much rejoicing in those seeking reform within the Dept of Immigration. However, his departure has been suspected as being imminent for two reasons:
  1. He apologised to a Parliamentary Committee
  2. He received an AO at the recent Queen's Birthday awards.

Awards are not unusual prior to the resignation of a senior public servant or their transfer to a significant overseas posting. In this case, Bill Farmer will become Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia. This posting need not be seen as unusual since his service prior to DIMIA was with the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT). If there is anything punitive in these changes to Bill Farmer's career because of the massive failures within the operations and organization of his department, it is not evident.

As a Christian and a practising Anglican, I have been particularly disappointed in the handling of immigration matters because Bill Farmer is the spouse of an Anglican priest in the Anglican Diocese of Canberra-Goulburn and because the excesses under his leadership also occurred under the ministry of that other well-known Anglican, Philip Ruddock, now the Commonwealth Attorney-General.

All of us can be forgiven and all of us deserve the right to a clean slate and a fresh start. I hope that Bill Farmer has been able to learn from what has occurred within the Department of Immigration and understands how the Department he led has been the bureaucratic hand of gross injustice. I also hope that his new position gives him more time for biblical study - in particular, I hope he has a glance at the references in the Old Testament on how the Lord God of Israel instructs us to care for the sojourner - because you were once sojourners. The New Testament could provide material for reflection - particularly the matter of Jesus, with his parents Mary and Joseph, fleeing persecution to become asylum seekers in Egypt. There is no mention of how the Egyptians treated this little family of refugees but clearly they were not locked in interminable detention and were, at an appropriate time of their choosing, able to return. And thereby hangs a story! Now, Bill, narrative theology is a worthwhile pursuit. Listen to the stories.

THE INVISIBLE IMAGE: the ageing single woman in the church

I wrote this article many years ago. Sorry if it is long for a blog but it may be of use to someone particularly since it has discussion questions at the end so it can be used in a discussion group. I must point out that I no longer feel invisible in my faith community - perhaps because it is an ageing community with a number of single females and our priest is a woman!


There have been many sad moments in my life as a woman: times when I am sad on my own behalf and times when I am sad on behalf of others. Such a moment happened in Beijing in September, 1995, when the UN Women’s Conference and Women’s Forum were held there.

For the first time, the Vatican delegation to the official Conference had female representation. Surrounding me on my floor of the Hua Du Hotel, were women – including quite a variety of nuns – who were members of Women and the Australian Church.

Some were attending a briefing held by the Vatican delegation. I tagged along. Women were packed into the large room in which the briefing was held until there was standing room only. A monsignor chaired the session. Questions came from the floor. A woman of middle years asked a question about single women. The monsignor’s response dealt with women in religious life, nuns. Clearly, for him, ‘single women’ equals ‘nuns’.

I am single. Widowed. How often I remember the woman who organised a highly successful Junior Church in our Baptist congregation in the Australian outback. I can remember how she used to discuss with a few of us how she felt she was treated (read ignored) in the church. I was sympathetic but I was in a family situation – husband, three children. How could I know what life and relationships in our congregation were like for a single school teacher of middle years? What was theoretical to me then is my own experience now.

Is your church a family church, a family friendly church? This is wonderful. To have ministry directed specifically to families is a wonderful goal and strategy. But be careful. Almost certainly there are single people among you. It is so easy to overlook them, or look past them. They may have children. They may never have married and never had children. They may be young and lonely or ageing and lonely and chances are the word forgotten could be fitted in there somewhere. Particularly if the single is female. Definitely, if the female is single, female, and ageing.

The single ageing female is more likely than not to have experienced gendered ageism – even in the family friendly church. She is, too frequently, invisible. The image of God, but invisible.

Why is this? Do we accord no status to women without a man? Are some women too afraid to allow a single woman into situations where they will become friendly with their husbands too? I have been fortunate in this respect to the extent where I get cuddles from my Christian male friends (but not from non-Christian males). They understand my need for touch and their wives understand too.
You may be thinking I know women in this category but they don’t make these complaints. This may be so – there were/are docile slaves but this does not endorse slavery. In fact, the most effective form of repression is the one where victims limit their own behaviour and the dominant forces achieve their desired result with no effort.

