Title: God under Howard Credit: Craig Young Comment Saturday 5th February 2005 - 12:00pm1107558000 Article: 598 Rights
Review: Marion Maddox: God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australia: Allen and Unwin: 2004. Although Oz is our closest neighbour, we tend to forget just how different it is from New Zealand sometimes. It's a federal state, Catholicism has been a significant influence on federal and state politics, and they have had a conservative federal government in power since the mid-nineties. Of course, some would say that conservative religious groups have had far more influence across the Tasman, albeit in terms of foreign policy and trade union politics than reproductive freedom and lesbian/gay rights, until recently. Maddox reveals how the Howard administration has actively courted Australia's fundamentalist vote, and cultivated them as a constituency for their conservative federal government. In late 2004, this saw the election of Family First, an Adelaide-based Pentecostal party akin to our own United Future. At the state level, though, things are different. Like New Zealand, Tasmania (!) has civil union legislation,and the ascendancy of the Australian Christian Right isn't that universal. Unfortunately, it has been able to introduce conservative 'community standards' -based censorship policies, hamstrung federal LGBT spousal equality proposals, banned RU486 (the progesterone-based pharmaceutical abortion procedure which is legal in New Zealand), and has outlawed same-sex marriage, cross-country same-sex adoption and Northern Territory euthanasia law reform. There are some economies of scale available to Australian Christian Right organisations and they have been able to build their institutions under Howard's patronage. He has presided over fundamentalist church openings. However, he knows how much the public will take. He realises that Australian women would raise merry hell if he interfered with abortion access beyond RU486, and has not done so. He hasn't taken steps to repeal Western Australia's inclusive adoption laws or Tasmania's civil union law. By contrast, Brian Tamaki is the only megachurch organiser on that scale in New Zealand, and he now faces the limits of his impoverished parishioners and the lack of fundamentalist infrastructure here. Amongst other things, the Clark administration has been kind to us, through impeding their establishment of private training institutions, fundamentalist private schools, and religious broadcasting. For that reason, our own Christian Right is far smaller and stunted, compared to its American and Australian counterparts. Maddox raises some anxieties about the future. Given ongoing Australian federal fundamentalist capacity building, she puts forth a persuasive case that it will outlast the current Howard administration, akin to the US Republican Party and its fundamentalist addiction. I fear our Australian cousins are in for some long-term heartaches. This is a fantastic book which gathers together previously disparate threads. Although Australian abortion politics have been well-reported in the past, and Tasmania's protracted homosexual law reform campaign received similar detailed coverage, there has been no attempt to draw together those threads and come up with a holistic picture. Maddox has written an excellent, highly readable and comprehensive study which is instructive about what might be driving current centre-right attention to fundamentalist sectarians here. Craig Young - 5th February 2005    
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