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Blighted oranges: More lessons from Australia

Fri 19 Sep 2014 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

As I have long maintained, conservative Christian microparties are highly irresponsible, sectional and fractious organisations and shouldn't be entrusted with mainstream political power. Case in point- Australia's conservative Catholic "Democratic Labour Party." And, its "Rise Up Australia" Party. Given that several opinion polls now appear to show the Conservative Party inching closer to MMP's five percent threshold in the wake of the Dirty Politics scandal because Colin Craig and his entourage were untouched by it, I thought I'd pen this latest cautionary piece about the consequences of having a conservative Christian political party holding a legislature's balance of power. In this instance, the culprit is the conservative Catholic "Democratic Labour Party," currently represented in Australia's federal Senate (or is it...???) Unlike the plethora of fundamentalist Protestant political parties in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, all of which date from the seventies or eighties (Christian Heritage, Fred Niles' Christian Democratic Party, the Canadian Christian Heritage Party and the rival fundamentalist Australian Family First Party), the DLP has a considerably longer vintage. In fact, it arose in Australia during the mid-fifties as the consequence of aggravated conflict between Cold War conservative Catholic anti-communists against the Australian Labor Party and the Communist Party of Australia- the latter dominated many postwar Australian trade unions. At a time when communist insurgency was occurring in Vietnam and Malaysia, Australian politics behaved more excessively when it came to civil liberties and human rights than New Zealand did- it actually tried to ban the Communist Party of Australia. As the fifties unfolded, Cold War tensions escalated and so did the animosities between communists, moderate ALP social democrats and conservative Catholic anti-communists. In 1955, the ALP had had enough of this destabilising influence within its party branches and core trade union affiliates and decided to evict both. The result was "the Split", an event which has no equivalent within New Zealand religious, social and political history, given that our own Catholic religious community was far smaller and although New Zealand had our own periods of communist activism in the fifties, such as 1951's waterfront strike, it never paralleled the intensity of contemporary Australian events, or their political significance due to Australia's 'preferential voting' electoral system. The "Split" seriously weakened Australian trade unions and the ALP, given that the DLP directed its preferences to the centre-right Liberal Party of Australia. While the Christian Heritage Party had its own "youth" branches in the nineties, economies of scale meant that there were right-wing Catholic student groups that similarly tried to disrupt student union activity. The DLP's activities were responsible for antagonising two generations of upwardly mobile working-class Australians from Catholic adherence, and the DLP was severely weakened within its federal and state branches during the sixties as the New Left arose within Australian universities, trade unions, environmental, feminist, LGBT and peace activist circles. Ultimately, it lost all of its legislative representatives, but its parent organisation, the "National Civic Council" survived and continues to publish News Weekly, despite the sclerosis and decay of its parental organisation. Meanwhile, as with New Zealand, a Christian Right anti-feminist, anti-gay and anti-abortion cauldron of hate groups arose- Fred Nile and his Christian Democratic Party (formerly Call to Australia), Women Who Want to be Women (now Endeavour Forum- Australia's national anti-feminist group), the fractitious and disunited Australian anti-abortion movement (the Federation of Right to Life Associations and more militant Right to Life Australia) and the Festival of Light (now Family Voice Australia). To some extent, these religious social conservative political activist groups subordinated older conservative Catholic anti-communist activism. However, in Australia, their influence was mixed. In New Zealand, conservative Catholics are to blame for foisting the overly expensive and bureaucratic structure of the Abortion Supervisory Committee atop New Zealand abortion legislation, but Australian Catholic anti-abortionist disunity and factionalism prevented this occurring within Australia. Because of New Zealand's smaller number of conservative Catholics, New Zealand's Christian Right became fundamentalist-dominated early on, but this has never happened to the same extent within Australia, given the relative strength of its conservative Catholics. However, despite its formidable scale, it has only ever managed one lasting victory against social