Someone online asked me and others to explain why we could not vote for the Morrison government (not that I ever would), I replied:
“The constant lies, misogyny, racism, idiocy, petulance, corruption, pork barrelling, religious nutjobbery, hatred of expertise, shirking of responsibility, shifting of blame to the blameless, the stealing of credit from the creditable. #WhyIWantChange”1
This is the fifth instalment and deals with their religious nutjobbery. The first instalment dealt with the government’s constant lying and their misogyny1; the second with their racism, and their use of it, as well as the extraordinarily idiotic things members of the government say2; the third with their petulance and corruption3; and the fourth instalment dealt with the government’s pork barrelling4.
While religious nutjobbery has been around in Australian politics ever since the religious looked upon politics as a way to consolidate their power, the constitutional separation of church and state notwithstanding, it has mostly been confined to the wacky end of the political spectrum in recent years. This wacky end has seen parties like Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party and the Family First Party and sundry others, most of which have sunk without trace. This lack of penetration of religious nutjobbery into the mainstream political life of the country has frustrated the religious no end. So, what have the religious done to try to remedy this inability? They have started taking over the Liberal Party. This started in Victoria with the recruitment of Mormons and other fundamentalist Christians into the party5. Their control of the Victorian branch was perhaps epitomised by then (and now) leader Matthew Guy vowing to reintroduce religious instruction classes in public schools just before the 2018 state election, where they went backwards6. A similar thing happened to the Western Australian branch. People from several churches have taken over many local branches of the party and have influenced the selection of candidates7. This is believed to be part of the reason for the Liberal Party’s decimation at the 2021 state election, where they were left with only two seats in the 59 seat lower house. The result was so bad that they are now the junior partner in the Western Australian opposition, because the National Party has four seats8.
In Queensland, the amalgamated Liberal National Party (LNP) has slowly and steadily been taken over by the Christian right. This is perhaps demonstrated by the experience of former LNP minister, Jann Stuckey. In the vote to legalise abortion in the state, members of the government were given a conscience vote, and she was one of only three LNP members who voted to legalise abortion, and despite the conscience vote, these three were condemned by the then party president9,10. Again, as in Victoria and Western Australia, in the 2020 Queensland state election the Labor Party was returned with an increased majority11.
Then South Australian Liberal Party state president, Legh Davis, was sent an email by a parishioner from an Adelaide Pentecostal church, complaining that a senior Liberal has been “using my church to take over your party”. Four senior Liberal parliamentarians attended a church at which the pastor, one Rob Norman, told the congregation it was their “mission” to become party members to help block contentious legislation such as the recent abortion and voluntary euthanasia bills. One of the parliamentarians told the congregation to “forget” the concept of the separation of church and state. More than 400 new members had been signed up in 202112. At the 2022 state election, the Liberal Party were hammered, losing a significant number of seats after only one term13.
Federally, 6% of Liberal and LNP parliamentarians have no religious affiliation14, whereas in the general population the most recent survey indicates that 40% of the population have no religious affiliation10. Scott Morrison wants to keep parliament unrepresentative like this, and was part of the reason for the recent intervention in the New South Wales preselection process.
As another method of entrenching religious privilege and increase the number of bums on pews in the future, the Howard government began the Commonwealth School Chaplaincy Program in 2007. It was stated that the program was to offer “support and guidance about ethics, values, relationships and spirituality”, and was supposed to be based on pastoral care, not religious instruction. However, it was very telling that secular pastoral care workers were not allowed to be hired under the program15. It was only for religious organisations to provide people.
Then there was the appropriately named Religious Discrimination Bill which the Morrison government tried to get through the parliament recently. There have been several drafts of the bill, with earlier versions causing an enormous amount of consternation and fear in the LGBTIQ+ community, and among women and some minorities. This is because large parts of the bill were about maintaining the ability to indulge in hate-speech, and maintaining the ability to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender. The bill was largely to be used to wedge the Labor Party, but the latter outmanoeuvred the coalition and the legislation was withdrawn16,17.
In addition to the religious taking over the Liberal Party bit by bit, some of the parliamentarians who call the coalition home seem to be as mad as cut snakes. Amanda Stoker is one whose statements have to be seen to be believed. In an interview, she stated
“there is zero evidence of gay kids getting expelled from religious schools; it’s just not happening. When there are children who have these issues [being gay] in religious schools they are overwhelmingly dealt with pastorally and caringly, and in a way that tries to support their welfare.” This may be so, but she went on: “Take for example the situation of a parent or child who wants to be an activist in a religious school. You’ve got a conservative Catholic school and you’ve got a child who wants to run a gay club within the school. That clearly contradicts with [sic] Catholic teaching and Catholic schools should have the right to say that’s not within the framework of the values we want for this school”. How would a Catholic school know if there was a gay club in their midst? After all they didn’t seem to know about the child abuse that had been happening in their midst for centuries18.
In trying to promote the Religious Discrimination bill, Stoker was playing the victim card. She asked people to ‘Act now for religious freedom’, noting that ‘our culture and our laws shouldn’t be hostile to people who hold traditional values’. In an attempt to garner signatures for a petition, she stated that “Religious freedom is not the government’s gift to Australians, it is a natural right, something every human is born with”. If it was not a gift, then why did she ask people to support legislation by the government, which could be construed as a gift from the government to the religious, to allow them to continue discriminating against others? In addition, she maintained that “we now have a situation where so-called anti-discrimination acts [legislation] have been turned into weapons against people of faith. For too long, faith has consistently lost out to corrosive identity politics”19.
