Amanda O’Brien – The Australian

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SIX months after being elected, a god-squad of devout Liberals preaching morality and Christian values in a parliament better known for misconduct and lewd behaviour is shaping as a new force in West Australian politics.

While their views are not unique – other state politicians such as Liberal David Clarke, Christian Democrats Fred Nile and Gordon Moyes in NSW, and Family First’s Robert Brokenshire and Dennis Hood in South Australia, have pushed similar themes for years – the new MPs in Western Australia potentially pack a bigger punch.
They’re in government, not Opposition, and they have the numbers.

The group is being closely watched after putting Premier Colin Barnett on notice that integrity and moral certainties would guide their votes.
Chief among the Bible-belters, Peter Abetz, an ordained minister of the Christian Reformed Church and the brother of right-wing Liberal senator Eric Abetz, makes no bones about his intention to put his Christian values first, even if it means breaking ranks.

Outspoken against abortion, euthanasia and legalised prostitution, which he says legitimises the sexual abuse of women, he claims WA has been under attack from politicians reshaping it in ways that harm the most vulnerable.

“I think, broadly speaking, people regard politicians as pretty low on the integrity scale. I can only chip away trying to reform it,” Abetz tells Inquirer. “If there was some element that I thought was unconscionable, then I would say to Colin Barnett: ‘I’m either going to have to cross the floor or I’m going to wag parliament that day.”‘

Barnett – a centrist Liberal – knows there is little room for MPs to flex their muscles without sparking problems in his precarious alliance government, which is made up of 29 lower-house Liberal, National and independent MPs, against 28 Labor and two other independents following last year’s election in which the Labor government was defeated.
With issues such as prostitution, drug laws and mandatory jail terms high on the legislative agenda, the balancing act will be acute.

When it comes to MPs crossing the floor, though, Labor and most Liberals would obviously out-vote the conservative dissidents, if that’s the way Barnett wanted to play it and risk a revenge revolt on matters unrelated to morals.

Abetz and former pastor Ian Britza are at the core of the new religious Right. They nailed their colours to the wall in their inaugural parliamentary speeches in November when Abetz promised to promote and uphold moral laws first and Britza warned of moral decline and linked his victory to divine providence. They are not alone. Other new MPs preach similar themes, just without the religious careers.

Former tax accountant Tony Krsticevic used his first speech to thank God for being with him every step of the way in his election, as he warned against a society gone wrong. Church volunteer Albert Jacob, the state’s youngest MP at 29, urged integrity and family values as he thanked God for the “divine opportunity” to serve.

Britza says virtually all of the 13 new lower-house Liberals elected last year hold similar views, with and without religious links: “We do have a powerful bloc. We meet pretty regularly; we have our little debates among us so that when the time comes we are a unified bloc or we know where we are at.

“If something was thrown at us that was unconscionable, I’d have no hesitation in either abstaining or just walking out of the house. I’d have no hesitation in doing that at all and I wouldn’t want the Government to pressure us on it either.”

Jim Wallace, of the Australian Christian Lobby, says the “resurgence in Christian values” in WA was inevitable after the moral slide, misbehaviour and “unchristian legislation”, such as permitting gay adoption, that surfaced in recent years.

“There is a wave under way,” he says. “It started with Western Australia and then continued in the ACT election last year.”

State Liberal Party president Barry Court adds another tier in the west. Deeply involved in the charismatic Life Victory church run by his wife and former tennis great Margaret Court, he has long called for a greater focus on conservative morality in politics. Together, the new Liberals have the potential to force a seismic shift as they rail against poor standards and weak laws.
Abetz says he shuddered at the Corruption and Crime Commission revelations about the misconduct of MPs dealing with former premier and lobbyist Brian Burke.

He also describes the chair-sniffing antics of his Liberal colleague, now state Treasurer, Troy Buswell as “a joke”, but adds that Buswell should be commended for since reforming himself.
As WA wallowed in tarnish from sackings, infighting and crude behaviour last year in both of the main parties, former Labor premier Alan Carpenter labelled it a national laughing-stock. Abetz agrees and says his growing concern prompted him to enter politics.

“I really enjoyed being a pastor, it was my life’s calling, and I wasn’t looking for a career change at all,” he says. “It was more out of a sense of frustration at seeing the lack of the right emphasis in government in terms of where our society was going.”

He says the misbehaviour was incredible. “I just thought: ‘Oh, come on!’ I don’t think people expect their politicians to be perfect or anything, but when you’re at that level of leadership in society people do want to be able to look up to you.

