The
Inspiration
Project

WITH BRENDAN CORR

GUEST John Anderson

Episode 06

John Anderson: Episode Summary

On this episode of ‘The Inspiration Project’, Brendan Corr talks to John Anderson about his experience as a politician and politics as a means of serving the common good.

Among other things John shares:

  • his experience with high-tech farming.
  • how he entered politics by coercion rather than intention.
  • what drives his enjoyment of farming.
  • the biblical principle that lies behind Western civilization.
  • why he draws inspiration from William Wilberforce.
  • the dramatic change in Australian politics over the past decade.
  • the challenge of dealing with evil in society.
  • his pessimistic view of modern universities.

John Anderson: Episode Transcript

Sponsor Announcement
This podcast is sponsored by Australian Christian College, a network of schools committed to student wellbeing, character development, and academic improvement.

Introduction
Welcome to The Inspiration Project, where well-known Christians share their stories to inspire young people in their faith and life. Here’s your host, Brendan Corr.

Brendan Corr
Well, hi there everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Inspiration Project podcast. Absolutely delighted at a personal level to welcome our guest for today, Mr. John Anderson. Mr. Anderson is well-known to the Australian community as one of our leading politicians. We’ll get to some of the story behind that. But at the back end of that, grew up as a farmer, sixth generation farmer in New South Wales, moved into politics representing the Country Party, and served in the National Parliament and in cabinet for part of some of the key developments in the period between 1996 and his retirement from parliament. At a point when he had the privilege of being widely acknowledged and celebrated by both houses of parliament. And again, we’ll come to some of that. Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister, that allowed him to serve our country as Acting Prime Minister on several occasions, the most significant period might have been in taking that role during the period of September 11, 2001, and the significance that that held for our country and indeed for our world. Mr. Anderson, John, it’s absolutely delightful to have you with us. Thank you for making this time. You’re speaking to us from your property up in New South Wales. What is life like up in country New South Wales at this time of year?

John Anderson
Well, good to be with you. Thank you for the opportunity. I have been here now for quite some time because of COVID-19, and we’re all working from home. And so I normally travel a lot, I do quite a bit of speaking. I have a podcast and video series, ‘Conversations’. I’m involved with several charities. But all of those things, at the moment either are not happening or they’re happening from home, so I’m being a normal farmer again.

Brendan Corr
Back to getting the hands dirty with the soil and on the tools, or is it not quite like that in a modern farming experience?

John Anderson
That’s a very good question. Farming is now quite high-tech. People don’t realise that I don’t think. The business of growing food is very, very technically sophisticated. Australian farmers it’s said are amongst the world’s most efficient, one Australian farmer feeds 600 people, which is a staggering number.

Brendan Corr
That is amazing.

John Anderson
So the machinery is big, it’s sophisticated, for example our tractor has several screens in it, it’s GPS-located, it has auto-steer, so it sets its own lines, and avoids overlaps and under-laps as you go around the paddock sowing your crops. The harvest is the same. It’s very high-tech, really, but I still like to get my hands dirty and there’s still plenty of manual work to do as well on a farm. So it really is a profession that requires an extraordinary range of abilities. I was talking to my daughter-in-law the other day who grew up in Sydney, and she made the interesting observation that when she was at school and said she was interested in agriculture, the teachers tended to say, “Oh no, no, no, don’t do that. You’re very bright you can do something better.” But she would say to you that actually, it requires all of her mental ability, and all of her training, and all of her degree to do it properly.

Brendan Corr
Yes, indeed. I think you’re right, in that it is under-regarded in terms of the level of expertise and understanding that needs to be held, and applied, to make it a going concern. John, you come from a family of farmers. Was that career, that life, inevitable? Or was that something that you freely entered into?