What Stoker is complaining about is that the religious have been prevented from discriminating against people by anti-discrimination legislation. When your ethos is about discriminating against people, there is something horribly wrong with your ethos.
During the runup to the same-sex marriage plebiscite the religious nutters came out from under their rocks in droves. The plebiscite was simply a delaying tactic by the religious nutters in the coalition parties so they could rally their troops and develop their lies and obfuscations. They knew that having a conscience vote in parliament was likely to pass the same sex marriage legislation easily, so a delaying tactic was necessary to avoid this20,21.
So many of the nutters in the government trawled up ludicrous arguments to try to convince people that same-sex marriage was the thin end of the wedge, or the end of civilisation. Eric Abetz threatened coalition members who would dare cross the floor to vote for same sex marriage should there be a vote in parliament. He insisted that there should be a plebiscite, yet he refused to be bound by the result, noting that plebiscites are not binding. This was his declaration that he doesn’t care what the people of Australia want, he will not have someone getting rights that his church has railed against for decades22.
Despite voting for the same-sex marriage plebiscite, Australian Capital Territory senator Zed Seselja was not happy when the result was overwhelmingly for legalising same-sex marriage (61.6%). Indeed, the ACT was the jurisdiction in which the result was strongest for legalisation, with 74.0% voting in favour. Seselja initially pledged to back the result of the national plebiscite in parliament, but when it came to the vote, he absented himself from the chamber23. So much for ‘thou shalt not bear false witness’.
One of the common furphies the religious put around was that ‘redefining marriage’ would diminish their marriage. One of those was the appalling former Prime Minister John Howard. Given that same-sex marriage has been legal in the Netherlands for over 20 years, it would seem that his marriage has been diminishing for decades. Of course, it could be that it is only when someone in the same city or suburb as you is given a right you have had all your life, that leads to your marriage diminishing. Would you have to know that someone up the road was in a same-sex marriage before your marriage started to diminish?24
Barnaby Joyce campaigned against same-sex marriage, stating: “We know that the best protection for those girls [his four daughters] is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband, and I want that to happen for them. I don’t want any legislator to take that right away from me”. Although Barnaby Joyce was taking advice from the Australian Christian Lobby at the time, and consequently was telling similar porkies as that group, indicating that same sex marriage would be compulsory was perhaps going a bit too far. All this was while he was doing the horizontal folk dance with his staffer25.
Karina Okotel is a church-going non-denominational Christian who was once one of the four federal Liberal vice-presidents and was one of the leading lights of the campaign against same-sex marriage. Her explanation of why she was against it betrays her mindset. She said: “The Yes campaign have framed the debate as being about marriage equality but I think that misconstrues the issues. Same-sex marriage and heterosexual marriage will always be different, because marriage is for founding [?] and making children”. Some acquaintances of mine are married but do not have children. One wonders what Okotel would make of that.
Scott Morrison stated at a love-in hosted by the conservative Menzies Research Centre in Albury some years ago: “I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country. And I do pray for that rain. And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that”. One presumes he is now praying for the rain to stop. It is the 21st century and we are facing what could be an existential threat in climate change, and he wants us to pray. Prayer is what people do to obviate the need to actually do anything useful, which is why it is popular among those in the current federal government26.
Morrison laid out his ‘beliefs’ in his maiden speech, in which he said “For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social—as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message. In recent times it has become fashionable to negatively stereotype those who profess their Christian faith in public life as ‘extreme’ and to suggest that such faith has no place in the political debate of this country. This presents a significant challenge for those of us, … who seek to follow the example of William Wilberforce or Desmond Tutu, to name just two. These leaders stood for the immutable truths and principles of the Christian faith”. Given that Scott Morrison argued in cabinet that the Liberals should exploit community concerns about Muslim immigrants, is it really surprising that there are negative stereotypes of Christians who express their faith in public? Later in the speech, he quotes Desmond Tutu, who expected Christians to be “those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses”. Perhaps Scott Morrison took this literally and just wanted to be a witness, not to actually do anything related to his professed values, just to be a witness. If you are going to stand up for the truth, it is probably not a good idea to be a pathological liar, as Morrison seems to be. He lies when it suits him, and that is almost every day. It would have been interesting to find out what the late Desmond Tutu thinks of Australian asylum-seeker policies. I somehow doubt he would have been complimentary27.
Finally, Morrison then states: “Australia is not a secular country—it is a free country. This is a nation where you have the freedom to follow any belief system you choose. Secularism is just one. It has no greater claim than any other on our society”27. Whether this misapprehension as to the meaning of ‘secular’ is just ignorance or disingenuousness is difficult to determine. While Morrison lies constantly, he is no intellectual, so may not understand that the definition he provides subsequently is almost the definition of secularism; that Australians are free to follow any belief system they choose, including none. However, he seems pleased that while the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it does not guarantee freedom from religion. This, while seemingly contradictory, is in effect stating that while you can follow any belief you wish, you will have to toe the line demanded by his beliefs because they will be legislated. This is the main problem with all religions, they want to legislate their creed into law, if given the power to do so. If that is allowed to happen, a country becomes a theocracy, and that is a dangerous system under which to live, especially if you happen to be of a different religion, or of none, or have a sexual orientation not sanctioned by that religion.