“I’ve said to my colleagues that at the age of 56 getting into parliament, I’m not ambitious for climbing to the top of the political ladder. As far as I’m concerned honesty and integrity are the No.1 thing.

“I agree in politics you’ve got to be a team player … but in terms of moral issues or if anyone’s done the wrong thing in parliament, or my colleagues, I’ve said: ‘Don’t expect me to cover your backside.”‘

Britza, the son of Baptist ministers who were missionaries in Africa, says the prostitution laws being drafted will test the Government’s mettle. He believes many prostitutes don’t want to be sex workers. The Perth-born former pastor with Faith Ministries spent his early childhood in Africa, returning to Perth speaking Chinyanja, a Zulu tongue, but little English. He has strong views on abortion, families, treatment of the elderly and declining social standards. He worries politicians have lost their way.

“Very soon, as far as morals and ethics are concerned, two plus two will definitely add up to five at the rate we are going,” he told parliament in his first speech.

On abortion he is blunt: “Just because something is legal does not make it right. When a woman who is pro-choice wants a child, she calls it a baby, and when she does not want it she calls it a foetus.” But he is appalled also at the plight of the aged. “In many cultures the elderly are held in high respect. It is to our shame that we do not follow the same example. When listening to bills being presented in this chamber, I will be constantly asking myself whether they are right or wrong. I will make decisions based on moral absolutes.”

Jacob is less outspoken. His Christian ethic was shaped by years as a volunteer at his local church rather than decades as a pastor. He says the views of his electorate come before his personal beliefs, but in parliament his message has been blunter: “As a member of this parliament, I will endeavour to remain true to my core values and make my decisions because I believe them to be right, whether or not they are popular.”

Barnett has responded to the potential for division by asking his MPs to raise their concerns in the partyroom first so they can try to reach a compromise. Abetz, Britza and other MPs praise him for confronting the issue and say they don’t want to cause strife.

But they’re also smarting from a bruising first encounter last year when the MPs were sidelined by their own party as parent surrogacy laws were rushed through parliament.
“They let us know in no uncertain terms that ‘this is going through no matter how you feel’. And boy, being stomped on was a bit of an eye-opener,” Britza says.

Abetz says the new MPs were too green about procedures at the time to be able to fight back. But he says it will not happen again. Beyond that, he says he will pray that as a politician he will live up to the exhortations of the 2000-year-old prophet Micah: “To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Former Labor attorney-general Jim McGinty, who oversaw many of the state’s big social reforms such as equality for homosexuals, legal protection for de facto marriages, gay adoption and drug laws that stop minor users getting criminal records, says the notional shift to the Right in parliament isdisturbing.

“Western Australia in the 1990s was a social backwater; we were the most homophobic state in Australia,” he says. “All that radically changed when the Gallop government came to power and we now run the risk of becoming ultra-conservative again.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen the end of progressive, contemporary legislation in Western Australia. The extreme religious Right in the Liberal Party will ensure there is nothing more until the Government changes.”

Another senior Labor MP, former education minister Mark McGowan, says Barnett is already transforming from someone who was regarded in the ’90s as a moderate to taking a harder morals line. “He once cautioned against being too hard-line and moralistic on drugs because he was concerned about the health issues (for users); now he’s planning hardline laws,” McGowan says. “He used to show respect for Aboriginal native title; now he’s moving to override land rights (by the compulsory acquisition of land for development). Barnett hated being in Opposition and he’s changed his views as a consequence.”

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25284836-5013871,00.html


2 Responses to “Church And State Reunited”

  1. 1 Ewan

    This article is further evidence, if any were needed, that in the present political climate Christians have to have rocks in their heads to prefer ‘left’ politics over ‘right’ politics. We can see here in former WA Labor attorney-general Jim McGinty’s comments, the typical godless attitude of Labor and the ‘left’ of politics such as the Greens. Notice the terminology McGinty uses to describe his perverted agenda – “progressive, contemporary legislation” – the Left use such terms as code words to disguise their evil agenda.

    And why shouldn’t compulsory acquisition of ‘native title’ be appropriate? All other types of land title are liable to compulsory acquisition if it is in the public interest like for example to build a new road, etc. Native Title is inherently racist and to quarantine it from compulsory acquisition would be further racism.

  1. 1 Church And State Reunited at Catch The Fire Ministries | Help Aids

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