John Anderson
Well a bit of both, really, because my dad had always said, “Oh, don’t come back to the land. It’s too hard, too many droughts, too many down turns in commodity prices,” and what have you. And then when I said to him, “Well, I’ve got a degree and I’ve been offered a job.” He looked like the world was going to fall in. I suddenly realised he actually really wanted me to go on the land. Now a lot of the time for young people, it’s not easy to choose what you’re going to do in life. And to be very frank, often you don’t quite know where life’s going to lead you. If you’d told me when I was 18 or 19 that I would end up in the federal parliament, and then I’d end up as a cabinet minister, and then as Deputy Prime Minister, I would have said you had rocks in your head, even though I was always moderately interested in what was happening around me, I would never have thought that would happen. So the first thing I would say is, it’s really important, that you work out what it is that you believe in. How do you see yourself and the world around you? What is your worldview? What view do you take of the physical world, the social world, the educational world around you? These are big questions and I think for a lot of young people, they’re actually quite tough. I don’t think they’re necessarily all that easy to work through.

Brendan Corr
No indeed they’re not. So what was it that you believed, that you see your dad’s expectation, and respond by heading back to the farm?

John Anderson
My mother had died, and I realised that he was lonely, and that deep down he did want me to take over the farm and have a go at it. And I thought, “Well, I’ll give it a go.” And anyway, ended up deciding that was what I wanted to do and spent my 20s… I had a degree from the University of Sydney, and a Master’s, and then just ended up back farming again, and I decided I quite enjoyed it and the challenge of pitting yourself against the elements, and there’s nothing more rewarding when you get a good crop. In Australia, you sometimes go through a pretty ordinary run before you get a good crop, or seeing a lot of fat cattle that you know people are going to enjoy when they have a nice steak at home or enjoy a sausage or whatever. So there’s a lot to commend it and you’re your own boss, I suppose in a way. And there’s plenty of challenges in it and most of us deep down like a challenge, I think.

Brendan Corr
So you mentioned in the comments you were making about your daughter-in-law, the need for you to bring all of your experience, all of the training that would come through formal education, into the application of your farming. Was that your experience that you felt the things you learned formally complemented, extended, changed what you learned, by observing your father and your grandfather in their practises?

John Anderson
Well probably much more that, than my formal degree, because my degree has nothing to do whatsoever with agriculture. My son did ag science, I didn’t. I’m a journalist, and a historian, and a very second-rate writer, I suppose. And quite interested in philosophy and what have you. But, I guess, I’d grown up on a farm so the practical side of it was easy. I then found I had to turn around, and work out how to run the thing as a business, because it has to be treated as a business. Even though, frankly, a lot of people wouldn’t do it if it was only a business, because the income’s too unreliable, and it has to be a vocation as well. It’s got to be something you love. Nothing worse than seeing a farmer who doesn’t enjoy what he or she is doing.

Brendan Corr
So what is it that has captured your heart? Is it the open spaces? Is it the producing something that’s of value? The difference that it makes? What is it that you love about the farm?

John Anderson
The first thing I would say, is that I’m not certain that you need to be analysing those things. In the old days, some of us love Holden’s, and other people loved Fords. Why? What’s the difference? Some people love working the land, other people love teaching, or carpentry, or arguing a brief in a court of law, or building a bridge, or flying an aeroplane. It’s a good thing that we’re all different, it would be a very boring world if we were all the same, and all had the same interests. I suppose, for me in part, it was several generations before me. I like growing things, I do like the space and I kind of like the physical environment, I think. We live in a pretty part of the world and fairly fertile soil, so you can in a good year grow good crops, and as I said, for me personally, few things are more rewarding than being in a combine harvester and seeing golden grain pouring into the bin out of the crop that you’ve grown. It’s a different world.

Brendan Corr
Indeed it is, that few of us get to really understand to the degree of somebody that lives it. You spoke about the challenges that involves in working the land, and the sense of being able to rise to those challenges, given that a lot of that challenge comes from the environment itself, the inherent rainfall and as you’ve described, fertility of soil. What capacity do farmers have to master those elements, and how much are they just subject to the conditions and the climate?

