November 11, 2003 | Peter

Jim Cairns and Personal Responsibility

We recently lost one Australia’s most idealistic and decent politicians, a man described by his old boss and rival Gough Whitlam as ‘noble’. Jim Cairns was not perfect, and his imperfections included a capacity to lie in public, as the Junie Morosi saga showed, but for a politician he was incredibly straight.
It seems to me that Cairn’s most outstanding attribute was an ability to accept personal responsibility. This clearly caused him great trouble in politics, notoriously a profession more suited to dissembling liars with their fingers up to test the wind.
Cairns was one of the last generation of politicians to lead a full life before entering politics. After a hard childhood, he had been a clerk and policeman before serving as a soldier in WWII. He then got a PhD in economic history and became a university lecturer. He then went into national politics as a leftwing Labor MP.
This sort of life experience is rare in modern pollies, a real cause of their lack of principle. Real commitment to principle, and an acceptance of its costs, usually only comes from the tough lessons learned from hard experience.
In 1969 Cairns and his family were physically attacked in their own home, most likely over Cairns’ opposition to the White Australia policy.
Yes, it always seems to be racism that brings aout the worst in Australians. Bashing for political reasons seems to have died out in Oz, so we are apparently making some progress. I must confess to sometimes wanting to snot some egregious public liar (like John Howard as he tells yet another outrageous blowie about WMD or boatpeople or non-core promises), but I know that things have to be talked out no matter how much certain people lie and dissemble.
But I digress, and back to the attack on Cairns – apparently, one of his attackers said to him, “Who do you think you are – God?”
This was an extraordinary question, and goes to the heart of the whole question of social responsibility and rational politics.
I don’t know how Cairns replied to this, but he could have said, “No, but we all have to behave as if we were God.” In other words, we must all take responsibility for our own actions, otherwise it is a slippery slope down to Dachau and all the other hideous atrocities of history. We must all behave as if we do have the power to make decisions, and not accede to authority or force out of fear.
Fortunately, the thugs that attacked Cairns were to be inundated by the tide of history, and their views are discredited.
But Cairns’ example of standing up for what he believed to be right, as opposed to what was convenient, remains as relevant as ever.
Vale Jim Cairns.

Posted by Peter at 1:50 pm | Comments Off on Jim Cairns and Personal Responsibility |
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