Consider the role of women in your church. How likely is it in your church for a woman to head a planning and strategy committee? How likely is it that a woman is the treasurer in your church? How likely is it that she will be influential in the Sunday School committee, the crèche, and seeing that church dinners go smoothly? This even before we mention controversial questions like ordination and eldership and authority over men.

I emphasise these roles because the male, even though single, has all these things open to him. In most cases, women whether married or single, would not have the first two roles open to them.

You might say that things are not like that in your church, that your senior pastors are a husband and wife team. Have you considered the role of the wife were her husband to predecease her? Would the female spouse continue to run the church or would the elders be putting out feelers for another husband and wife team? Would the situation be different if the male spouse survived and the female spouse died (bear in mind that statistically men remarry quickly – women don’t)? Importantly, how would the women in the church feel about all of this?

In Genesis 1:27 we read
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Feminists talk about equality. Christians who don’t like the feminist view point talk about complementarity. Men have talked about the weaker sex. Women have talked about male dominance. I suggest we look at this most significant passage.

Do you see any suggestions of equality there? Do you see reference to two equal halves of a whole? Do you see any fraction whatsoever – like the male part of the image is larger than the female image? Do you see any reference to complementarity? Any reference to this piece of the jigsaw fitting in that part of the jigsaw? Some thing lacking in one part of humanity that is made up for in the other?

We are God’s image. Is God fragmented or androgynous?

The answer is none of the above.

We are only beginning to learn what being imaged in God is about – but we have lots of insights into what it is not.

It is no more about entrenching maleness in church authority, leadership, ministry and ordination than it is about ensuring that such roles and classification display Greek or Jewish qualities.

It is about wholeness – wholeness of the individual and wholeness of the corporate, the Body of Christ.

As we understand more about our biology and our psychology we learn that this is so. Females have a component of male hormones. Males have a component of female hormones. Males manifest anima, females manifest animus. These components are part of our wholeness, our humanity, our God within us.

So it is with time. God is not time conscious. He lives beyond our concept of time. Why then do we not have a transcendent attitude to time as it manifests itself in the images of God, men and women? Why do we give preference on the basis of age? In some societies, the young are sublimated to respect for elders. In western societies, we increasingly see the old set aside to focus on the young. We are diminished in our humanity when we fail to touch or see the Spirit in the other.

Galatians 3:28 says
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

How often have I heard this passage of scripture talked down. It does not depict the present situation, some say. This is when Jesus comes back or when we go to Heaven. It is as if Paul said, Not now but at some future time there will be no longer Jew or Greek, there will be no longer slave or free, there will no longer be male and female, for all of you will be one in Christ Jesus. Do you see all that written in this passage? I don’t.

It has only one time specific and that is no longer and that no longer was written almost two millennia ago. Denial of this passage invites denial of the entirety of Paul’s teaching about the Body of Christ. What do you think was part of the attraction of early Christianity? The patriarchy? Is this what so many pagan and Jewish women were attracted to when they heard Paul preach the gospel?

Finally, when we do make distinctions, when we do speak of complementarity, or of some being more equal than others, when we speak of anything other than individual or corporate wholeness how can we ever be one in Christ Jesus? How can we ever know that unity that Jesus described in John 17:20-23, the unity which preceded Creation, redeemed us through Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, and transforms us and fits us to return to Him whose image we are?

Every differentiation we make sets back God’s plan in and for us. Every piece of partisanship unravels that Body which is knit together and lives and moves and has its being in Him.

As ever it has been, the choice is for wholeness and relationship against duality and fragmentation. I know where I stand – and I can do no other.

Set out below are ten topics for discussion.
May they be part of your way to image God in His world.

Rosemary Radford Ruether says: God did not just speak once upon a time to a privileged group of males in one part of the world, making us ever after dependent on the codification of their experience.
If Jesus had chosen six women and six men as apostles, what difference do you think this would have made to the gospel message? What impact would this have had on the church and the scriptures?