John Anderson
No easy answer to that. An Australian farmer or grazier of animals has to be able to adapt because this is not new, strangely enough in terms of the climate change debate and so forth that we hear so much about. You would sometimes think they seem to be new in Australia, they’re simply not new. We’ve got family records going back to the 1830s and there had been horrendous droughts, there’d been horrendous floods, there had been horrendous bush fires at various times, that my family have had to grapple with. The drought we’ve just been through has been undoubtedly one of the worst, but possibly not the worst, since European settlement in Australia. The way you cope determines whether or not you make it as a farmer. And I always say to young farmers, “Remember, when you do get a good year, it’s what you do with the proceeds from that good year that will determine how you do as a farmer. You have to have some reserves, you’ve got to be able to put aside some fat to make it through the lean times, the harder times.”

Brendan Corr
And is that an easy discipline to learn, or is that a bit of experience?

John Anderson
No, it’s not. Many a young farmer has got into big trouble because they get a good harvest and they go out and buy more machinery than they should have bought. They buy a fast ute, or whatever, and you can spend an incredible amount of money on machinery on a farm. I mean really expensive. So it requires discipline and focus right from the moment you begin. And many make it, frankly and sadly, many don’t.

Brendan Corr
Indeed.

John Anderson
It’s not an easy occupation.

Brendan Corr
No, in many, many ways, I think. You mentioned a little earlier about the importance of finding what you believe in, and how what you believe in guides your decisions, about what to do with life, and where you’ll place your feet one after the other. You are known in your public life as being a person of faith, which carries a sense, a weight of belief. Can you share with us how you came to your own sense of belief and faith?

John Anderson
I think I always believed that there was a higher being. I came from a family that probably would have said the same thing, but never went to church. We’re predominantly of presbyterian background really, because we’re a Scottish family, originally. But, I went to an Anglican school in Sydney. There was a chaplain there who spoke in language that I could understand. He spoke of a personal God who relates to us personally, and loves us and can be loved. I remember thinking, “That is ridiculous. I believe there’s a higher power, but I don’t believe He’s personal. How can He be? Look at all these people. How can He be personal? How can they be personal to Him?” But, talking it through with, not the chaplain at that school, but one of my teachers, I remember thinking “He’s old enough and wise enough to be able to tell me about these things,” and I do the maths now, he was 27, so there you go. Anyway, he explained to me what might be a classic description of the Christian faith, which in a nutshell is, that we are each uniquely made in the image of God. We are moral beings. We can choose to be good or to be bad, but we’ve essentially not chosen to be good from Adam and Eve on, we’ve essentially chosen to rebel against God, but nonetheless God loves us, and is concerned to find a way back. That way back is the thing we’ve just celebrated at Easter time, the resurrection of Christ who died for us. Even while we were still hating Him, you have to hate somebody to put them to that sort of death. We know enough about ourselves, if we’re really honest, most of us would have been braying to have him crucified. Just like most of us would have belonged, this is a thing Jordan Peterson says, “It’s uncomfortable, but if we’d lived in Germany in the 1930s, we probably would have belonged to Hitler Youth.” We need to be very careful before we say, “Oh no, I’m above all that.” Most of us, in the right environment, will do the wrong thing, or the wrong environment will do the wrong thing. It was at university, I think, when I started to realise that belief is profoundly more rational to me than unbelief or non-belief. Now that’s not a popular view today, but I make no apologies for it. I roundly and firmly believe that belief is more rational, and more reasonable, than unbelief. I’m convinced that the extraordinary, and at one level very unlikely story that the bible tells, is actually true.

Brendan Corr
You’re referring more to than just the fact of believing anything, that you’re specifically talking about belief in the Christian faith, the Christian story?

John Anderson
Yes, G. K. Chesterton was a brilliant thinker around 120 years ago, and he said, “The reality is, that, strangely when you stop believing in God, rather than being sceptical and sensible and civil, you tend to be open then to believe in anything.” And I’m amazed at what people now believe. Pretty extreme stuff. Some people, they’re surprising people, who really have very strange views about… I think that are almost superstitious, and yet they will tell you they’re rational and scientific. By the way I see no question whatsoever between science and Christianity. I simply don’t see one. I think that, more often than not, this raises an excuse. In fact sound science keeps revealing more and more of just how extraordinarily ordered and intricately designed we are, the world we live in is, and the universe we live in is.

