Ah, the Australian Christians. This political party had the dubious distinction of being the party to have the most deleterious effect on my blood pressure when I read its policies prior to the 2012 election. You see, I’m Christian, and this party purports to speak for me – but instead, it says a lot of things that I find utterly abhorrent.
So that’s my statement of disclosure up-front. I don’t trust this mob, and I’m starting from a place where I eye their policies with suspicion. I’m sorry – I really try not to do that, but they made me so utterly furious last time that I know I am going to find it difficult to be fair to them this round.
Let’s get started, shall we?
(Note that I will be using the abbreviation ‘CDP’ for this party throughout, as they were previously the Christian Democratic Party, and I want to avoid confusion with the Australian Cyclists Party)
The website for the Australian Christians has a two-part rotating banner on the front page. The first one is “Promoting Christian Values (‘a party with a voice in the political conversation that can shape policy, promote and protect the values that create a better Australia for all, no matter what their faith and belief’), and the second is Be a Voice for Christian Values (‘Australian Christian candidates are all committed Christians seeking to be that voice. The church is faced with challenging and complex issues. Would you help us to equip fellow Christians to make informed voting decisions?’).
I find the second banner tempting for all the wrong reasons. I am almost certain that they do not want me to be their voice, any more than I want them to be mine.
The first banner – look, that’s actually a great set of values. I just have my doubts about whether they are likely to achieve it, because last time their policies struck me as having quite a different effect.
The CDP’s group ticket has one or two surprises. In the Northern Metropolitan Region People Power comes up first, followed by Family First, the Liberal Party, the DLP, Rise Up Australia and the Shooters and Fishers. These parties are swapped around in the first six spots on all the other regional group tickets. It’s unlikely votes will get much further than this level, really. At the bottom of the ticket, we have the Sex Party, Voluntary Euthanasia, and the Greens. They seem to be in two minds about whether they find euthanasia more objectionable than sex parties, and alternate which they put last across their various electorates. The Greens are always third last, and the rest of the parties also move around a bit in the middle so that nobody gets unduly advantaged.
It’s notable that People Power manages to be popular with both the Animal Justice Party and the Christians, since the two parties both preference each other very low.
To the policies, Batman!
The CDP’s policy page begins with the following statement:
As a new party, Australian Christians has set about developing policies that are positive, sound and refreshing.
We are here to offer new hope to all Australians because we place great value on the life and dignity of every citizen.
We believe we have formulated gold standard policies, based on biblical principles that give each Australian, no matter how old or young, strong or frail, the very best protection and support.
The hallmark of our policies is a belief that our parliaments should do all it can to promote a strong economy and a vibrant society based on healthy families and thriving communities. So you will find in our policies a strong emphasis on social justice with responsibility.
As families are the building block and foundation of our society, we believe all legislation presented to parliament should be subject to family impact statement in the same way any infrastructure project is subject to an environmental impact statement. The results should be made available to the public.
The Bible is our benchmark and gold standard giving us positive solutions to the problems that confront us in our homes and workplaces.
The CDP’s first policy is on Marriage and Parenting, and there are no surprises here. The first statement is that ‘marriage needs to be supported, not redefined. We would not vote for same sex marriage.’ Naturally not. They are also against letting same-sex couples raise children. Which forgets, I suspect, the possibility that someone might have a relationship and a child with a member of the opposite sex, and then later leave that relationship and enter a relationship with someone of the same sex. Or rather, it refuses to acknowledge the idea that this second relationship could be a stable, healthy, long-term one. There have been plenty of studies showing that children do just fine being raised by same-sex couples (as, indeed, why wouldn’t they? It has never been uncommon, in historical times, for a parent to die and a child to be raised by one parent, or one parent and an aunt or uncle who might be of the same sex.), and one of the biggest reasons why gay people have pushed so strongly for the right to adopt has been so that partners of gay people with children can also have parental rights over these children. It’s not the Gay Agenda, it’s just practical.
The CDP wants to support women to stay at home with children, and to restore the importance of fatherhood – including reviewing ‘all curriculum approaches/materials used in schools and teaching/training institutions to ensure that they present positive fathering images’. This sounds weirdly like censorship to me. Does this mean schools should only have people studying books where the fathers are good? What about mothers? Do they have to be presented positively, too? Given that books about dysfunctional families are a staple of literature, I’m wondering how this would work. (It also smacks somewhat of the ‘poor oppressed men in a feminist dystopia’ line of rhetoric).
