Title: Capacity and Conservative Christians Credit: Craig Young Comment Thursday 7th July 2011 - 11:43am1309995780 Article: 10575 Rights
Why else are the Christian Right so interested in welfare privatisation and retrenchment? One answer might be capacity building. What do I mean by 'capacity building?' To answer, I'll have to resort to comparative political and social analysis. It has long been commented that the United States has abnormally high levels of religious observance compared to the mainstream western world. Why is this? It is because the United States is out of synch with Western Europe and Australasia when it comes to a comprehensive welfare state and meaningful trade unions as intermediate institutions. Large corporates moved in and crushed large-scale independent trade union organising in the late forties and early fifties. This might have led the Democrat Party to turn left and become more like Labour or social democratic parties in Western Europe, Canada and Australasia. This has meant that the Republican Party can exploit the growth of fundamentalist sects that has occurred since the economic downturns of the seventies, and it has kept on doing so. As with the United Kingdom and Canada, New Zealand does have developed comprehensive welfare provision from central government; so as a result, there is diminished need to belong to religious organisations for instrumental reasons like inhouse welfare provision in the event of poverty, unemployment, food and housing needs. Mainline churches recognise that this is better than the fragmented and discontinuous outcrops of private welfare provision that existed here before the thirties, so it is unsurprising that the Catholic and Anglican churches social service agencies strongly oppose New Right plans for welfare privatisation and outsourcing. So, why do militant fundamentalists like the Maxim Institute, Parents Inc and Destiny Church all support it, given risks that this will end up outraging liberal Christians and causing them to break any remaining ecumenical and internal bonds within mixed strand mainline dominated churches? They are doing so for purely selfish reasons- capacity building. Consider this. The Society for Promotion for Community Standards, Voice for Life and the Kiwi Party are all decrepit institutions, unable to markedly influence public policy. Granted, the Maxim Institute isn't, but that's because they've pragmatically emphasised financial conservatism above social conservatism in the years since Bruce Logan's fall after his plagarism scandal in 2005. It can attract corporate donors and assistance from National and ACT as a result. As for Family First, it has a noxious cloud of fundamentalist small business donors floating around it, rather like a belt of toxic smog in Christchurch. None of the other Christian Right pressure groups have those advantages and they're doing it tough during this recession as a result. Oh dear, how sad. There is a happy prospect that none of the oldline Christian Right lobby groups mentioned in the previous paragraph will survive the current recession, given their parlous state. Right to Life New Zealand won't either if it is forced to pay back $NZ70,000 currently owed to the Abortion Supervisory Committee after the failure of its recent Court of Appeal case. That will leave the Institute, Parents Inc and Destiny Church as survivors because they either back policies or provide 'social services' that can be substituted for cut back central government programmes. Not unreasonably, mainstream social service NGOs and our own LGBT communities are somewhat concerned at what we've seen so far- block grants for such organisations, without any attention whatsoever about whether or not they have been informed that they must comply with Human Rights Act provisions that oppose sexual orientation discrimination in this context. As with cases of welfare privatisation and outsourcing in the United States, preliminary critical advisory analysis, governmental fiscal accountability and transparency of outsourcing procedures has not been forthcoming in the case of Parents Inc. There is also the question of the Charities Act 2004. The Charities Commission has been assiduous in weeding out organisations that do not meet criteria of active service provision, or are instead arguably lobby organisations, or demonstrate obvious political bias in exercise of their duties, such as the 'exgay' Exodus Ministries New Zealand. It could be asked why any organisation that did not meet the criteria of the Charities Commission and Charities Act 2004 should then be entrusted with government funding, especially without any evidence-based policy rationale for that decision, or criteria established for transparency of decision making procedures or financial or public accountability of delegated services provided. One watches potential developments in this context with interest. We need to make it clear to central government and any of these pressure group applicants that we refuse to accept any such discrimination against any LGBT clients of these services and we expect any such discriminatory practices to be curtailed and punished immediately when and if they arise in this context. This especially includes any junk-science based 'lesbian and gay conversion' programmes, which had better not be funded in this context. Nor should there be any evidence of funds intended for service provision diverted to antigay, transphobic or other Christian Right lobbying activities or propaganda. Destiny Church is a particularly poor choice for outsourced services and funding in this context. If any such evidence of NGO rorting or misuse of government funding emerges, I expect any such service provision to end immediately and the delinquent organisation should be forced to pay back the outstanding delegated funds. Finally, New Zealand needs to embrace the early twenty- first century and outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as all Australian states and territories have already done. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals have statutory redress through the Human Rights Act in this context- our transgender sisters and brothers do not. This must change before any 'welfare reform' is undertaken. Given the absence of the above, there is a very real risk that future recipients of any such relinquished, privatised or outsourced government responsibilities to conservative religious pressure groups and service providers will either be inadequately monitored when it comes to actual service provision toward any clients, and that funds might well be diverted toward engorging the institutional structures of such organisations so that they can interfere in domestic politics and grab funding formerly earmarked for neutral welfare state institutions to themselves. Hopefully, this may come too late to save SPCS or the Kiwi Party, although sadly, the anti-abortionists have the teat of the Catholic Church to fall back upon- even if liberal New Zealand lay Catholics refuse to participate within it, or fund it. Snouts in the trough time, anyone? Craig Young - 7th July 2011    
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