Brendan Corr
Interestingly you would be well placed having such close contact with the creation, the seasons and the cycles, and the patterns that must speak to you a little of the orderedness of God. Even in the randomness of drought and seasons, and those sorts of occurrences that you find as a challenge to your farming enterprise?

John Anderson
That’s a really interesting point that, because it drives some farmers away from faith, they say, “Oh, God must be too cruel for me to believe in Him, because He gives us this terrible drought.” Others have to be reminded that we’re not in control, and if we’re not in control, I would far, far rather believe that someone is in control and they bring all of this to some sensible, reasonable conclusion, in the biblical promise. The biblical explanation for the pain and the suffering is sin. We’ve done the wrong thing, we’re separated from God. The story of Christ tells us, that if we will but believe, that is the big decision to be made in this life, we believe in Him or not, if we will, then all will be put right, the wounds will be bound up, the crime will end, relationships will be restored. Now that, I know, to a modern cynical Westerner’s ears, sounds extraordinary, but I would turn around and say, “All right, well let me ask you what your worldview is and where it’s leading?” Because the one that we’ve adopted in Australia and in so much of the West, which might be called radical individualism, it’s all about ‘me’. I am, I might even be the centre of the universe. I think it’s a very cruel belief system to let a young one fall into unchallenged, but anyway, that’s where we’re at. What has been the result of that? Well, it’s there in the surveys. We’re at record levels of distrust of one another, and of our institutions, of our governments, even our courts. We are tribalized, we are lonely, our social capital is degrading, we have record levels of anxiety and depression, and self-harm, especially amongst young people. So, to those who would say, “Oh John you’re a fool if you still believe all that stuff,” I would say, “Well, tell me about your belief system? Tell me what sort of world it’s opening up for us? Don’t you think it’s time we were humble enough to say, ‘hang on, this rampant secularism, where it’s all about me, isn’t playing out very well either. We need a bit of a rethink.‘”

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s good. John, obviously the experience of coming to an understanding of faith and of your Christian convictions, those beliefs that have become the foundation for your life, led you in some way to think about moving into politics? Or was there something more practical? What was the trigger from becoming a politician from being a farmer?

John Anderson
You want to say your motives are 100% pure. All of us have mixed motives I suppose. Or maybe there was a part of me that thought, “Oh, [inaudible 00:20:07] by half, and I’ll be good at this.” But I had also genuinely decided that I felt quite deeply a sense of responsibility to be available for service. I remember thinking, or saying to somebody, “No use criticising the way the generals are running the war if you’re not prepared to at least to enlist a private to do your bit.” My father had fought during the second world war. I know he hated it. He was not the sort of man that enjoyed going off to war, and he had a terrible war. He was right on the front line. He was wounded and not expected to live. His body was almost completely broken, on the battlefield in North Africa against Adolf Hitler’s General Rommel. But, if there’s an example in it, there would be an example of, he went because he felt it was his duty and his responsibility. And I think I felt, and I still do, that to serve is not only important, I’d go further than my father, because I don’t think he would have said this at the end of his life. I would say you find yourself in serving others as Christ has served us.

Brendan Corr
But you chose a form that Christ himself never elected to go down. You went into representative politics, and the…

John Anderson
The bible is quite the profoundest book you could ever find, but it’s not a political book in any way shape or form. What I mean by that, I know Jesus was… A lot of his followers were hoping for him to be a great leader and solve all of their problems and what have you. In fact, he eschewed that, he said, “No, I’m about your heart. I’m about long term. I’m about the life after this one, so I care about what happens to you in this life. My focus is on the eternal.” Having said that, why do I say it’s a highly political book? Because it clearly, clearly reveals that each individual has dignity and worth. That has a profound impact, it lies behind Western democratic traditions, whereby we have the rule of law, we have parliaments so that people can choose who will lead them, and then remove them without having to use a gun if they get full of themselves, or lazy, or proud, or start to go on badly, or exercise power for their own ends. All of these balanced nuances come out of a biblical view that says on the one hand, “Each individual…” As our longest serving Prime Minister Bob Menzies put it, “All souls are equal in the eyes of heaven.” So even if we have a different station, or a different role, different wealth, different whatever in this life, the reality is, that we have to value one another because heaven says all souls are of equal value, even the most poor and disadvantaged individual that you can ever imagine, in the eyes of God, sometimes it might be hard for us to believe, but they’re of equal value, so there’s no cause for pride. And pride is, of course, the great one of the traps. A lot of people in an age when we’re told it’s all about us, we have to be proud. If we believe we’re right, we find it hard to see that other people might be right. And the great writer, C. S. Lewis said, “The problem with pride, is that it prevents us from looking up and seeing something greater than us.” And of course we look down on others, so we think we’re superior to them. And both are dangerous.