The Australian Christians want to have free pre-marriage education and free couples counselling in troubled relationships, which is a good idea, provided it is actually run by someone sensible. They also want “a system of mandatory mediation as the method of achieving agreement among parents and children on how the family relationships will be restructured following divorce”. Look, mediation is, I think, a good thing, but making it mandatory is dangerous. It ignores the possibility that a relationship may be sufficiently abusive that enforcing contact between the two parts of a couple may be extremely traumatising or even dangerous for one of them. They are also anti-divorce. This surprises nobody.
The CDP view prostitution as ‘a modern form of slavery and exploitation’, but are in favour of the Nordic Model, where those who use prostitutes are prosecuted, rather than prosecuting prostitutes. (Oops, tongue twister!) They also want to support safe exit strategies for women who have been prostitutes. I’m going to save my (very confused) thoughts on prostitution for when we get to the Sex Party, and will just note here that I find this particular policy surprisingly reasonable.
Of course, then they go and spoil it all with a zero-tolerance approach to drugs, which annoys me because it doesn’t work. Harm minimisation, people! I have to say, too, that they are maddeningly non-detailed about what they mean by this. Do they want to jail recidivists? Because they want the government to care for the wellbeing of those who are suffering from addictions, so that makes no sense. Oh, and hello: “The current approach by successive governments is giving mixed messages to the next generation of Australians.” I think this is a case of seeing the speck in one’s brother’s eye while ignoring the log in one’s own eye. Seriously, this policy is a mess, as stated here.
The CDP would also like to raise the drinking age to 21, and continue advertising the harmful effects of tobacco.
The CDP supports school vouchers and religious schools, and feels that religious schools should be allowed to select students and staff that uphold the ethos of the school. Sounds like they want to expand the exceptions on the anti-discrimination laws to include schools. Oh, and this is cheeky: “We support many aspects of a national curriculum as a means of providing uniformity between states, however, Australian Christians is concerned that the curriculum can be used as a political tool to push certain values while ignoring other values. In its current form the curriculum is open to manipulation by social engineers.”
But it’s OK if the values are respecting fatherhood?
Hey, they have a Transport Policy, and it’s actually one I like! Huzzah! They want to improve public transport, support alternative fuels, and improve bicycle facilities! CDP, on this issue you actually speak for me! It’s a miracle!
The CDP is also good on Elder Care, Carers and Disability. And this is actually what I had expected – even the most right-wing of Christian parties are pretty good at remembering to look after these groups. They are in favour of the NDIS, they want to put money into transport, housing, education and health of older citizens, and better support both for carers and those receiving care – which they believe is something that needs to come from the Government. Oh, carers are unsung heroes, too, but then, they always are. I would like to see more detail on this, because care for the disabled can have a huge range of meanings. The CDP is also in favour of universal access to healthcare, but want more programs to promote healthy lifestyles.
On economics, they are very light on, but want to reward entrepreneurs and businesses, while supporting the vulnerable and disadvantaged ‘without creating a people’s welfare mentality’. Hmm. I’ll note that I made the mistake of reading a few articles elsewhere on the website, and one of them was about how it’s OK to cut things like foreign aid and welfare in times of crisis, and that welfare cuts are the fault of people who cheat the system, and also, hey, aren’t volunteers and people who choose to donate to charity wonderful? So I’m not 100% convinced that I like their approach.
On the Environment, the CDP would like us to know that the environment is God-given and sustains life, so we should look after it. They have quite a good set of aims, including reducing pollution, sustainable development, protecting biodiversity, improving waste management, and ensuring water and air quality. I note that Global Warming and alternative energy sources are missing from this list. Nothing about it elsewhere, that I could see, so I’m guessing they’ve decided it’s too contentious to touch.
And here we have Religious Freedom, which is actually Religious Freedom for Christians:
Australian Christians believes that as Australians we have much to be thankful for when considering our religious freedom and Christian heritage. Australian Christians believes that successive Federal, State and Local governments across Australia have a responsibility to uphold the Christian principles at the root of our national heritage as these Christian principals remain true and relevant also for today.
Australian Christians supports the retention of Christian prayers at the outset of each daily parliamentary session.
Australian Christians believes that governments have a duty to allow the Church to continue to preach the Gospel unhindered.
