Public Dialogue
written by Rev Gary Heard

Treasurer and Prime Ministerial aspirant Peter Costello has twice over the past two months made public statements about the place of faith in the future of Australian society, with particular reference to the Ten Commandments. The response has been strong, and spanning the broad spectrum of beliefs and attitudes  which constitute contemporary Australia. Leaving aside for the moment the particulars of his call, we need to ask whether such dialogue and as direct an affirmation as he has made is appropriate.

Age columnist Pamela Bone this week suggested that, for politicians, matters of faith ought to be kept private. Such a well-intentioned call is ultimately ill-founded for two reasons: The ultimate values held by any political leader have a direct bearing on their decision-making. Openly declaring their value system allows voters an insight into the type of priorities which might be on the radar screen of the politician. And in addition to providing a prism (amongst many) for evaluating a politician, it also provides a level of accountability. Following his first public declaration, the letters column was awash with christians challenging Costello to adopt policy priorities appropriate to his affirmation of faith, with particular reference to justice, compassion, and mercy. The matters raised were entirely appropriate in the context of Costello’s speech, proving the strength of accountability which is afforded.

I would both affirm the need for all politicians to be so open. In a multicultural society, it is incumbent for the broad diversity of value systems to be expressed within the halls of government. When a politician states their position so publicly and clearly, a basis for dialogue is established. While dignity and respect is maintained, the ensuing conversation has great potential to ring with the sounds of freedom, and to strengthen the democratic and representative systems which are fundamental to our society. It would also promote understanding, and encourage us all to consider what is ultimately true.

With this as background, let me briefly respond to Costello’s call for a return to the 10 commandments, whereby he argued that commitment to the rule of law was more helpful than its predecessor, with its emphasis on the character of the leader and the individual’s relationship to him (it was definitely a man back then!) From a christian perspective, our primary call is to a relationship to the Lord, rather than a rule of law to follow. While the 10 commandments may provide a foundation, a better one is an spirituality lived with integrity. As a christian, for me this emphasis would be on a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, lived daily.

But having said that, we have much to learn from dialogue with others.

July 18, 2004
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