Hung Out To Dry 

One Man's Web > Politics and Ethics > Hung Out To Dry

My clergy colleague and I were astonished to find ourselves the object of a complaint to the presbytery (the regional controlling body in the Uniting Church) for our inappropriate behaviour towards one of our congregations.  The congregation in question was also somewhat startled to hear this, and said so!. None the less, we were required to attend a meeting with our accuser and a couple of presbytery representatives to explain ourselves.  Fortunately  one of these clearly saw the jealousy which had led to the complaint and the issue was cleared up.  It was frightening to see how the other representative was so uncritically swayed by the plaintiff's story.  The episode left both of us bruised, and it took a some time to regain confidence in our work. In a later parish I was the subject of sustained lying by at least one person which was so personally destructive that I was on sick leave for almost 12 months.

Currently a friend has been challenging the policies of a new departmental head whose approach to his department has been quite damaging.  This recently came to a head, with a mediation meeting with the Dean, who was quite concerned with what my friend had been reporting.  At the mediation, the Departmental Head said my friend had physically assaulted her, which is a complete lie, and completely out of character with the man's personality.. She has even found a "witness."  The Dean said to him, "Surely there is a grain of truth in what she says?" The seeds of suspicion have been sown.  The Union has said to my friend that there is no point in acting on his complaint about this slander.  An innocent man, he will have no hope of winning because we are predisposed to believe the allegation.  And the real issues of management and competence have been forgotten- effectively submerged by the lie.

Our Governor General is currently the subject of a rape allegation, which on the basis of the news reports also appears unstainable. Most likely there has been a mistake in identity rather than an lie.  But the false charge of rape and assault are underlying fears for many men, who now conduct interviews with doors open, and tape recorders running. (Something that always should have been done.)  Even if there is no foundation and the allegation is thrown out of court, enormous damage will be done to a man's reputation.  For centuries women have been powerless in the face of assault and an imbalance in power which meant totally inequity in most spheres of life.  Now some have learned to play the game.  Each time a woman lies like this, she feeds all the gender hostility stored up by unrepentant and un-reconstructed men.  Lying is immensely destructive to the cause of justice for women. (The Adelaide Advertiser reports a sympathy towards the Governor General because of the allegations.  The falsely accusing woman stereotype is alive and well, and it will be a pity if he is able to sustain his position on the basis of this.) 

Lying has been at the centre of Australia's treatment of refugees.  We call them illegal, to begin with.  The government has propagated this lie with  such total consistency that the word refugee has almost disappeared by comparison!  There has been political lying to win elections, with the Tampa stand off and lies about children overboard.  Cartoons by Nicholson and Leak regularly showed our leaders as liars.  Nothing has been done.  Now in recent days there have been claims of torture at Baxter "Detention Centre" with a man being hung by his wrists from a wall.  The reporting article said in part, 

When The Australian spoke to the detainee yesterday through a translator, he variously confirmed and denied the hook story, eventually saying he was reluctant to discuss it because he believed his voice was being recorded. 

Melbourne-based Greens refugee activist Pamela Curr began circulating the detainee's story among the activist network this week. A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said some of Ms Curr's information had to be taken "with a grain of salt". 

The problem for Mr Ruddock is the clear perception, relayed extensively in the media, that the Government has consistently lied about refugees.  Enough of us have colleagues and friends who have visited Baxter and Woomera, or worked there, to know that conditions are not good, and that at the very least, the authorities have been economical with the truth when answering questions and making statements.  Despite that fact that The Australian has reported the wavering nature of the man's claims, despite Ruddock's put-down of Ms Curr, and despite the fact that some refugees have obviously also lied, we know that conditions are far from ideal and being hidden from us.  While friends who visit Baxter "don't sleep the night before they go and can't sleep the night after" I will not be able to trust government claims of beneficence.  Reading the reports from various human rights groups on the situation is horrifying. People will simply not believe the minister.

In all this we see the destructive nature of lies.  Not only may a man be hung up on a wall by his wrists, and no action taken,   but the nation is hung out to dry by lies.  Trust is destroyed, confidence is crushed, and cynicism and disillusionment grow.  We need a groundswell change in attitude where lying is treated with a kind of horror at all levels of society.  Instead it is the commonplace and we expect it from our politicians. It means we cannot function efficiently and coherently as a nation.  Justice and compassion are crippled by lies, and we will all pay the price as society degenerates into right defined by power and money rather than truth.

Lying in high places will only stop when we stop.  Lying will only be unacceptable if we don't lie and if we don't accept it.  A politician should know full well that if caught lying he or she will lose their ministry and seat.  We should respect apology and admission of error as strengths, not weakness.  We should vote upon the basis of integrity, effort, intention for justice and competence. As it is we vote for lying.  Not just the lies of individual minsters, but the Big Lie that what constitutes policy we will vote for is what suits our prosperity and security, not what is moving toward justice for all of us.


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