Brendan Corr
Indeed. John, let me ask you, you moved into politics, and carried your Christian faith with you.

John Anderson
I was asked to go into politics, I didn’t go looking for it.

Brendan Corr
Okay, that’s interesting.

John Anderson
Yeah, I was asked, to have a go, I was challenged to have a go, and to my amazement, my friends, including Christian friends, and people I really respected, said “You should do it. Put your hand up for service and see what happens.” But it was a wild ride. It wasn’t something that I’d dreamed of.

Brendan Corr
There wasn’t any sense of incompatibility between the world of politics and the world of your faith life?

John Anderson
Challenge, but not incompatibility. I don’t believe that, I actually believe that to live in a democracy is to see a form of government that is well suited, given that we have to have government, as any that’s ever been devised from a Christian point of view. So, I know people, often without really thinking it through, will say, “Oh, it’s a dirty world, you shouldn’t be involved.” But I would ask the question then, “Should we say that William Wilberforce, who was the man who’d been charged to abolish slavery, he was a Christian, and he thought to himself, ‘Oh, I should leave the parliament, it’s no place for a Christian person.‘” And he became convinced that he had two great things to do; one was to, it’s not language he used but he was expected to clean up corruption, especially in his parliament, and the other was to try and end slavery, and by the time he died, both had been achieved. And an extraordinary era of democratic freedom unfolded, absolutely extraordinary. Wasn’t perfect, but it was probably a greater state of civilization than the world had ever seen, at that point in time. And Australia was a great beneficiary of it. The people who wrote our constitution, had those great insights from that great era, of deep understanding of the world we live in. And that constitution’s given us freedoms and opportunities. It’s not perfect, I don’t say that, but are the envy of people the world over, you don’t have to be smart to see that people want to enjoy them, that’s why people want to come here. It’s not an accident they want to come here.

Brendan Corr
You’re describing government, the leadership of community, as something almost gifted by God for the good of all people, is that how you view the notion of government?

John Anderson
Yes. In one sense, it’s a necessary evil. If we all behaved perfectly, you’d need little or no government, you might still have to have government to decide which side of the road you’re going to drive on, and what sort of education people will have, but you wouldn’t need government to stop people doing wrong things. You wouldn’t need police forces, you wouldn’t need courts. We need all of those things, because so many of us will at some time in our lives, be tempted to do something wrong and actually, all too often, do it. We need to be very honest about ourselves, we don’t really behave all the time as well as we ought to towards others, so we do need a government. Now, having said that, the better the citizenry, the better the form of government can be. Democracy though, as the people who really thought about it long and hard, and if you like particularly the American founding fathers, said it was a system of government that will only work while people are decent and civil in their behaviour to one another, and are prepared to make sacrifices. If we become absorbed with selfishness, if we only ever only ask what can our country do for us, well, democracy in the end won’t work, and we’ll end up with some more totalitarian, or dictatorial style of government. That’s the reality, history tells us that.

Brendan Corr
John, you’ve been part of parliaments, and part of cabinets, that have been involved in making momentous decisions, and responding to momentous events. In those moments, were you conscious of the place of your faith in entering those conversations with your colleagues?

John Anderson
Oh yes. And sometimes they wouldn’t let you forget either, they really wouldn’t. But the answer is yes, it gave me a clear understanding that I was not to… people might say, “Well, you didn’t live right,” but I tried to, that I couldn’t laud it over others, that I had to be there for everyone, whether they voted for me or not. Although, of course, I wanted people to vote for me, so I always tried to persuade them to vote for me, I suppose. And to recognise, that the parliament is greater than me, and the people are greater than the parliament, if I can put it that way.

