As an Australian voter I am concerned at what appears to be an elevation of church-based politics in Australia. A trend is evolving that should have us reflecting on the history of relations between church and state in the United Kingdom as well as the rise of hate-inspired nationalism in many countries.
It is not that I oppose political parties formed on a set of beliefs. In a democracy such as ours we should embrace the freedoms of political affiliation and free speech. With such freedoms it is easy for me to debate with the likes of Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party (CDP) purely on the basis of their open policies. What you see is what you get with the CDP. All fair play in politics, right?
Not so anymore, I fear. The conservative field is broadening and Australia's fastest growing church is seeking to become a dominant force in politics. I'm not talking about the CDP, whose success is limited by the shackles of the Nile legacy, nor do I speak of the (lessening) Catholic entrenchment in the ALP or the debatable Anglican influence within the Liberals.
The Assemblies of God (AOG), under the guise of the Family First Party, is set to take the place of the depleted One Nation as the new right wing of Australian politics. The AOG's love of tele-evangelism and the media spotlight, together with a fanatical desire for religious influence on government, combine to create a potential force of immeasurable strength. Unfortunately the Family First Party has the considerable advantage of presenting, at least on the surface, a "family orientated" Christian niceness that may attract the hearts and minds of many unwary swinging voters. But their blinkered view of putting family first may spark more debate than a redhead in a fish and chip shop.
The reality is that Family First is not dissimilar to New Zealand's Destiny Party, famed for their recent black-shirt marches of intolerance and hate. The Destiny Party is born out of the Destiny Church and the links between Destiny and the Assemblies of God are clear-cut. Family First and the AOG are careful to provide some distance between themselves, unlike their New Zealand counterparts. Candidates continue to inform the media that they are not a church-based party, but the facts speak for themselves. Each of the Family First lead Senate candidates holds high ranking or influential positions in their respective churches, all within the AOG ministry.
While the current media focus is on the fight between the Greens and the Democrats for the balance of power, little attention is being paid to the growing possibility of right-wing conservative control by fanatical churches. In Australia's secular society, it is paramount that no religion, including Christianity, should have the opportunity to eat away at the separation of Church and State. This is a fundamental principle of democracy and the Westminster system of government.
By all means, any group has the right to establish a political presence and I will defend anyone's right to free speech and participation in the political process. What I object to, and what all democratically-minded Australians should be concerned about, is the disguise that many political parties, new and old, are adopting in order to attract our votes.
The days of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) confusing the electorate may have passed, but we continue to be bombarded by names of parties that are well-devised brand names, rather than being descriptive of policy. If this election is to be fought and won on the concepts of truth and trust, the average punter will need degrees in psychology and marketing to adequately assess the myriad of options.
It is commonly accepted that the Liberals have not been "liberal" for many decades. They should at least acknowledge, like their British counterparts, that they are in fact Conservatives. Of course Labor is not any different, having rid itself of the "u" in labour when Adam was a boy and continuing to drive the working class out of its caucus. It can be argued that even the Democrats have ignored their namesake for political expediency and short-term gain. This election will determine if they suffer the near-fatal effects of member and voter disenchantment.
One Nation is as divided as the "one nation" it originally tried to divide. As for the Greens, the only critical argument seems to be the watermelon theory - green on the outside, red on the inside. And while there's no doubt that socialism always attracts parallels with communism, the Greens have done so little as a significant minor party, that we are left to wonder if the concepts of Greens and "political party" are a tautology.
On the surface the latest entry to the field, Family First, heralds a welcome return to the traditional family values of nurturing, unconditional love, strong morals and inclusion of extended family. Scratch beneath that pleasant exterior, however, and you will recognise a familiar tone of religious indoctrination, intolerance, disregard for some human rights, and specific exclusionary practices. There is no room in a Family First Australia for anyone other than God-fearing, bible-toting, Christian-blessed families. Whilst the party does not make any direct policy references to controversial issues like individual human rights, read between the lines and some crucial issues of social justice are blatantly avoided.
For a start Family First is heterosexist. They are incapable of respecting an individual's right to love anyone they choose. Their narrow definition of family excludes the thousands of happy and functioning members of alternative families. In treating homosexuals, bisexuals and transfolk with such contempt they aim to set back human rights advances of the last two decades. Imagine a set of policies that discriminated against children on the basis of how they were conceived. Natural conception would mean you were part of a family, artificial conception would relegate you to second class non-family status. Sounds ridiculous? Of course it is.