Whatever happened to secular democracy?
WITH the rise of Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott federally and Kristina Keneally in NSW, religion is re-encroaching on politics.
The biggest influence is in NSW. When Catholic World Youth Day descended on that state in July last year, many taxpayers resented being forced to pay $20 million in security charges for the event and $40m for the use of Randwick racecourse. The reason that atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Anglicans and even a few Catholics were being forced to go along with this was essentially because then premier Morris Iemma and many of his fellow committed Catholics in the NSW ALP Right were born into that religion. They didn’t want a confrontation with Catholic Archbishop of Sydney George Pell over a cheaper location.
The idea that NSW taxpayers could be forced to fund a Scientology convention or a Rastafarian smoke-in would be laughable. But they’re both bona fide religions in their own right and meet roughly the same criteria as Christianity and Islam for all the lurks and perks.
Why was there little organised opposition, then, to this unpopular rort? The main reason was that there was no significant dissent from within the parliament.
On the opposition side, a man who reputedly is influential in the NSW Liberal preselection processes, upper house MP David Clarke, is very strong in some of his Catholic views. Two other devout Christians, Fred Nile and Gordon Moyes, happened to sit on the all-important cross-benches in the upper house, with the result that the propriety of handing $60m in NSW taxpayers’ money to support an already wealthy religion could have been better examined.
More recently, Clarke and Nile were guest speakers at last month’s Australia’s Future and Global Jihad conference in Sydney, alongside Danny Nalliah from the Catch the Fire Ministries. Other attendees were Peter and Jenny Stokes from the fundamentalist Christian morals group Salt Shakers Inc and Emmanuel Michael from the Assyrian Federation of Australia. Why would one of the Liberal Party’s top policy-makers be at such a conference, which was backing the notion that our Christian heritage was under attack from evil forces? And what about Kevin Rudd’s attendance at the Australian Christian Lobby’s annual general meeting last month?
The secular Nathan Rees’s elevation to the premiership in NSW afforded a glimmer of hope that the state’s politics would not be dominated by conservative Christian ethics.
But those hopes were dashed by the recent ascendancy of another devout Catholic to the top job in NSW. Sporting a strange mix of American accent and fashion chic, Kristina Keneally boasts a BA in political science and religion and a masters degree in feminist theology from Ohio. She met her Young Labor husband at Catholic World Youth Day in Poland in 1991, which says much about her leanings.
The election of Christian hard-liners to positions of power and influence in NSW doesn’t stop at Macquarie Street. NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione is a devout Baptist who worships at the influential Hillsong Church. He is responsible for the first official police Bible, bound in police blue with an official NSW Police crest on the cover. On Scipione’s watch, all new NSW police graduates from the Goulburn Academy are routinely offered one of these special Bibles.
While Scipione is doing good work in trying to curtail alcohol-based violence, he has made no secret of the fact he brings his Christian faith into his policing work. Out at Hillsong that means treating homosexuality as a disease to be cured rather than an identity to be lived. But is it a fair whack that taxpayers are funding police Bibles? Will they also produce a Koran with a NSW Police logo for Muslim officers? With 38 per cent of our federal politicians being members of the devout Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, and a half-dozen well-known journalists in the press gallery claiming Jesus as their saviour, the non-believers, infidels, atheists, secularists and our many slightly spiritual but anti-organised religion citizens need to be delivered from this anti-intellectualism.
The final word on the Christianisation of Australian politics surely comes from the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, former SAS officer Jim Wallace. Unlike some stakeholders, Wallace has publicly claimed to have had regular contact with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy – Catholic – as Conroy developed his unpopular model for filtering our internet.
Last month Wallace sent out a media release urging other parties to preference the Australian Sex Party last in the Bradfield and Higgins by-elections, as they had done with One Nation.
The Sex Party came third in Bradfield and a close fourth in Higgins.
Wallace needs to take a cold shower. That there is now an Australian political party prepared to challenge the pious claptrap that dominates most of the other parties is refreshing.
The Newspoll survey published last month showed that 32 per cent of NSW voters thought there was too much religion in politics.
With the orchestrated rise of Keneally and Tony Abbott, that figure may have risen.