Brendan Corr
That’s good. The world of politics is cynically viewed, often viewed as a world of spin doctoring, of presenting an image rather than revealing what is real. How did you, as a Christian, find that balance between sending a message that was needed, or refined, or crafted, and being true and authentic and sincere?

John Anderson
It’s a different world. Everyone’s become so much more cynical over the last decade. And it was tough, and yet all those accusations were made, but really, in those days, Australians I think responded to authenticity, and if they didn’t like it, if they knew you believed you were doing the right thing, and you explained it well, they would accept it. Not always with the greatest of delight, but they would… and what’s happened now though, is that the cynicism has been hyper charged. I think there are two great problems; one is the terrible, terrible knocking of our culture that has been made, just infested our universities, and then into our school system. And very rarely, how many students can say that they were honestly taught that democracy is the greatest guarantor of freedom? And that capitalism is easily, easily the best way to ensure opportunity and a decent living standard for everybody else? You can argue until the cows come home, but the reality is, that nobody could ever show you a system that’s worked better. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but no system’s ever been shown to work better. And every other system I can think of, has been shown to be inferior, and has resulted in poorer opportunities, in poorer lifestyles for people. And what’s more, we’ve extended it unbelievably internationally. People forget that. The lifting of people out of poverty, there are still 800 million people who don’t have enough to eat, but there’s two billion who have too much to eat. That is an extraordinary reversal. Vast numbers of people now get an education when they didn’t once. 80% of the world’s population has some access to electricity. So incredible progress has been made, but no, we have to knock everything, everything we’ve ever done in our culture is bad, and I know young men feel that. I’ve seen them responding to Jordan Peterson, I’ve seen an audience full of young men, basically relating to Jordan Peterson, because they feel they’re being accused of being the son’s of terrible, white, colonialist oppressors. And many of them are going, “Well, that’s not who I am, and I don’t want to be like that.” I do blame academia, not all of them, but far too much of it, far too much of our history is either so badly taught no one does it, or it distorts history so badly that people don’t understand it. Now the second problem I have, and this is a massive one, no one can talk about the way politicians behave if they want to be social media warriors, and Twitterati, that get worked into an absolutely lather of hatred, and disgust, and contempt for anybody who dares to disagree with them. It’s a real problem. I really feel for young people, because a lot of them have told me, it’s very, very hard for them to stand up for what they really think is right, because if it isn’t popular, they’ll get cancelled. We can be unbelievably cruel to one another. And if we understood our history, we’d realise how dangerous that is, because every dog has his day, so to speak. One day an idea is popular and it’s followers are on top, the next it’s completely reversed. And that was how the whole Western concept of freedom of conscience, respect another person’s right for their views, was born really, the idea that you don’t burn people at the stake if you disagree with them. From now, we cancel them on social media, and as we know, some young people then take their own lives.

Brendan Corr
So, John, you’re talking about the value of democracy as a principle, a way in which we can live together and govern our communities. And part of what I think I’m hearing you talk about, is a failure to appreciate how that actually works, that we’ve lost the capacity to engage in a meaningful conversation. Do you think that is just at a personal level, that it’s just at the individual level? Or is there an element that our parliamentarians have lost the art of disagreeing civilly, arguing the case?

John Anderson
Yes. No doubt about it. The question for people to ask themselves is, “Are our parliaments upstream or downstream of culture?” In other words, are the parliamentarians just reflecting us, the people who put them there, and in the way that we talk to one another, and we won’t agree, and we look for the things that divide us, not the things we have in common as Australians? Or is it the other way round? Now, there’s no doubt parliamentarians should set an example, and actually, I’m going to say to you that many of them do, there are many parliamentarians who behave with exemplary manners and do are decent, there really are. But they don’t give them any credit for it. You don’t see blazing headlines, “The member for XYZ, today demonstrated what an utterly decent and honest and reliable person he or she is.” You don’t see those headlines. But can I tell you, it happens, and it happens regularly.