liberalism- Australia's current federal same-sex marriage ban, instituted in 2004 and upheld by faltering Australian federal Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who began his own history of political activism within a DLP/NCC front group, the Democratic Students Club. In 2006, conservative Catholic Peter Kavanagh won a DLP Victorian Legislative Council seat. However, the DLP was beset with factional problems between ultra-conservative Catholics who wanted a purge of non-Catholic activists within the organisation and increased visible adherence to Catholic doctrine, religious observance and practise, and non-sectarian 'pragmatists' who wanted collaboration between fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics. The animosity meant that the party organisation was severely weaked and as a consequence, Kavanagh didn't return to the Legislative Council after Victoria's next state election in 2010. Given the strength of the DLP in its native Victoria, it was able to elect Senator Peter Maddigan after the Australian federal election that year. However, almost immediately, factionalism reasserted itself as it had within the Victorian Legislative Council. Although, unsurprisingly, Maddigan is a hardline anti-abortionist and opponent of Australian marriage equality, he is also an economic protectionist when it comes to Australian manufacturers, a strong advocate of West Papuan human rights against Indonesian repression, opposed to privatisation of state assets and Australia's former federal carbon tax. However, in 2011, Maddigan abruptly resigned from the Democratic Labor Party, citing runaway party factionalism as the chief cause. Since then, the DLP has been trying to have the Independent Victorian Senator expelled from the Australian Senate. The lesson of the DLP is clear to those who choose to observe and comprehend it. Religious social conservative political parties are populist, sectional, sectarian and factionalised political entities. If anyone is foolhardy enough to ignore that, they will run afoul of disintegration and instability if they rely on such organisations as potential coalition partners. Given the unwelcome surge in Conservative Party support, this is a useful lesson for New Zealand voters as well as Australians. If one needed another object lesson in this area, albeit not from a conservative Catholic perspective this time, witness the extremist Sri Lankan-born Australian Pentecostal minister Danny Nalliah, leader of "Catch the Fire Ministries", who founded his Rise Up Australia Party in March 2013. However, RUA's ethos is distastefully sectarian, with much invective directed against Muslim immigration and against Australian multiculturalism. According to a biographical article on his Catch the Fire website, he was born in Sri Lanka and was a drummer in a band before the lead guitarist became a fundamentalist Christian. He alleges that he worked with an "underground" fundamentalist Christian church in Saudi Arabia, which does not permit Christian conversion efforts and that he and his family preached and lived near Mecca. He claims to have been instrumental in the release of several Christians arrested in Saudi Arabia in 1998. However, in a much more sinister direction, after he moved to Australia in 1998, he and another fundamentalist minister, Dan Scott, were both at the centre of a racist vilification case when the Islamic Council of Victoria alleged that Muslims were repeatedly attacked in a Catch the Fire seminar, newsletter and website article in the Supreme Court in 2007. On his website, Nalliah boasts that "God has spoken to him through dreams." In particular, one Catch the Fire piece caused considerable anger in Victoria when he linked that Australian state's 2009 Black Saturday bushfire tragedy, in which 173 Victorians lost their lives, to that state's decriminalisation of abortion. Nalliah also stated that unmarried former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a heathen "living in sin" with her partner and that former Australian Greens leader Dr Bob Brown was an "openly practising homosexual." Despite his Sri Lankan immigrant origins, Nalliah has also reached out to the neofascist Australian League of Rights in the past. Rise Up Australia is a reprehensible organisation, but its sectarian venom is what one has come to expect from the Christian Right, just as much as its homophobia, transphobia and racism. Dare New Zealand risk entrusting any similar fundamentalist Christian microparty with the balance of power and responsibility? Not Recommended: Democratic Labor Party: Ross Fitzgerald: The Popes Battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split: St Lucia: University of Queensland Press: 1993. Catch the Fire Ministries: Danny Nalliah: Worship Under the Sword: Melbourne: D Craig Young - 19th September 2014    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Friday, 19th September 2014 - 11:57am

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