By Jim Wallace, ACL Managing Director
I am back in Canberra after time on the trail from Melbourne to Wellington (NSW ) and Perth over the last week and with a computer down! However I now plan to blog this page at least once a day in the lead up to the election.
I feel it is necessary to reaffirm the purpose of ACL in this election and something of how we seek to go about that – a purpose consistent with our vision and mission.
We see our mission at ACL as to bring Christ’s influence into Government and work at both federal and state level to do that and even sometimes into councils.
Wanting to influence government we are non-party partisan, because a consistent Christian influence cannot be achieved if we, or the church, allows itself to be captured by one side or the other, or worse still decides that God is a card carrying member of any particular party.
You might be thinking that we have been very outspoken on the Greens of late, but our non-party partisanship does not extend to denying truth, we reserve the right to be critical of any policies with which we disagree from any party and of any deception in the political process.
The Greens failure to declare their known anti-Christian policies in responses to the ACL Questionnaire, while only answering questions they thought appealed to Christians was deception, it was a failure of truth in the political process and could not be let go unchallenged.
But our main business as a Lobby is to secure those policies from all parties that will make government after the election more Godly, more Christian.
The political process is responsive to the Christian constituency because it realises that it is a large one and its political effect can be felt throughout Australia to varying degrees. Despite the claims of some commentators, politics is wise enough to recognise that there is more that unites this constituency than divides it and at election time we are not voting about theological differences – that’s for bishops’ crooks at twenty paces at other times!
At elections ACL conducts Make it Count events, inviting both the Leader and the Opposition Leader to put their case and to answer questions from denominational and other para-church leaders to both ensure the Christian constituency knows who it is choosing between, and also to impress on the political system that this is a very large, committed and engaged electorate. The level of Christian leadership involvement and church participation in either the physical or webcast audience, has invariably proved this, and in a way that few others can.
At the same time elections provide a heightened sensitivity to constituent demands or concerns. We shouldn’t be cynical about this, it is the reality of the democratic process and provides an opportunity to secure undertakings from politics.
As a Lobby we do this, first through direct approaches to parties between and before elections, but also through the ACL election questionnaires – the responses to which are now physically available in booklet form in over 5000 churches around Australia and of course on this website.
However in the ebb and flow of the election campaign, opportunities arise to either extract or strengthen undertakings from the parties.
This opportunity presented itself last week, in two areas where we felt Labor’s commitments fell short of what Christians would want and we saw scope to improve them– marriage and chaplaincy.
We had had a longstanding invitation to the PM to provide an interview with me, to replace the now irrelevant address given by Kevin Rudd at the Make it Count event with Mr Abbott only days before he was deposed. There is little doubt that the discussion about the PM’s atheism that occurred during and before that week, made her keen to engage the constituency and particularly to strengthen their appeal to Christians – again, you can be cynical, but for me, democracy in action.
I flew to Melbourne and conducted the interview, which I hope you have all watched. We had proposed and honoured the protocol that we would give her an opportunity to introduce herself to the constituency, ask the same questions we did of Tony Abbott on the night, but reserve the right to ask follow on questions. We also made it clear we were particularly concerned to strengthen their commitments on marriage, chaplaincy and the sexualisation of society.
In the event this interview elicited commitments on all three, but I am particularly pleased that it not only achieved a commitment to chaplaincy, but to retaining its faith base.
Now in the interest of being non-partisan, it is very important to say that the Coalition’s positions on all these three were unequivocal from the start and attractive to Christians. While there are still differences in the party policies, we certainly did not have to approach the Coalition to make them more attractive.
As for the leaders’ addresses, it is equally important that you now view both. Julia Gillard declares her atheism honestly, but also her high regard for people of faith and her appreciation of the role of the church. Tony Abbott’s address makes his faith and its importance to him clear, as he does its importance to Western civilisation. I found Julia Gillard a very engaging and warm individual and, as I always have, Tony Abbott equally engaging and one of the most refreshingly forthright of politicians.
You have everything here in their performances and the parties’ replies to help you form your opinion.
Tomorrow we will talk more about developments.