Brendan Corr
So is it a case of…

John Anderson
We’re so cynical, we assume it’s all bad, because that’s what we’re told. Well, it isn’t all bad, the country wouldn’t succeed if it was.

Brendan Corr
So, if I’m pursuing this conversation with you a bit more, you’re advocating democracy as being not just the rule of the masses, not just the populous, and whatever is popular being the standard, but of an ideal, that we all need to aspire to. Is that a fair reflection of some of your thoughts?

John Anderson
I think the key to it all is understanding that life is not about very good people and bad people, the great Russian thinker and writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “If only it was so simple, that the problem of evil is that there’s some evil people; so if we get rid of the evil people, there will be no more evil.” It doesn’t work like that, because as you said, in fact, the dividing line between good and evil lies somewhere across every human heart, nobody’s perfect. Nobody. And if you want to get rid of evil, each of us has to cut a bit of ourselves out. This is the problem of thinking you’re the centre of the universe; we fall into this terrible trap of saying, “Well, if I’m the centre of the universe, I can’t be wrong. So if you disagree with me, you must be wrong.” And then that rapidly morphs into, “Since I’m a good person, and you disagree with me, you must be a bad person.” That is hopeless, because we all need to learn, that from time to time, we’re not always right, and the second point about it is; we are all allowed to have different views. The great American writer, who’s written about the terrible hatred in America today, a book called, “Love Thine Enemies,” I think it’s called, Arthur Brooks, and he himself says, “You know, I am a Conservative, but my parents were not, they were on the left side of the line. So do you think I love them less? Or they love me less? Because we were different? No.” And we simply have to, see what we’ve lost in this post Christian age, is an idea that God - it’s the Menzie’s point, says that all souls are equal in the eyes of heaven, therefore, that’s a really big restraint. I mean, “Good grief, God loves you, you and I disagree profoundly, but he loves you as much as me, I’d better be a bit careful. I might be needing to have a look at myself.” Well, that’s not what society says, we now say, “Oh no, line up your rights, anti discrimination law will solve your problem.” But in fact, you’re competing for your rights, instead of celebrating freedom, we pursue rights, instead of exercising responsibility, and judgement , and decency, we run for our rights. And it’s not working very well, and I do feel for young people who are wondering how they can find their feet, when the pressure to conform, and conform to a worldview that’s pretty inadequate in my view, and not very satisfying, is massive.

Brendan Corr
Yes. So what I’m hearing, that your recognition of democracy as a way of proper, right government, worked when it was in relationship to a higher set of understandings, a higher set of principles. When it’s simply the practise of our own concepts of good, bad, right, wrong, we lose that sense of generosity, that sense of equal before God regardless of our background or our view points, or our opinions.

John Anderson
Well, it’s more difficult to forgive as well, I have a Conversation series, and I asked Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who’s in the House of Lords in England, an enormously highly regarded thinker and writer, whether we’re in danger of losing the ability to forgive? And he said, “Well, yes we are, it’s a real problem. We don’t forgive. We’re so judgmental we don’t…” I said, “What happens when no one forgives anymore?” And he said, “Then you have to hope that people might forget.” But they can’t forget, most of the media will drag up everything you’ve ever said, and everything you’ve ever done. And without forgiveness, and without putting differences behind us, well, a marriage won’t work, if you can’t forgive, and if you can’t forget and you keep bringing things up, you won’t restore those relationships. And this highly judgmental culture that we’ve started to impose on our young people, and I don’t think it’s going to end well if we can’t rediscover our shared humanity, none of us will survive.

Brendan Corr
So, you mentioned that you attribute some of the trigger to this, to the world of academia in universities and then down into schools. Where do you think the solution, where do you think the way out of, or a change of direction of the path we’re heading down, might lie, John?

