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.