Considering only 9% of the population attend church regularly, they seem very over-represented in our Parliament.
David Marr offers some reasons for this.
“We’re a very secular nation that trusts and admires Christians. We think they’re moral people. We see them having an especially direct connection to the bedrock of our society: what John Howard calls this country’s Judeo-Christian ethic. We trust Christians, we trust Christian leaders and we trust that Christianity is good for the country.
But to understand what’s really going on between the churches and secular politicians in Australia you have to focus on the money. The financial privileges of the churches are politically untouchable. That’s a given in Australia. The $40 million or so Hillsong reaps each year from tythes, tapes and books like Brian [Houston’s] You Need More Money won’t be taxed. But now there’s a fresh development: a flood of public cash sluicing through the churches and church organisations to provide faith-based delivery of public services. The money is simultaneously enriching and silencing the churches.
The textbooks tell us, that by supporting church morals, politicians offer a troubled electorate the sort of reassurance that persuades people to vote conservative even if it’s against their best – particularly their best economic – interests. Support for the Christian idea of family – no poofs, no drugs, no divorce, no grown up video games, no Lesbian mothers – is the great consolation prize offered to real families whose futures have been made if not marginal then uncertain by the free market revolution of the last 15 years.
But let’s not forget in this the good old fashioned quids pro quo that flow from political backing of the churches. The service can be remarkable. George Pell declared there was no Catholic position on GST in the 1998 campaign. That was a circuit breaker. In the 2001 campaign he said he never comments during election campaigns so couldn’t protest the government’s treatment of refugees. And for the 2004 campaign, Pell – by this time Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney – joined forces with the Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen to damn Labor’s plans to divert public money from the richest church schools. Now that’s service. That’s getting your money’s worth.”
Pell also weighed in heavily in the carbon tax debate saying
“Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.”
In October 2010, Pell even made a submission to the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee which quoted heavily from Ian Plimer’s much panned book Heaven and Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”. In 2011, despite having zero scientific qualifications, he delivered the annual Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture in London in which he liberally quoted Christopher Monckton.
Tony Abbott described Pell as a mentor and “one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen”. Pell is now under investigation, not only for his role in covering up child sex abuse, but also allegedly being a perpetrator. But that doesn’t stop Attorney-General Brandis from meeting with him secretly in Rome.
Whilst still wielding great power, particularly in Coalition ranks, the Catholic Church is in decline. The Pentacostals, whilst relatively small in number, are now the fastest growing religion in Australia.
In his maiden speech, Scott Morrison singled out Hillsong leader Brian Houston for praise as a mentor. Houston has since been referred to the NSW Police by the Royal Commission for his failure to adequately deal with his father’s sexual abuse of children.
The Royal Commission has exposed in case study 18: conflict of interest, shortcomings and mismanagement by the AOG/ACC executive and its then President, Brian Houston, when handling the Frank Houston child sex abuse allegations.
Stuart Robert is another Pentacostal parliamentarian who said in his maiden speech that his “life has always been guided by a strong Christian faith that has set my moral compass and cemented my values.”
“I am proud of our nation’s common Judaeo-Christian heritage and the values that underpin that heritage and, indeed, underpin our society and way of life. I am proud of the personal freedoms we enjoy, based on a bedrock of Christian based ethical standards.”
Stuart Robert was demoted for accompanying a Liberal Party donor to China to secure a business deal from which he would benefit financially. He is also under investigation for electoral funding misdemeanours.
In his speech he named Gary Skinner, leader of the Ugandan-based pentecostal Watoto Church , as one of the “great influences over my life”.
Mr Robert was a founding director of the offshoot Watoto Australia.
Gay and lesbian activists say Watoto and Mr Skinner are virulently anti-gay and have contributed to violent homophobia in Uganda. Mr Robert – who was also a member of Watoto’s International Board – has travelled to the Ugandan capital Kampala many times to meet Mr Skinner, who says homosexuality is “degrading” and an “inhuman sin” that brings disease and destroys families.
On at least two occasions Mr Robert charged taxpayers for the travel, with the bill totalling almost $20,000. On two other occasions he declared free travel to Africa on his register of interests, paid for by Watoto.
The Church supported a bill calling for the death penalty for gays. The bill was eventually passed without the death penalty included, instead imposing a life sentence for homosexuality. The new version of the bill – which also imposes seven-year prison terms for “aiding and abetting” homosexuals – was annulled by the country’s constitutional court but only on procedural grounds. Proponents are agitating to resurrect it.
Scott Morrison said that our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. He said Australia is not a secular nation – it is a free nation.
This symbiotic relationship between church and state is costing us a fortune both in lost taxes and inflated state support for very wealthy schools and it entrenches discrimination based on religious beliefs.
And it sure doesn’t seem to be helping our politicians’ moral compass or ethical standards. But that’s hardly surprising when you look at who they choose as “mentors”.