Repent, repent, repent

It may be a first in Australian political history – an Australian Prime Minister calling on someone to repent. There have been many PM’s that have been unrepentant about their actions and saying sorry has been the hardest thing to do for some such as John Howard.

But now we have Tony Abbott suggesting Bill Shorten and the ALP should ‘repent’ for putting a price on carbon. No journalist seems to have asked the PM what the precise sin the ALP committed although he would no doubt reply that it was because the policy was based on a ‘lie’. The really interesting things about the word though are the extent to which religion is thundering back into Australian politics and a vivid reminder that our PM is a Roman Catholic who likes to appear alongside his daughters while they are clad in virginal white.

Those not initiated into the mysteries of the church now have a good idea about how the notion of repentance works as the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into child abuse and the current Royal Commission have made it clear. For instance, a priest or brother can abuse a child and then, when discovered, confess and repent. This makes it all okay and the priest can then return to the abuse, repent, get shifted to another parish, abuse again, repent and keep going until the situation gets so outrageous that criminal action is taken. Successive inquiries in Ireland exposed the same problem resulting in the Irish Government breaking off diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Tony Abbott is not likely to break off Vatican diplomatic relations and it is difficult to imagine Cardinal Pell’s new Vatican pad provoking the same outrage as Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst has with his multi-million Euro mansion and personal apartments. As Der Spiegel has pointed out, while the Bishop was spending all that money his parishioners were forced to raise (without help from him) the few thousand Euro needed to provide disabled access to the cathedral. However, can we expect to hear more theological language from Abbott in his Prime Ministerial term?

Abbott’s post-election commentary has already included other religious terminology with references to his apologies in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere as ‘acts of contrition’ although the contrition has not extended to apologising to Australians for saying the things for which he has been willing to apologise overseas.

Perhaps the significant question though is how this sacralisation of politics will play with the Australian public? One view is that Australians knew what they were getting with Abbott and wouldn’t be surprised. Another is that it accentuates the distaste that many voters already feel for him and which prevented him from winning in a landslide. The two probably cancel each other out. But a combination of sacralisation and closeness to one of the most unpopular Australian public figures, Cardinal Pell, might be a different matter altogether.

Meanwhile we have seen what might be another act of contrition from mining billionaire, Andrew Forrest who has donated $65 million to the University of Western Australia. The blog welcomes the move – all universities are going to need more money when the Abbott Government starts cutting tertiary education funding. But there is a nagging thought – Forrest’s companies were revealed some time ago not to have paid much tax at all and Forrest himself was prominent in the campaign against the mining resource rent tax about to be abolished by the incoming government. Would it have been better for Australia if the companies had been paying more tax and the resource rent tax had been allowed to claw back for the public more of the benefit of what are national resources? And would it have been even better still if Forrest had both donated the $65 million and his companies had paid more tax?