I’m very, very cranky as I write this.
It’s great to live in a secular liberal socialist democracy. One gets to vote, the media is freely available, health care is provided by the state and if one wishes one can supplement it with health insurance by not-for-profit insurers that have policies that are simple to understand. Yes life is grand: almost a state of utopia.
Did I say utopia? I meant semi-dysfunctional like all democracies.
Yes, I do enjoy all the benefits of a secular liberal socialist democracy, but there is so much crap to put up with. For example, the secular bit: I have no problems with people wanting to believe in supernatural beings or forces that has not one iota of evidence to back it up. But I do get peeved when politicians have a sudden bout of conscience or morality and convert to a religion. Why? Because suddenly they want to impose their “truth” and values as a universal truth on everyone else. For example, my Prime Minister is a “moral Christian” and has instructed his Attorney General to investigate whether the Australian Capital Territories laws on recognition of marriage of same-sex couples conflicts with his idea of marriage, i.e., no gays allowed. It’s not that he hates queers, good gracious no, the Honourable Kevin Rudd MP doesn’t like the idea of queers being legally married. Which is amusing because he has no objection to having same sex couples declared as de facto married couples for the purpose of taxation and social security, knowing full well that when it comes to these decisions gay couples are proportionally taxed at a higher rate when working, and receive proportionally less benefits when not.
It’s a win-win situation for governments. Rudd and the Australian Labor Party might as well say “Well, fuck you. You chose your life, whereas straight couple didn’t have a choice and they have children to raise so they need the middle class welfare.” This ignores the fact gay couples can have children if they wish. In Western Australia, men who are recognised as a gay couple are equally entitled to adopt children as straight couples, for example. And of course there are many gay parents who bring their children from a former heterosexual marriage into their gay union.
It gets worse: religions are tax exempt for no other reason than tradition. The Church of Scientology was mentioned in the Senate as being a non-religion that should be investigated, or lose it’s tax free status. Fine. The Senate can do that. But why stop at The Church of Scientology? Why should any religion be tax exempt based purely on an outmoded ideology? Fine, if a religion provides a service to the community and the net gain is $0.00, no tax should be paid, just like any other charity or not-for-profit organisation. However charities and not-for-profits have to prove they didn’t make a profit to the Australian Tax Office, whereas religions don’t. That doesn’t seem fair. It costs money to comply with ATO rulings on even the simplest things with charities and not-for-profits, so that when Australians donate tens of millions of dollars to special appeals like the Boxing Day Tsunami Appeal of 2004, they don’t understand that for every dollar they give, approximately 30 cents disappears into the black hole of wages and tax compliance, even though no tax is paid, and the donors can claim their donations above $2 against their income. Religions don’t have this “black hole” problem and as a result any money they claim as costs is in fact profit going towards building their religion. Is that really fair?
Even if, as the Catholic Church claims, they provide services to the community that governments can’t or won’t, there still is a problem. Take for example age care. Your mum’s getting a bit dotty and it’s time for a home. So you pay a church a considerable sum of money so she can live in a villa, ahem, flat and receive the basics. The problem we don’t see is that you sell your mum’s house to buy a lease on that tiny “villa”. When she dies, the age care home resells the lease. They may argue that this will provide care for their patients. What they are less willing to admit is that they receive government funding for each patient to provide that care. So what happens to the money they make on selling a lease? We may never know as religions aren’t required to open their books to anyone. For all I know, the profits could be diverted to upgrading a cathedral. Religions, particularly the Catholic Church, have a habit of complaining about being asset rich but cash poor.
Then there is education. Education is a tax free environment. Almost. Books, for example aren’t always tax exempt. But what perplexes me is how much money the Commonwealth Government subsides even the richest private schools that are run by religions. Subsidies that state government schools would love to have. You see, government schools are supposed to provide free education, but they can’t: there are fees for all sorts of items from extra curricular actives to buying essential items for all students. At a private school parents expect to pay fees, after all, it’s a private school. Some prestigious schools have long waiting lists and parents pay a non-refundable deposit almost as soon as the sex of the unborn is known, in the hope that they can have their child the best possible chance in life. After all, why would one accept a “second-rate” education for their child when a “first class” education is available. Again, why should private schools, which are run by religions, be tax exempt simply because they are religious in nature? And worse, why should money be diverted away from government schools to private schools to make these exclusive schools more affordable?
These religious schools don’t have to follow a state, let alone a national, curricula, which means any fundamentalist religion can require that students learn religious education before numeracy and literacy! As an example, an Islamist College in Perth for girls was investigated for embezzlement. Fine, but the court ruled that both the Western Australian and Australian Governments’ own rules didn’t prohibit money both governments gave in subsidy, as well as the fees of the students, from being diverted to a third party in another country. It’s a similar situation with Christian Colleges: part of the fees and government subsidies leave the educational environment and are handed over to their respective churches. An internal tax, or profiteering? You decide.
In related news: today the Liberal Party (which is actually a conservative party — yes, it is confusing when people immigrate here and have to vote) imploded. There is so much commentary on this, an unbelievable amount. For a time #spill was the leading hashtag on Twitter. We Aussies were riveted to the core with how the Libs could manage to simultaneously shoot themselves in the foot as well as shove said foot firmly into their collective mouth. Entertainment plus, much hilarity.
But on a more serious note, even though the Libs are not in government, it does have big repercussions. As it stands, the Senate is in impasse. The bill commonly called the ETS, the Labour government’s Emission Trading Scheme with which to go to Copenhagen, looks certain to be defeated twice by the Senate. This means the government shall have the right to send a writ to the Governor General for a double dissolution. That is an early election of both the House of Representatives and all of the Senate. The normal election cycle is for elections for the House of Representatives and an election of Half-Senate.
The idea of a double dissolution is to break the dead-lock. At present, with the worst of all possible candidates becoming the Liberal Leader and hence the Leader of the Opposition, things are looking bad for the Libs.
The real problem is that an ineffective opposition cannot properly hold government to account. A party, any party, that has both government and the majority in the Senate can use it for it’s own cynical purposes and ram bills, bad bills, through in very quick time and list them for gazettal before the next election cycle. I’ll point out here that I’m neither a Liberal or Labor voter, but am a realist and know that the Liberals (in coalition with the Nationals) or Labor are the only viable government alternatives for the foreseeable future.
And this is the related bit. All the major players are fundamentalist Christians. Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, is Protestant, Tony Abbott, leader of the Opposition, is a Capital C Catholic and major player in the cross benches of the Senate, Senator Stephen Fielding, is a “happy clappy” conservative Pentecostalist and Climate-Change Denialist.
Our highest parliament, the most important and powerful of our parliaments, is now infected with fundamentalist Christians. And all have adopted an anti-GLBT stance. None want to allow same-sex marriage. None wish to see gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people have equal rights under law as “straight” people, or the same human rights as “straight” people. I say “straight” people because no one is truly heterosexual. (Read Kinsey’s work, and peer reviewed academic papers on sexuality: discuss.)
It’s not just me that will be affected. All minority groups will suffer. The real irony is that Australians have a long held common majority view that politics and religion do not mix. If you go into a pub, don’t talk politics or religion if you wish to walk out again with ego and/or body intact.
And yet we get these fuckwits thinking they have “moral authority” to impose their wishes on all of us.
Yes, I am very, very, very cranky as I write this.
Update: 2 December 2009. The ETS Bill was blocked by the Senate for a second time. The gun is loaded, will the government pull the double dissolution trigger? The situation is too fluid to blog here.