God-botherers rampant

The God-botherers have entered the federal election campaign in a big way, with Catholic and Anglican leaders expressing public concern about the ALP’s schools funding policy.

Why the Catholics should do so, given that their schools are clear beneficiaries of the policy, is beyond me. It’s probably a combination of the extreme social conservatism of appalling Archbishop George Pell, along with a large dose of woolly thinking:

The Catholic Education Office’s executive director of Schools, Brother Kelvin Canavan, said it was regrettable that government funding for particular non-government schools had to be taken from other schools.

Canavan seemingly didn’t explain how it could be any other way, unless he believes in the Magic Pudding theory of fiscal administration. But in fact much of Labor’s funding doesn’t come from withdrawal of existing grants to other schools; it’s additional to existing funding.

Even more mysteriously, the Catholic/Anglican statement “confirms that the signatories support the ALP’s needs-based funding model“, but simultaneously regrets the withdrawal of most (but not all) federal funding from the 67 wealthiest schools who manifestly don’t need the money.

Anyway, whatever the intellectual merits of the Church intervention (slim as far as I can see), it’s unequivocally bad news for Latham and Labor, who could reasonably have expected to see their policy warmly received at least by the Catholics. Just how bad the news turns out to be in an electoral sense will depend on whether clergy have been briefed by their bishops to preach against the Labor policy during their homilies this Sunday (the last before the faithful cast their votes). I can’t see myself getting to Mass, but I’d be very interested in hearing from any readers who attend. A concerted priestly pulpit campaign against Labor’s schools funding policy would be a major blow to Labor’s chances in a contest that the opinion polls still suggest is too close to call.

The other current God-botherer intervention is by the so-called Family First Party. It has managed to do a cosy preference swap deal with the Coalition that may well get it a Senate seat in South Australia, and is throwing its weight around by refusing to swap preferences with three Liberals who include long-time North Queensland MP Warren Entsch (who opposed the Coalition’s anti-gay marriage legislation) and Brisbane candidate Ingrid Tall, who didn’t but is avowedly gay.

Paul Watson reckons this is sinister and unacceptable. I certainly agree that Family First’s policies are seriously repugnant, but in a democratic sense I don’t object to any minor party or interest group seeking to deploy its power to influence the political process in favour of its preferred policies. Fortunately, I think Family First is likely to remain mostly a repulsive political curiosity without much real influence. Much more so than the US, Australia is overwhelmingly a secular society in which the vast majority of citizens are only nominally christian and have an even lower opinion of god-botherers than of politicians.

It may well be that Family First’s principal effect will be as the hammer that drives the last nail into the coffin of the Australian Democrats. The Dimocrats have done a preference deal with Family First in a desperate bid to boost their Senate tally. Predictably, the deal has provoked howls of outrage from the dwindling band of Dimocrat faithful, with National Young Australian Democrats president Owen Griffiths accurately if indiscreetly describing it as “preferencing homophobia“. I suspect that any preferences the Dimocrats may get from the deal with Family First will be more than outweighed by the votes they lose to the Greens from long-suffering supporters who abandon them permanently in favour of a party that at least has consistent policy stances and principles. If Andrew Bartlett had any brains he’d go on a recce of Parliament House and flog a couple more cases of Coonawarra red while everyone’s out campaigning, so he can go on a big bender when the Dimocrats get whupped next Saturday week.

In fact I even agree with this statement by Bob Brown in explaining why the Greens were preferencing Pauline Hanson ahead of Family First:

We’ve had five or six years of Pauline Hanson and what you see is what you get. That’s not the case with these extreme right, covert religious parties.

Dead right. It’s not so much Family First’s repugnant policies to which I principally object. It’s their blatant dishonesty in pretending to be something other than a party of the Extreme Christian Right. On the other hand, I think Pauline Hanson has grown considerably in compassion, wisdom and humility as a result of her legal travails and imprisonment. And some of her early excesses were more a result of naivety and bad advice from boofheads like Oldfield and Ettridge than anything else. As Bob Brown suggests, whatever you might think of Pauline’s specific policy positions, you’re never in any doubt what she thinks or where she stands.