Who, exactly, is hindering them? This smacks a little of the sort of thinking that mistakes a loss of privilege for being persecuted. Another article I found on their site scoffed loudly at a comment from about FIRIS (Fairness in Religion in Schools) saying that taking all the children at a State School to a Christmas Pageant was divisive and hurtful. “That’s right – dressing up, sharing gifts and espousing good will to others is ‘divisive and hurtful’. ”
Well, no. Those things are not divisive or hurtful. But making a child who is Jewish, or Buddhist, or an Atheist have the choice of participating in an explicitly religious celebration (which all his or her friends are involved in and which he or she might feel very uncomfortable participating in) or not do anything at all is rather divisive and hurtful. I mean, I loved, loved, loved Christmas pageants and plays when I was growing up, and I am still an enthusiastic purveyor of Christmas Carols, but I went to a Christian school, and I know several people who went there who weren’t Christian and they did find the daily assembly and prayers uncomfortable – it made them feel like an outsider. This is not what religious freedom looks like.
I’m skipping a few policies, now, because they are on the short side, or because they cover ground that is mentioned elsewhere. Let’s look at the fun part, where we talk about Pro-Life Issues.
Australian Christians believes that mankind is create in the image of God and therefore deserve to be treated in all circumstances with dignity and respect. This is the foundation on which our prolife policies have been developed.
The CDP is against abortion and euthanasia. They want to support women to keep their babies (and this includes government financial support, to give them their due). They are also in favour of abstinence programs which they claim have been shown to work in reducing indiscriminate sexual behaviour. This is not the case. While the CDP doesn’t actually say outright that they are against IVF, they encourage couples to seek help through organisations such as Fertility Care, which are about natural fertility. Unsurprisingly, they are also against human embryo research and cloning, but you knew that already.
Oh, and they are against infanticide.
Yes, you read that correctly. They have a policy on infanticide.
In the face of proposals that children with severe disabilities be either directly killed or denied life-saving medical treatment, Australian Christians observes that it should always be unlawful to kill any child by an act of commission or omission.
With respect to babies born alive after an abortion procedure, every effort should be made to keep the baby alive. These babies must never be put in a corner to simply die. Even when abnormality inconsistent with life is present these babies should be treated with dignity and at the very least wrapped and nursed.
And this is where I get angry again, because this is what’s known as dog-whistling. Nobody in Australia is advocating infanticide. Nobody is letting babies with lethal disabilities die in corners without being wrapped and nursed. Nor is there a rash of babies being born alive after an abortion and left to die.
Infanticide is already illegal. Nobody wants to change this. The entire purpose of a policy like this is to say to their supporters “Look at how horrible people who believe in abortion are! Look how terrible it is when someone doesn’t value life!”. The policy doesn’t help anyone, it’s purely about reminding one’s own supporters of their moral righteousness, while simultaneously making it very unlikely that they will even attempt to reach out and find common ground with people on the other side. I mean, why would you if they are the sort of people who would leave babies to die, cold and alone?
There is one – and only one – germ of truth in this entire policy, and that is that, yes, sometimes parents of babies with a very poor prognosis choose not to undertake treatment. This is because they, and their doctors, have concluded that such heroic measures might prolong life for a short time, but would compromise quality of life significantly without providing long-term benefit. And so they agree to pursue palliative care and otherwise let nature take its course. That doesn’t mean they don’t love their babies. That doesn’t mean they don’t give them as much love as they can for as long as they can. It just means that sometimes, what doctors can do is not enough, and in these circumstances the most loving thing a parent can do is to accept this.
In my view, it is neither Christian nor kind to demonise a parent or a doctor for doing the best they can for their child in horrible, soul-shattering circumstances.
Finally, we come to the last policy on the Australian Christians’ list, and that is their policy on Asylum Seekers, which is a little disappointing. I was rather hoping they would get behind the ecumenical Love Makes a Way movement, but instead, they are in favour of opening a processing centre in Indonesia, and giving preference to persecuted Christians.
I think my biggest issue with the Australian Christians is that for all their claims of wanting religious freedom and other good things for everyone, irrespective of religion (with the possible exception of Muslims, who they view as being out to either convert or kill everyone who is not Muslim), their actual policies and the things they say in their articles are actually about Christianising Australia. To do them justice, I think they actually do think that’s what religious freedom etc looks like, and that everyone would be happier and better off this way, but I think this attitude both ignores reality and leads to a situation where people of other religions or of no religion at all – or even people from a Christian tradition that is of a less fundamentalist stripe – feel more marginalised.
They are less a voice for Christians than they are a voice for the establishment of Christianity as a state religion. And while they may speak for some Christians, they do not speak for all of them. They certainly do not speak for me.