This follows on from a couple of articles I wrote last year about the ultraconservatives circling the wagons to protect paedophiles as well as their mates in the coal industry1,2. This begins a look at the intersection of religion, especially Christianity, with politics.
Almost two years ago, I wrote an essay about the decline of religion in the anglophone world with the most up-to-date data for Australia that I saw being from the national census of 2016. This showed that those professing to have no religious belief was continuing to rise as a proportion of the population, and it then stood at 30.1%3. Ever since I wrote that essay, I have wondered if that decline was continuing, and was too impatient to wait until the 2021 census, so I looked for more recent data. I found out that there is a survey conducted annually into such things. It is the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, a longitudinal survey of Australian households which commenced in 2001. The study is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne, and its most recent iteration was published late in 2020. This contains data up to and including 2018. It indicates that the trend away from religion is continuing, with about 40% of people in the survey group having no religious affiliation4,5.
The religious know this is happening and they don’t like it. They can see the writing on the wall as the decline in bums on pews continues. In addition to this, Australian society is becoming more progressive with, over the last few decades, homosexuality being decriminalised, abortion being decriminalised, in some jurisdictions the personal use of marijuana has been decriminalised, same sex marriage has been legalised, voluntary assisted dying has been legalised, and the banning of ‘gay conversion therapy’ has been legislated. All of these are anathema to the hard core of religious nutters who believe they know what is best for everyone, and it just happens to be their interpretation of their bible; just theirs alone. The legalisation or decriminalisation of all of these and the decline in religiosity of the populace has demonstrated to the religious that their power over people and their political influence is in decline, and this terrifies them, as religion is in part about power. This continuing decline has led the religious to desperation, so what are they to do?
What they have done so far is to start the takeover of various branches of the Liberal Party. This has happened in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland. In Victoria it was driven by mormons with a few catholics, combined with evangelical christians from churches such as Victory Faith Centre and City Builders. During the Victorian election campaign in late 2018, their influence led the then leader of the Liberal Party to announce a policy of reintroducing religious instruction into state schools6,7. This went over like a lead balloon, such that the Victorian Labor Party was returned to government with an increased majority8.
In Western Australia, the takeover has been largely orchestrated by evangelical christians, with people from such churches as the True North, Globalheart and One Church being prominent9. It was predicted a few years ago that this would risk the Liberal Party being ‘crucified’ at the ballot box10, and during the recent Western Australian election campaign the party leader Zak Kirkup had to defend one of his candidate’s bizarre religious views11. The predicted crucifixion came to pass, with the Liberal Party being reduced to two seats in the 59 seat lower house12,13. The National Party has retained 4 seats, and will form the opposition, as the Liberal and National parties are not in coalition (yet) in Western Australia.
In Queensland, the amalgamated Liberal National Party (LNP) has slowly and steadily been taken over by the christian right, according to former Queensland Liberal minister, Jann Stuckey. She was one of only three LNP members who voted to legalise abortion, and despite being given a conscience vote, these three were condemned by the then party president. Failed Australian Conservative Senate candidate, and former head of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton has been working in the office of a former LNP minister14. The Queensland election was held in late 2020 and the Labor Party was returned with an increased majority15.
In New South Wales, a religious group is working to recruit 5,000 christian conservatives to the NSW Liberal Party with a view to controlling the state division. The group calls itself the NSW Reformers, and they have put together a 900 word document entitled Taking Back Our Nation Through Good Government. The metadata for this document suggests it was written by a staff member in a federal ministerial office in 201816.
In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the Liberal Party have not been in government for almost 20 years, and it has been suggested that they are the most conservative of all the major state and territory conservative parties. For instance, when the marriage equality vote was held in 2017, the then Prime Minister and every premier and chief minister, as well as every opposition leader voted for marriage equality, except one; the leader of the ACT branch of the Liberal Party17. This is odd, given that the ACT is the most progressive jurisdiction in Australia, with 74% of the populace voting for marriage equality, when the Australian average was 61.6%. Why are the Liberals like this? One can only imagine, but perhaps the Liberal senator for the ACT, Zed Seselja, who is a christian conservative, having opposed marriage equality and voluntary assisted suicide, is indicative of the religiosity of the ACT Liberals18.
The South Australian Liberal Party, which is in government, does not seem to have succumbed to infiltration by the religious as in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland, and as seems to be under way in New South Wales. There is a brawl currently under way to remove abortion from the South Australian criminal code and deal with it in healthcare legislation. The fact that this is likely to pass, demonstrates that religious nutters are not in the ascendancy in South Australia19.
Tasmania also does not seem to have been infiltrated by the religious, despite the religious nutter Eric Abetz having a considerable amount of Liberal support in Tasmania. The Northern Territory also seems to have escaped conversion. However, this is just the beginning.