December 6, 2008
The Canberra Times

Little Christian sentiment from a preacher of God’s justice

This isn’t the first time Queensland MP James Bidgood has shocked his colleagues but, if nothing else, he’s getting very good at it.

Bidgood hails from that beautiful northern state of Queensland. Yet it’s hard to fathom what kind of murky creek the Labor Party dredged him up from, to plonk his thick hide on the seat of Dawson.

It’s his first year in Federal Parliament, and it’s already been too long. Hauled over the coals just two months ago for suggesting the Prime Minister was indiscreet, party officials no doubt hoped he’d learnt a lesson about diplomacy and political judgment. But clearly he hasn’t. This week he proved it.

On Wednesday the man who rants about ”God’s justice”, and dares pose the question ”What would Jesus do?” suddenly displayed a very hollow brand of Christianity.

When a young man with a known history of mental illness, doused himself with petrol and attempted to set himself alight, Bidgood the politician turned into Bidgood the eager snapper.

As the terribly distressed man fumbled with his oven lighter and battled to fight off police, and his equally distraught mother dived into what quickly became an aggressive situation, James Bidgood stood on the periphery and took photos.

That may seem extraordinarily callous to some. But that isn’t the problem. It’s what happened next that speaks volumes about Bidgood and his warped sense of priorities.

Knowing that he had captured some dramatic moments on his camera, it’s a pity the blustering Queenslander didn’t stop and pay heed to his own preaching. If only he’d thought to ask himself ”What would Jesus do?”

Now, I don’t know Jesus personally, but I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t do what Bidgood did.

A short time after the tragic soul, sopping wet with water, had been carted off by police, and his mother had passed out on the lawn, Bidgood cut himself a deal. He offered The Daily Telegraph $1000 for the shots.

Bidgood has since claimed he asked for the money to be paid to a charity. Maybe he did. But I suspect that was only after he realised that cashing in on this near-death tragedy had the potential to highlight his own insensitivity and lack of judgment.

According to the Labor Party’s official website, James Bidgood has a background in the health profession, and was previously financial director of a medical centre. He has a ”passion” for quality health care, and believes in ”grassroots democracy”, and ”listening” to people – or so says the spin.

One can only wonder what happened to Bidgood’s professional credentials, and his desire to listen, when 28-year-old Marat Aminov threw petrol over his body in a desperate attempt to draw attention to his cause.

Aminov is well-known to MPs. Twice he’s been forcibly removed from the Parliament for creating a disturbance. On Monday he jumped from the public gallery on to the floor of the House of Representatives while yelling something about no food, and no visa for 20 years.

Earlier this year Aminov was admitted to the mental health unit at the Royal North Shore Hospital. He was diagnosed as suffering psychosis. He is clearly an unwell man who claims to have been driven mad by the Government’s refusal to grant his parents a permanent visa to stay in Australia. His father Samil, and mother, Alija, came as immigrants from the former Soviet Union in 1997.

While Aminov has managed to get permanency, his parents remain stateless and effectively in limbo. Until recently they have not been allowed to work, and they still don’t qualify for any government benefits, including Medicare.

The family has waged a long battle of protest against government intransigence. Both Aminov’s parents have gone on hunger strikes in the past. According to Jamal Daoud, a family friend, Samil and Alija have also developed mental health problems as a result of their long and arduous battle with government bureaucracy.

Daoud was with Aminov and his mother on Wednesday when Aminov doused himself in fuel. Just before he did it, he told Daoud he couldn’t cope any more.

When he pulled out that lighter and began flicking it, Daoud says he believed Aminov intended to kill himself.

Not far away, Bidgood captured his photo.

Of course, there is no rule stating that Members of Parliament have to pass a morality test before standing for election. Heavens, if we did that we might be a hard-pressed to fill all those seats. Nor is there a law demanding they have a brain. We, foolishly, just assume they do.

In a speech to a function held in Parliament, Bidgood sounded like David Koresh at Waco as he raved about the global financial crisis being God’s punishment on the world. But it wasn’t just the fire and brimstone that was unhealthy, it was the fact that Bidgood seemed to be saying that the pain caused by financial collapse was a good and godly thing. ”I believe there is God’s justice in action in what is going on here,” he said. He insisted that this event has been spelt out in Revelations. ”We are in the end times,” he raved.

Well if the end is nigh, I wish James Bidgood a speedy departure from Canberra. It is not just embarrassing to have dumb fools like this in the Federal Parliament, it is shameful.

Yesterday Aminov was grappling to make sense of what has happened. He wanted to know why his life wasn’t worth more than a lousy $1000.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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