John Anderson
I wish I knew, because I’m not all that optimistic. I am greatly encouraged, and I really am, by the number of young people who contact me, as I say, I have a Conversation site, and say things like, they’re so thankful that they can go somewhere and get a different diet of views, because they can’t get it at university. I find that profoundly disturbing. But a number of them who are thinking for the… and I’ll give you an example; an exceptionally bright young man I met the other day, exceptionally bright, very clear thinker, very gracious young man, is studying at one of Australia’s absolutely premier universities. And he’s studying law and commerce. We were talking about this very topic, and he said, “85% of the people in my classes believe that a lot of the time, they’re just being fed ideology.” Now, one would have thought lecturers might be humble enough to say, “Well, we’d better try and be a bit more objective, and a little bit more professional.” 85%, because this feller was not a mug, and he was at a top university, and he said, “They think the student’s can’t see that they’re being fed a lie. They can see it, they’re not stupid.” Of course, there are many, many honourable exceptions, but there is far too much of this, right across the Western world. Far too much denial of freedom of speech, and that sounds frightening, that sounds easy to say, but what it actually means, the really serious underlying issue, is that there’s not a healthy discussion of different perspectives. We keep hearing that, “Diversity’s important, we support equality and diversity,” and very often that means, “We’ll only support you if you fall into line with our world view.” Well not everybody does want to fall into line with a narrow worldview.

Brendan Corr
Diversity as defined by them? Rather than the university. John, you made a comment during our conversation that, the bible is not a book about politics, or it’s not a political treaty, but it is highly political. And it sounds to me as though you are, while you’re not in the parliament, and involved in the argy-bargy of politics, you are retaining a sense of political activism through other forms? Do you see that you are still involved in this arguing the case for the common good, and for political principles?

John Anderson
I don’t think you can ever give it up. The bible insists that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That we love our neighbours as ourselves, and that I think it is an enormous force for selflessness, and the commitment to, while we have breath in our bodies, try and serve. As I see it, my understanding is, that we don’t actually have the option of being selfish, we are of course selfish by nature, but that we are compelled, I think if we take our faith seriously, to seek to do good whenever we can, to whoever we can, in conjunction with whoever we can help.

Brendan Corr
John, our time’s pretty much spent. But I want to acknowledge the good that you were doing when you served in the highest offices of our democracy. The significant role that you played, not just in the decisions that you made, but in the character that you evidenced while you were in those roles, and the universal respect that that garnered. But I also want to acknowledge how you continue to be truthful and faithful to the calls to make a difference, to live your faith, through whatever channels God opens for you, whether that’s your own podcast, or the work you do for charities, or community leadership. We want to acknowledge the fact that you’ve been under the hand of God in your career, taken to the heights, and even now, the instrument of the One who’s called you.

Brendan Corr
Any last thoughts that you might want to share with those that might be listening?

John Anderson
Well, that’s incredibly kind of you. I think I spend a lot of my time thinking, “Why didn’t I do more?” Or, “Why didn’t I do it better?” But that’s very kind of you. I think I would say to young people, in particular, that this is a tough life, and I wish you all the very, very best, but I would challenge you to recognise that, unless you seek the truth, go looking for it, you won’t find it. You won’t find the good life, you’ll fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, we’re just clever monkeys. And the one who accumulates the most toys wins.” And there’s a lot more to it than that.

Brendan Corr
John, you have evidenced the fact that you have been captured by the belief that there is more to us, there’s more to any of our call in life, and thank you for sharing your views on what that big idea, the faith of the Christian belief, what it’s meant for you. And what it can mean for all of us. Thank you and God bless you.

John Anderson
Thank you very much indeed.

About John Anderson

John Anderson was the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the National Party from 1999 to 2005. He was a member of the House of Representatives from 1989 to 2007, serving as Minister for Primary Industries & Energy (1996–1998) and Minister for Transport & Regional Development (1998–2005) in the Howard Government. In 2011, Mr Anderson was named an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the Parliament of Australia. Having retired from formal politics before the 2007 election, he now hosts the popular podcast ‘Conversations’.

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About Brendan Corr

Originally a Secondary Science Teacher, Brendan is a graduate of UTS, Deakin and Regent College, Canada. While Deputy Principal at Pacific Hills for 12 years, Brendan also led the NSW Christian Schools Australia registration system. Brendan’s faith is grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep knowledge of God’s Word. Married for over 30 years, Brendan and Kim have 4 adult children. On the weekends, Brendan enjoys cycling (but he enjoys coffee with his mates afterwards slightly more).