Why Fred Nile needs ethics classes

Posted: February 8, 2012 by J in General


Christian Democrat MP the Rev Fred Nile has told the Premier that he will not support their public service wages bill unless the government repeals the legislation entitling children to attend ethics classes.

Carol Duncan, ABC Sydney, August 1 last year.

THE battle over ethics classes in NSW schools has been reignited by a threat from the Reverend Fred Nile to ”torpedo” the O’Farrell government’s… public sector wages policy unless it considers removing them [the classes].

”I think the Minister for Education [Mr Piccoli] has forgotten that big trigger is still there” said Nile.

SMH report, July 19 last year.

As an elected public representative, Fred Nile carries a heavy burden of responsibility. As an overtly Christian member of parliament, he carries a double load – he is seen to stand in some sense for Christ and his church, and to represent the Christian interest.

Fred does some good stuff and stands for some good things. His desire to protect Scripture teaching in schools is commendable. But believing in good causes is not enough to discharge his responsibilities. Fred needs to act wisely and ethically in the way he conducts himself, and in the way he pursues his good goals. This is where the problems lie.

If Fred did ethics classes at school (many of us did) he might have learnt this principle:

The end does not justify the means.

That means that it’s not enough to have good intentions. Those intentions do not ‘lend’ their goodness back down the chain of all the actions done to achieve them. If you commit a burglary to pay for your mum’s eye operation, your good cause doesn’t make that crime ok.

That principle says that it’s not ok for Fred to do just anything in pursuing his aims to strengthen SRE. Each of his actions must be good in its own right.

BUT Fred finds himself in a position where he faces peculiar temptations. He, along with some others, effectively hold the balance of power in the NSW Parliament.  That means he has leverage. He can hold the government to ransom. He can not support their bread and butter legislation unless they support his special interest bills. I suppose he could potentially shut down the state’s revenue flow, until he gets what he wants.

I call this a temptation, because that sort of behaviour is unethical. It is not what elected representatives are there for. They are not supposed to conduct blackmail. They are supposed to govern wisely and with integrity. That means supporting bills on their merits. We expect our leaders to support legislation because they believe it will be good for the state, and to oppose it if they think not.

Any other motive they might have for supporting/opposing legislation creates a temptation, which they ought to resist. To pass or reject bills for other reasons than the state’s wellbeing, is unworthy behaviour for any parliamentarian. From a Christian politician it represents a failure of their witness.

Surely that is half of the point of having Christians in parliament: not just to promote right causes, but to establish an alternative way of doing politics. An alternative, that is, to the wheeling and dealing and cutting deals and power plays and bullying that makes modern politics the uninspiring business it is.

Don’t we expect Christian politicians, and especially those from an overtly Christian Party, to do better than this?

Fred’s responsibility, when faced with the government’s public sector wages bill, is not to think ‘how can I use this to further my aims?’. His duty is clearly to judge the bill on its merits, and support or reject it accordingly.

But Fred has made it pretty clear this is not his approach. He has introduced an SRE bill. Fair enough, he believes it is in the state’s interests. Ok. But he has attached to this the threat that he will turn feral in parliament unless the government supports his SRE bill.

And that’s left him open to this sort of critique from secular commentators with a concern for ethical behaviour:

I suppose that it is one of the new realities of balance-of-power politics that those with a vote to trade will seek maximum advantage whenever the opportunity arises.

Simon Longstaff, ABC commentator.

That’s not a good look, Fred. Votes are not there as a commodity to trade. You are responsible to behave properly regardless of what the government does, regardless of the temptations.

The image Fred paints of himself with his finger on the ‘big trigger’ (see quote above), ready to shoot down other legislation unless he gets his way – that’s about as far from ethical conduct in parliament as you could go. Fred seems to be positioning himself as a kind of parliamentary terrorist, the sword raised for the beheading unless his demands are met.

This is very damaging for the Christian cause, as it gives Christ a bad name. It gives you and me a bad name, too, in our communities, since Fred pretty much talks as if he represents the Christian church at large. It makes us look like a bunch of grasping,  unscrupulous bullies. It makes Jesus seem like someone who is happy with that sort of follower. Maybe even someone who inspires that sort of behaviour.

[We would love to hear about Christian pollies who enjoy the respect of their peers and the wider community because of their godly and responsible conduct. The media doesn’t tell us about them. Any suggestions?]

We will all pay a heavy price for Fred’s unethical conduct. It will be paid over the next generation or so, in terms of a wider divide between Sydney society and the churches. We’ve already got some serious public image problems, we don’t need this right now.

There’s a very big brush that anti-Christian lobbyists are happily painting us all with at the moment, and Fred – he’s providing the tar.

Fred’s SRE bill may be the best piece of legislation ever (we can have that discussion another time) – but it doesn’t justify the means he uses to give it legs. We are not questioning the cause, but the serious lack of wisdom and Christian maturity with which he is pursuing this one. The man badly needs an injection of ethics into his parliamentary conduct.

And of course there’s one more (obvious?) thing to say here. And that is that, while the goodness of Fred’s bill cannot sanctify his behaviour in promoting it, the reverse does function. The irresponsible way this bill has been presented, tends to discredit the whole thing. It lends an air of dodginess to the bill, people are put offside from the start, and view it with suspicion. Own goal, Fred.

We have been trying to teach our little girl that sometimes when you play with other kids you don’t get your own way, and when that happens you need to try to accept it and keep playing. You don’t try to sabotage the game. You don’t go off and sulk in a corner.

Fred, we’d like it if you could be a role model for our child. We want you to be someone she can be proud of. As a Christian politician, we expect more from you than you’re giving us.

The solution?

Did someone say Ethics classes?


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