A Good Time Not To be Saudi Arabia

There are times it’s good not to be Saudi Arabia, right?

I mean there are lots of times it’s good not to be Saudi Arabia, especially all of the time if you’re a woman, a Christian, or gay.

And right now is a good time too.  A good time not to be Saudi Arabia.

Just imagine if Australia had all that oil wealth, and therefore all that oil money to run the country.


What the government wouldn’t be able to do with all that revenue!  New infrastructure.  Fully serviced hospitals.  More football stadia.  A fully funded education system in which the government could – and would –  educate every child in the country to the same level with the same curriculum and values, regardless of background, mental capacity or religious affiliation.

Not to mention gold plated limousines on demand. And did I say more football stadia?

With all that oil money there’d be no need for the government to outsource education.  No begrudging acceptance by the government that its role as educator of the state has some limitations.

Now I know that Australian governments have historically been enthusiastic supporters of private faith education, and not merely for pragmatic reasons. There has been much alignment and recognition of the common public good.

But I get the impression among many faith school educators they don’t very much care whether the government wants to fund private education systems, but will simply settle for the fact they have to.

They say “Well, the government has to keep funding us.  It can’t afford not to.  We’re in the box seat in terms of setting the agenda.”   

It’s a little disingenuous to be honest.  And risks being overly smug and complacent if not careful.

For what if the money to fund every child’s education were no object? What if we discovered huge revenues of oil in the middle of the desert?  Could we envisage the government being as restrained as it currently is?  As it will have to be for some time yet?

Relax folks, I can’t see us discovering vast reservoirs of oil in the middle of the desert.  Besides if we did the Greens would ensure we couldn’t pump it out of the ground.  Unless of course to do so would guarantee the closure of all schools that the state can’t get its hand on, then they might just consider it. But I jest – just.

The issue is deeper that being glad we’ve got the government over an (oil) barrel. If we’re willing to settle merely for a government that is only one cash cow away from liberating itself from the constraints of faith schools; one pot of gold away from jettisoning mediating institutions such as alternate ethical communities, then we’re aiming way too low.

We’re aiming way too low in terms of what the public square could aspire to.  And we’re aiming way too low when it would mean for a society to flourish.

It’s confident pluralism we want, not pragmatic tolerance. Why?  Because we believe that is the best outcome for society.  We want a secular frame that can cope with not only permitting alternate ethical communities, but which can see the good in helping them flourish, even to the point of funding them.  And yes, that means Muslim and Jewish educational communities too.

To settle for a snarly government that is leashed merely by its own financial restraint is to settle for a poor public square.  It is to settle for a cross-your-fingers-and-hope public policy that simply pushes the problem down the line.

For once our keenest and brightest leave our faith education systems, the professions they wish to join or the associations that require membership will be under no such fiscal restraint.  They will be more than capable and twice as eager to do the job the government wished to do, but couldn’t.   In fact they already are.

No.  We need something better.  We need a confident pluralism that can rekindle unity, rather than foster the uniformity it is inevitably going to get unless something drastically changes.  And we need to foster that too among those we disagree with.

Daniel Patterson made this prescient observation in a thoughtful piece today:

…the yes vote consummates a definitive social reinterpretation of what is good and legitimate desire. The law will now be recalibrated to reflect the desires that society will desire. So the question now confronting society that concerns the church is whether society will continue to desire the Christian desire to discriminate on grounds of sexuality.

That’s the reality we face. Will society so desire that?  Time will tell, but the early signs are less than promising. Of course it’s never going to be a dreadful zombie apocalypse like Saudi Arabia.  No, it will be a  slow burn – a beautiful, suffocating apocalypse.

A desire for uniformity and state over-reach will be the order of the day in the fresh flush of change, before the pendulum swings back the other way as the state gets its wrist slapped from time to time just as it has in the USA.

But if you want to see what principled uniformity looks like; uniformity led by zealous ideology and unfettered by any need to outsource services that you can’t afford; uniformity in terms of gender roles, faith positions and sexuality; a deep uniformity in terms of what society can publicly desire, then look no further than oil rich Saudi Arabia.

They’ve got more than enough money to enforce uniformity in the public square for years to come. So they are.

Though I guess one upside of striking oil in Australia would be the lack of frantic, road cloggin Monday night fill-ups prior to the Tuesday apocalypse of full-price ULP.