I’d quite like to see Pauline back in the Senate. In fact if I lived in Queensland I might even vote for her. I certainly won’t be voting for Family First’s candidate/s in the Northern Territory. In fact I’ll make sure I put them dead last, even if means voting below the line on the Senate ballot.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

“I’d quite like to see Pauline back in the Senate”

Nostalgia for Pauline Hanson. Now I really have heard it all. Anyway, back in the Senate? When was she in the Senate in the first place?

I don’t think Family First poses a huge threat to anything we hold near and dear, even if they do make it into the Senate. There is only a tiny market for this kind of politics. This isn’t the United States. We are a secular society, thank God.

Alan Green
2022 years ago

The Aus’s headline, “Churches savage Latham,” is a bit misleading, though I suppose “Church Agrees With Most of Labor Policy,” isn’t real news.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

I don’t see why Latho cut funding to the rich snotty nosed brat factories in the first place – he should have just increased the funding of those schools he listed for the reasons he cited. There is some good policy in there somewhere why risk burying it by starting squawking? I think the micks are right actually, they are clearly thinking Latham is going for the RSNB factories now and wondering when he’s gonna come for them… With the Teachers’ Union getting more say under his govt they may well wonder.

Amanda
2022 years ago

The Catholic spokesman on news last night blaming Labor for causing divisions between Catholics and Anglicans was ridiculous. The RCs have been dragged kicking and screaming to ecumenism, I hardly think its a Federal Government responsibility. Good Gittins article in the Herald on this issue today.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Interesting this sudden resurgence of religion as a political force in Australia, and the realigment thats occurring.

In the old sectarian Australia . The Labour Party was very much the working class, the poor, the Irish, the Catholic party. The Liberal Party (or non-Labor parties) was the Anglo-Scottish Protestant, individualist party.

What’s happening now, both in the US, and here, is that the Evangelicals, the new-born Protestants like Family First are reasserting themselves with their with traditional political base, but interestingly, the Arch Conservative Catholics, are swapping sides.

What has happened to the ALP or alternatively to the religious institutions themselves to make them align themselves with the right?

The Family Firsters seem to have taken an intense dislike to the Greens in particular. This can surely only be due to the Greens social policies on drugs and so forth. They are keen to re-energise the debate on Abortion. They want to have a clash on these social issues. They want to bring on the fight.

I beleive that Australia is the secular, religiously tolerant, pluralistic, country that it is because we successfuly overcame the sectarianism of the 20s, 30s and 40s. People realised that ‘religion and politics’ were two things that you shouldn’t discuss, and that if you didn’t things would be smooth. We could all get on with living in this glorious country.

I think we’re looking at a new future though. One powered from America. We are looking at a new sectarianism, where half the country drifts toward religiously motivated moral conservatism, and the other half is left scratching their heads. Maybe I’m overstating it, but I think the low point in religious indifference in Australia has already been passed. I think we’re going to have to get used to a new reality.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, Pauline is apparently too busy dancing to campaign. There’s been some suggestion that she nominated mainly for the money – apparently she stands to get $500 000 from the AEC if she gets 4% of the vote and she doesn’t need to justify whether she incurred any expenses on the campaign.

As to the Cardinal, I don’t think this has much to do with schools at all. In 1998, he sent a very clear signal to (conservative) Catholics that it was ok to vote for Howard. David Marr writes in ‘The High Price of Heaven’ (2000: 227)

“Two years later the GST was back on the agenda. The church seemed disunited in its disapproval. The bishops backed the Catholic Social Welfare Commission in declaring this a regressive tax. No such tax could have the support of the church. If the government persisted in its plans, then the GST must not apply to the ‘essentials of life’. As decisions go in the Catholic Church in Australia, this was about as all-embracing and official as it gets. But a couple of days after this declaration, Archbishop Pell of Melbourne issued through his public relations firm a statement: ‘There is no one Catholic position on an issue as complex as taxation.’ With that he sabotaged church unity. Howard went straight onto ‘AM’ to say the church was divided. Pell’s intervention was a political godsend.”