Discuss Jeremiah’s description of the Lord creating a new thing on the earth: a woman encompassing a man. (Jeremiah 31:22)

Are women in the Church in the 21st Century, whatever their age or marital status, able to go beyond the roles of women in the New Testament? Are there limitations on women to-day? If so, what are they?

How can women go beyond cultural and religious contexts towards wholeness?

How does the Church acknowledge sexuality in the single and the ageing?

How does the Church acknowledge articulate, skilled and competent women in its midst?

How can women in the Church co-operate in reflection on their experience of being imaged in God and empowered and encouraged in Christ Jesus and have this acknowledged within their local faith communities?

How can women become exemplars to ensure that within family, church, community and nation there are no longer racial, economic, gender or social boundaries?

How can women image the Divine within family, church, community, and nation?

Discuss Robert Palmer’s phrase First the God, then the song, and then the story.

Women in the Emerging Church

An interesting conversation is going on over at including my comments. Please check it out!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Savage end to a dream - War on Terror - Features - In Depth -

Ian McEwan, one of our greatest modern writers, gives food for thought in the concluding words of his article

And we will face again that deal we must constantly make and remake with the state -
how much power must we grant Leviathan,
how much freedom will we be asked to trade for our security?
In his novel, Atonement, McEwan demonstrates how one small decision, one tiny event can reach down through the years with effects one could never imagine until we wish we could wind back the clock, revisit that crucial moment.
The War on Terror must be such a moment for humanity - so that we consider the crucial moments in our present time and our past history which have brought us to the now of events that impact our lives. The War on Terror has not decreased terrorist incidents but has increased them. In Australia, questions are raised about the security powers that the Australian Government has taken to itself.
McEwan's reference to Leviathan is a reference to the book of that name by Thomas Hobbes. Though Hobbes wrote in the 17th century his ideas are still relevant to political life to-day. Hobbes is perhaps most famous for his political philosophy which says that humanity in a state of nature, that is a state without civil government, is in a war of all against all in which life is hardly worth living. The way out of this desperate state is to make a social contract and establish the state to keep peace and order. Because of the Hobbesian view of how nasty life is without the state, the law of the jungle, Hobbes subscribes to a very authoritarian version of the social contract.
McEwan reminds us of the question for ourselves in all of this - what is at stake in the trade off between power and security, our civil rights and freedom and our insecurities.
See more about Ian McEwan at

Friday, July 08, 2005


London Bombing - Bus Posted by Picasa
Above: The No 30 Hackney to Tavistock Bus.

My sympathies are with the relatives of all those who have died in this callous attack on people going about their daily lives. To all those who have been injured and who are coming to terms with their physical injuries as well as the trauma of the attack I pray that God be with you and yours each step of the way to recovery and rebuilding your lives.

To those of us who are on the outside looking in on this dreadful destructive act - a work of a Destructive Satan not a Creative God - I pray that it is a time that people of all faiths will find creative ways to work together for the good of those recovering from the impact of this bombing and, in the days ahead, for the good of all humanity.

What joy there was last weekend as we had our best emotions stirred and saw a multiplicty of creative talent co-operating on a positive journey. This week we have awaited the deliberations of the G8 leaders to measure their sincerity and determination to deal with poverty. To-day's events in London make it clear that not everyone has given this action their priority. The perpetrators of the bombing live in a self-centred fantasy land. They have not brought positive and creative change to those who they claim to consider. Jihad and terrorism is not the reflection of our Creator - these people are not living a life reflective of a creative God.

Tony Blair is the leader of the G8 conference and now he has to involve himself wholeheartedly in a grave national conference. We wait to see what will happen with the G8 conference and its deliberations.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Politicians make a joyful noise, too

Bob Carr endorses Hillsong's prosperity gospel

I'm sure this endorsement reported in to-day's Sydney Morning Herald will comfort the Inner and Upper North Shore of Sydney who might now feel inclined to get out their Boyz Toyz and get up to worship in the Hills. Those of the Eastern Suburbs who have drawn similar comfort will down their cafe lattes and get off to Hillsong City (formerly Christian Life Centre) at Waterloo right next door to Redfern where the poor still live in Housing Commission towers but gentrification is well on the march under Harry Triguboff and Meriton.

