Title: The folly of strange sect relationships Credit: Craig Young Comment Wednesday 22nd June 2011 - 12:04pm1308701040 Article: 10508 Rights
Is the prospect of welfare privatisation under a second-term Key government going to be enough for the Christian Right, if it means setbacks to its other, core obsessions? Consider this. The recession has decimated much of the New Zealand Christian Right. This hasn't been helped by their own foolish excesses during the last three years. The Kiwi Party failed to attract enough signatures on their petition to force the government to hold binding citizens referenda. Right to Life New Zealand lost a long-running court case against the Abortion Supervisory Committee and now owes them $70,000. SPCS failed to obstruct the screening of LA Zombie at the Out Takes film festival. Family First was frustrated over the failure of John Boscawen's pro-belting private members bill in Parliament. Thus, when it comes to traditional obsessions like abortion, censorship, corporal punishment of children and binding citizens referenda, there has been no progress under this government. This is 'inertial conservatism' at work then, which recognises that hardline religious social conservatism is an electoral liability for the centre right and offers them no relief from the judicial, regulatory or legislative quarter. Family First still harbours ambitions to be the bridge between the centre-right and failed old Christian Right of yesterday and has added support for welfare privatisation to its agenda at the "Forum on the Family" to be held on July 8th this year. However, given their noteworthy frustration over their other political objectives, there is an important question for their side of the ledger as well. Will advocacy of radical welfare privatisation kill off any remaining mainline church support for Family First and its cronies, given that the mainline church social service agencies are strongly opposed to the government's intended welfare retrenchment and privatisation agenda? And if so, what does that mean for its traditional obsessions? Will it be forced to bid goodbye to any aspirations against LGBT rights that it might harbour, or restricting abortion access for at-risk young women, or any other Neanderthal political objectives? And does the Christian Right have the electoral sophistication and prudence to realise that? Given that Family First has also invited Australian Christian Lobby head Jim Wallace over to network with the New Zealand Christian Right, it appears not. The Labour Opposition could derive considerable benefit from raising questions about electoral finance questions, suspect extremist donations and logistical and tactical support from an organisation that could become the "Exclusive Brethren" of the current election, if it is that reckless and stupid. Certainly, Wallace's past outbursts should concern his New Zealand hosts. And welfare privatisation carries further risks when it comes to the general public. Destiny Church and Parents Inc have already been subjected to considerable public scrutiny over their role as recipients of delegated government funds, especially given the unpopularity of Brian Tamaki's sect amongst many New Zealanders, Maori and pakeha alike. Tellingly, the latest Roy Morgan showed erosion of government support, which may well be attributable to public concerns about the suitability of entrusting welfare services to conservative religious organisations without any regard for evidence-based policymaking, fiscal accountability and transparency of government allocation of funds. As Guyon Espiner sagely noted in a recent North and South article, Prime Minister Key does have problems when it comes to policy detail. This 'strange sect relationship' carries risks for both sides of the arrangement. The centre-right risks electoral support haemorrhaging if concerns arise about ill-advised and imprudent funding assistance to questionable religious conservative organisations, while the Christian Right risks arousing public antagonism over being seen to support the Key administration's radical welfare retrenchment and privatisation agenda from mainline churches and the Labour Opposition, hamstringing the attainment of its own traditional obsessions once the electoral pendulum swings back toward the centre-left. If I were the Labour Opposition and Greens,I'd relish the opportunities that these strange sect relationships offer to drive a wedge between the New Zealand electorate and the Key adminisrration. Craig Young - 22nd June 2011    
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