At the end of a 3000 year old document I found the the advice that will shape how I vote in the upcoming Federal election. The words are attributed to the mother of a king named Lemuel.
The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.
2 Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!
Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
3 Do not spend your strength on women,
your vigor on those who ruin kings.
4 It is not for kings, Lemuel—
it is not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
6 Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
7 Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
She sounds like a strong woman, Lemuel’s mum; the sort of woman who was always going to remind her son that the throne afforded him an opportunity to be great. His greatness would not be defined by an elaborate building program such as Solomon’s, that saw large sections of the population enslaved and the rest crushed by massive taxes that didn’t leave enough for their needs. No Lemuel’s greatness would be to defend the rights of the poor. In the ancient near east this meant ensuring the poor had access to land, finance, and food, and preventing the centers of power around the throne from exploiting and cheating the poor and corrupting the courts.
So there was to be no dissolute living from Lemuel. His job was to administer justice to those routinely denied it.
Throughout the bible this is the claim God lays upon all kings. A good example comes in Jeremiah 22
This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 ‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place…Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. 16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the Lord.
Three thousand years later this remains the measure of good government. So as the election draws near the first order issues for me will be the policies each party has to deal with the poor, exploited and mistreated. What is being proposed to secure the rights of asylum seekers and refugees? What is being proposed to address homelessness? Disability? Pensioners? Indigenous disadvantage? What about the poor and vulnerable overseas? What is proposed on aid and trade, child labour and forced labour in the supply chains of companies operating in Australia? To me these are first order issues.
In this light environmental policy also becomes important. If the world fails to tackle climate change the impact on the poor will likely be devastating. So I will look closely at the climate and other environmental policies of the parties.
Yes, I want a government that manages the economy, but with a skilled Treasury providing advice, it’s pretty hard to get that too far wrong. Yes I want to see fast broadband delivered to our homes, new infrastructure, and improving education. But for me, these are second order issues. First order will always be justice to the poor, exploited, marginalised and wounded of my country and my world.
This is a repost of a piece I wrote in March 2013