Now if money makes a world of difference and God will provide us with that money to resource all sorts of Christian wishlists, I am a bit amazed about how Mary and Joseph could only rustle up a manger in a stable. And since Brian Houston's property development can sit side by side with his style of Christian leadership [let's forget about or gloss over that choice Jesus spoke of between God and mammon (oldspeke for money and wealth)] why on earth did Jesus say He had nowhere to lay His head? Was he not blessed by His father and thus provided with decent housing and a place to set up a bible college for the Twelve Apostles and sundry other disciples?

Why was Paul not provided with sufficient resources to undergird his ministry so that he did not have to face the ups and downs of a personal economy which saw him abased one minute and abounding the next? And fancy an Apostle having to make tents (notice the abundance of Apostles around the Pentecostal movement these days)? I'm not sure that the Hillsong brothers and sisters are into tent making in a big way. Clearly, leadership is the thing.

PS: Little known fact - between the retirement of Frank Houston from Christian Life Centre and the official takeover by his son Brian Houston, a Hillsong video was sent to all the CLC cell groups to show to their members. It was titled "How to be a good follower"!

Politicians flock to Hillsong conference

It is good to see politicians paying attention to a Christian message [as reported to-day in The Age] and I am sure I would rather have Bob Carr saying those words of approval than excoriating Christians in the press. But then I run into problems. I think of Jesus walking the earth and how he was treated by religious and political leaders and establishment. Above even that are His words of woe. He spoke them in the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples (Luke 6:26)
Woe to you
when all men speak well of you
for so their fathers did to the false prophets
It is always well to remember that one of the greatest attributes of the successful politician is his or her ability to count. Politics is always a numbers game. Currently politicians believe that Hillsong has the numbers - in Victoria the numbers actually equal a quota+1 for the Senate. I hesitate to say that politicians would turn up for the opening of an envelope by the devil if the numbers were there - they may not but I know they would be sorely tempted. And, if the Assemblies of God are tempted to think they are flavour of the month, they should bear in mind that the Catholics still have the numbers and Cardinal Pell and his sidekicks are equal or better to their organisational skills and certainly carry a lot more influence in the halls of power.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Alan Hirsch (left) and Michael Frost (right)
I have just spent the weekend at The Forge Summit held from Friday night 1 July to Sunday night 3 July at Wesley College, High Street Road, Glen Waverley, Melbourne. The Summit was orginally set to be held at World Vision but the numbers kept rolling in and a change of venue was required. Approximately 500 people turned up. All age groups were represented and there was great diversity in the denominational representation too. There were people there from across the continent. Only the Northern Territory was unrepresented. Now I reckon that is a fair bit of yeast to go into the loaf. Things should be quietly(?) proving and rising in the year ahead.

The Summit was opened by Tim Costello who had just spent the day promoting the Make Poverty History Campaign and was able to report that a banner with those words was flying high from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The theme of The Summit was Dangerous Stories. Tim told of the response of Ivan Illich when he was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society. Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. Neither, Illich said. If you want change tell an alternative story.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch were key speakers at The Summit. John Smith gave a strong and stirring talk on Sunday morning wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt! He proves that great flames and fires never die! I won't try to summarise what they said - buy the book. Contact The Forge and get the mp3s of the Conference. See the link to The Forge on my side bar. Workshops were extensive - too sadly one could not get to everything. I focussed on UNOH (Urban Neighbours of Hope) because of long acquaintance with Lindy Croucher, and Steve Barrington of Foothills Neighbourhood Communities which is in my neighbourhood.

To summarise God is Love = God is Mission = Mission is Love. Go to it church! The tools are there! There are open hearts and minds! Join the quest.