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A pro-life crossroads in Australian politics

4 Comments

 

The outcome of the Federal Election has no doubt provoked a great deal of reflection within the Liberal Party. With a Victorian state election later this year, it became clear on election night that a realignment is needed to win back voters.

It was interesting, then, to see the Victorian Liberal Party expel Bernie Finn just days after the election. The controversial Victorian MP previously maintained party support despite criticism for comments comparing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to Adolf Hitler, describing a former female staffer as a ‘rat’, and sharing pro-Trump posts during the US Capitol riots. However his comments about praying for an end to abortion, and a follow-up comment about abortion not being acceptable for rape victims, were apparently a bridge too far. This is despite those comments being in complete alignment with Catholic teaching, echoing Pope Francis himself.

One would assume that the Victorian Liberal Party has looked at the numbers, and believes that religious conservatives no longer make up a significant proportion of their constituency. Certainly, the moral authority of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations has taken a battering in the state over the last decade, with many remaining openly hostile to religious perspectives.

If the pro-life movement was ever a significant force in Australian politics, that’s no longer the case. Abortion and euthanasia legislation has been passed across the country, often with the support of conscientious Liberal Party votes. South Australia became the last jurisdiction to decriminalise abortion in 2021, and buffer zones restricting pro-life activists from clinics have also been introduced in all states. Meanwhile, NSW recently became the latest state to legalise euthanasia.

Earlier this year, debate over the religious freedom act caused five Federal Liberal Party MPs to cross the floor, highlighting the internal division in the party on issues important to religious conservatives. In this light, preventing pro-life members like Bernie Finn from publicly expressing their views is about taking issues that might cause internal division off the table. It’s much easier to tolerate this situation, of course, when your own side has effectively succeeded in all its policy goals.

 

'While the Liberal party may think shifting away from pro-life issues will win it broader support, the result of abandoning religious voters may in fact be to create even more disruption in the landscape, and to weaken their base even further.'

 

The situation in Australia is markedly different to the United States, where a person’s pro-life stance has become a litmus test for candidates on both sides of politics. One of the results in the United States is that pro-life issues have been incorporated into a movement in which many of the interests are not particularly ‘pro-life’ at all. US politicians who proudly say they are ‘pro-life’ have no problem at all with advocating pro-gun, pro-death penalty, anti-immigration, anti-environmental and anti-equality legislation. There’s little desire to address issues that lead women to abortion such as poverty, domestic violence, lack of social support for mothers, and barriers in the workplace. Many argue, reasonably, that much of the US pro-life movement is really just ‘pro-birth’.

If what happened in Victoria is indicative of a broader realignment for the Liberal Party, people who are pro-life are now at something of a crossroads. They can continue to support major parties, accepting that significant pro-life issues are now effectively off limits. This might be adequate for those comfortable with the idea that in a pluralistic society it’s not desirable to impose certain viewpoints on others. From this position, it would certainly be more possible to achieve tangential pro-life change, such as addressing broader family, social justice and environmental issues. One would assume these people are more likely to support the Greens or Labor over the Liberal Party.

Alternatively, they can support more US-style conservative parties further to the right that might incorporate their views, or perhaps follow Bernie Finn to the Democratic Labour Party. While this might provide more space for direct activism, there are also the risks of finding oneself aligned with other far less ‘pro-life’ interests.

The third option is to create a niche of their own in the political landscape. The success of independent candidates in the recent election raises the possibility of other candidates bringing concerns for the unborn and the problems around euthanasia together with concerns for environmental action, for refugees and asylum seekers, and for welfare of the vulnerable in our community. There’s even a recent example this in Joe McGirr’s successful independent campaign in Wagga Wagga.

The rise of the ‘teal’ candidates shows the potential of grassroots action to disrupt the status quo in the political landscape. While the Liberal party may think shifting away from pro-life issues will win it broader support, the result of abandoning religious voters may in fact be to create even more disruption in the landscape, and to weaken their base even further.

 

 

 


 

Michael McVeigh is Head of Publishing and Digital Content at Jesuit Communications, publishers of Eureka Street.

Main image: Pro-Life protestors demonstrating on August 20, 2019 in Martin Place, Sydney, Australia. (James Gourley/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, VLP, Pro-life, Religious Vote, Abortion, AusPol

 

 

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Existing comments

If the Victorian Liberal Party “looked at the numbers” before deciding to ditch Bernie Finn, it merely proves they are not the sharpest tool in the shed. Ditto the West Australian Liberal Party that went “woke” before being decimated, and ditto the Federal Liberal Party which cowardly refused to defend the most basic conservative principles.
If politics is only about embracing the latest “tulip-mania” fad in order to win at any cost, society is in a dark place.
Furthermore, there are many furphies about “issues that lead women to abortion.” US studies have shown 96.50% of all abortions are performed for social or economic reasons.
In a world where “it profits a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul”, it is unsurprising that a person whose statements are “in complete alignment with Catholic teaching, echoing Pope Francis himself” should be sidelined. For as Mother Teresa said: “A nation that kills its children in the womb has lost its soul.”


Ross Howard | 15 June 2022  

Traditionally, there are four sins or sin-types which cry to Heaven for vengeance. The compleat party program is one which acknowledges all of them. Because the same God who set up the distinctions also created the human natures which would benefit materially from public and private actions that acknowledge the distinctions, such a program would reap a harvest of voters.


roy chen yee | 15 June 2022  

If Michel's brother, Joe, had stood as a DLP candidate, he would have got nowhere. It was his appeal to a broad community, like that that of the teal candidates, that got him elected.


Ginger Meggs | 15 June 2022  

In 1964 in England, I joined the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child not from religious persuasion but humanitarian concerns.Today ,some claim the woman "has the right to do what she likes with her own body" ,but modern science shows the child is not a part of her body like, for example,her appendix, but a different being with his/her unique DNA. Some years ago, the Family Planning Asssociation claimed new, more reliable forms of contraception would make abortion unneccesary. How wrong they were! The power to transmit life to another person is truly awesome.It should be viewed as the greatest resposability we humans have.People of all religions and none should ensure this becomes one of our community values.


Mary Samara-Wickrama | 16 June 2022  

‘much of the US pro-life movement is really just ‘pro-birth’ - well expressed.

‘ The third option [for pro-life Australians] is to create a niche of their own in the political landscape.’

This sounds hopeful and, from what I am seeing amongst younger committed Catholics, seems like it might be posdible.

Many of my young adult children’s friends fall into the ‘crunchy conservative’ niche: they are pro-life, pro-sexual fidelity, they also eschew materialism, buy ethically and try to look after the planet. They care about their confused and marginalised contemporaries.

Let’s all hope and pray that something new, refreshing and inspiring will emerge from the apparent meltdown of conventional political categories.


Lara | 16 June 2022  

Being pro-life and anti-euthanasia are seen as primarily religious, often specifically Christian and more particularly Catholic stances and therefore quite easy to ignore by those with what they consider their own 'higher agenda' who are sometimes nominally Christian or Catholic. It is fine to protest against global warming, but not against abortion. Politics and exerting political pressure to achieve moral goals often makes you lie down in bed with those you have no desire to do so. My long term hope is that the pendulum will swing back from the modern amoral materialistic 'all I can get' lifestyle which leads nowhere. I think it will. Meanwhile we mark time and do our best in the here and now.


Edward Fido | 21 June 2022  

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