Well, it’s official. Australian politicians face a religious test for office. But it doesn’t have anything to do with God.
On Tuesday night Paul Murray broadcast his Pub Test forum from Launceston. Come question time, Murray twice reshaped a question into a demand for faith, and the candidates dissembled and distracted in order to avoid looking blasphemous. If you’ve ever seen footage of Bill Clinton talking about his religious faith, you’ll know what I mean.
I am referring, of course, to climate change.
Attending were Tasmanian non-Left Senate candidates: Eric Abetz, Jacqui Lambie (non-left last night, anyway), Clive Palmer Circus clown Kevin Morgan, One Nation’s Matthew Stephen, and Nat Steve Martin.
When questions went to the floor eventually voter Rob asked this (at 1:05:00):
All of you candidates have some sort of energy policy which is based on some notion about emissions. You keep talking about reducing emissions but never say reducing emissions of what. So my question is: Without resorting to logical fallacies, please tell us what evidence you have that atmospheric carbon dioxide is in the least, remotely, connected to the weather.
Unfortunately, Murray immediately clouded the issue in an unexpected way, by paraphrasing the question as “It’s basically: ‘Is climate change real?’”
No, that wasn’t the question, Paul. The question demanded that candidates show that they are operating on evidence rather than faith, and that they have considered the basis for their policies.
Murray himself unfortunately turned an analytic question into a religious test: Do you have faith or not? But that wasn’t enough for Murray. After the first answer he reiterated: “I’ll put it to you: Do you believe in climate change?”
Murray’s misinterpretation of the question shows how deeply the religious approach to this issue has penetrated. He prides himself on being anti-B.S and otherwise does a good enough job putting that into practice.
He’d hate to recognise it, but those questions show much he has internalised the Left’s conversion of partisan science into the Gospel no-one reads. To be fair, the media loves religious test questions – because they are a variation on a gotcha, and straight answers to them make for good news – but that’s no excuse for a pro like Murray.
Only the One Nation candidate half-addressed the question, and then with a couple of minor talking points: temperatures were 4.5° warmer 100,000 years ago; seasons and cycles have more effect than CO2. Then he pivoted to baseload power.
To put it bluntly, it was clear that all the others were petrified of questioning the orthodoxy, that they had been coached to deflect and avoid the question, and that they didn’t have enough background in theory or data to prosecute any case. Exactly what voters don’t want from politicians when making decisions about policy.
But what was also clear was that at least four of them – Lambie was a maybe – thought the case for CO2-driven catastrophe was bollocks but refused to say so.
The dissembling was transparent. Immediate waffle about energy needs and planning, baseload power, grid engineering, coal for transition, token mentions and nods to renewables, power bills, the wonderfulness of dams and hydro, and changes in electricity demand. No overt or solid argument to defend a proposition. Indeed, the question wasn’t addressed at all.
Lambie, on the contrary, lumped non sequitur upon non sequitur to reach a comedic climax by demanding young people do National Service and fill sandbags.
But for quasi-religious obsequiousness you can’t go past Eric Abetz’s soft-touch on renewables; “We need a guaranteed supply, we need a guaranteed baseload supplier, and with respect, some of the renewables cannot provide that” (at 1:10:30).With respect? Why? Because he knows intuitively that he is treading close to blasphemy without quite getting there.
That these politicians think the CO2 argument is bollocks but refuse to say so is no surprise. Office holders of my acquaintance trash the concept in private then pay homage in tweets and speeches. As a candidate I was coached to dissemble.
Across the social spectrum people sound out your tolerance or viewpoint, only offering a hushed-voice dismissal of the argument when they know you won’t attack them. People are scared, not merely of social ostracism, but of risking their careers, especially if chained to roles in corporate Australia. But rarely has it been so obvious as on this panel.
It isn’t surprising that candidates have neither the courage of their convictions, nor the capacity or willingness to make an argument for their beliefs. Our political class norms tend toward careerist risk-aversion, and our political class composition tends towards the feckless and intellectually lazy. In our ongoing soft Cultural Revolution, who would risk everything to make a case that punitive zealots see as blaspheming?
What is surprising is that Murray himself restated, deflected and minimised both the question and failed answers. He didn’t press; he ran rather than pursued, and on one of the key issues of our time.
This is the problem of religious zealotry re-emerging in public discourse. Those with much to lose – politicians, business people, and media types – cannot argue for truth and freedom in the public square against the restrictions of faith without risking all they have.
We spent hundreds of years separating Church and State, winning freedom of conscience and expression for ordinary people, and removing religious barriers to office. We need to honour and maintain those unprecedented achievements, even if the New Church isn’t called a church, and its members think they are atheists.
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