He’s playing the same game now – it’s partly an assist to his fellow social conservative Howard, and partly a swipe at the Church’s educational bureaucracy. Pell’s record in Melbourne was one of attempting to circumvent educational principles (and some aspects of canon law) in favour of micro-management of systemic Catholic education.

Archbishop Hart is Pell’s former Vicar-General in Melbourne and cut from the same cloth.

It’ll be interesting to see if anything is heard from other Catholic prelates. Contrary to the impression created in the media, Pell is not ‘Head’ of the Church in Australia. His cardinalate is a personal office, and his writ doesn’t run outside the Archdiocese of Sydney. Policies formulated by the National Bishops’ Conference require individual bishops’ approval, and Pell has consistently opposed national initiatives – for instance by taking a different line on sexual assault by clerics.

Archbishop Bathersby in Brisbane is the last reasonably progressive Catholic bishop in an important see left. Remembering that no Queensland schools made Latho’s list of 67, it will be interesting to see what he says.

While Pell would like to emulate his hero, Archbishop Mannix, in terms of swaying the Catholic vote – those days are gone. Even in the 50s, in Sydney and Brisbane, the official Church position was that the Church should stay out of elections. In Sydney today, a lot of priests are very dissatisfied with Pell’s conservative and authoritarian leadership.

The statement may have some effect – it’s hard to say. Pell is being quite disingenous, I think, and trying to send a dog whistle to conservative Catholics. However, one imagines many of them aren’t in the Labor camp.

I don’t know what’s going on with the Anglicans.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

In the quote from Marr, the second sentence should read: “The church seemed united in its disapproval”.

chico o'farrill
chico o'farrill
2022 years ago

rex,

SBS screened a Frontline documentary on the Bush family’s play for the Evangelical vote in the USA over past 15 years or so.

It was a jaw-dropping hour I thought, a window on processes utterly alien to Australia. Though seeing Peter Costello clapping happily with the church that scored a # 1 album on debut this year suggests that the future you paint is closer than most would think.

I had no idea that GW’s conversion had affected the body politic of the US so deeply.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

Chico,

I saw that doco too, but that show only connected with the top of the iceberg. Do a google search on the words “dispensationalist”, “Bush” and “Israel” and you’ll find some very interesting – albeit nutty in some cases – conspiracy theories on the REAL motivations of GWB’s foreign policy.

It might be a real eye-opener for you if you don’t get the real extent of some evangelical Christians’ fundamentalism.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

I’m sure Latham’s ecstatic about the Pell intervention, more media coverage for his school’s policy, which seems to be the one policy that has ‘cut through’.

Can we now get some other religious denominations upset. What about some aggrieved Buddhists or better some histrionic Scientologics, if it happens in the next couple of days, it might even allow Mark to have the week off, catch up on some storytelling to his kids. Pell might just have handed a couple thousand more votes to the ALP.

goetz von berlichingen
goetz von berlichingen
2022 years ago

I don’t see why Latho cut funding to the rich snotty nosed brat factories in the first place – he should have just increased the funding of those schools he listed for the reasons he cited.

RSNB factories?
I supposed yu mean the selective schools of NSW, Melbourne High School, and other fully-taxpayer funded Leafy Suburb State High Schools, which exclude the riff-raff with zones, and which have mind-bogglingly better facilities than Western Suburb State High School.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

As I thought he might, Archbishop Bathersby of Brisbane has distanced himself from the position of the 4 archbishops.

trackback
2022 years ago

school’s out

Last night John Quiggin picked up on a TV news story where Catholic and Anglican Archbishops critcised Labor’s ‘Great Australian Schools’ policy. Today, Ken at Troppo picks up the topic and continues. I found this a bit perplexing. So today

trackback
2022 years ago

behind appearances: fundamentalism

The political campaign appears to be like this: Moir It is misleading, as we have this innovative policy that cuts