Christian lobbying and politicians' self-interest


Jim Wallace

The Power Index is a sister publication of Crikey. Its purpose is to identify ‘who really runs Australia’. Last Tuesday its focus was the ‘powerful people in religion’.

There was a list of 18 leaders or representatives of faith communities such as the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace. It created the impression that religious organisations are increasingly spreading the word by lobbying and talking up the ‘Christian vote’. 

Religious leaders are using their clout and followers to influence the national debate on topics such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia, abortion. ... Religious lobby groups are making noise – and getting results. 

The Power Index says churches are increasing their reliance on lobbying because fewer Australians are attending church services. This is obviously part of a more complex scenario that includes the power of the media and popular culture to shape opinion that once would have been influenced by clergy and religious teachers. 

While many of the religious groups are lobbying in support of what they perceive to be wholesome causes, the activity of lobbying itself can be far from wholesome. John Warhurst writes in his 2007 book Behind Closed Doors about the methods of disgraced Western Australian Labor identity Brian Burke, one of the country’s most successful and notorious lobbyists.

His view of human nature ... is that people always have a price. He ‘identifies people’s self-interest.’ He has a pejorative, malign view of humanity. He is ‘a very good judge of weak character.’ .. [He] ‘reads faces like other people read books.’ 

It’s debatable how much the average Canberra lobbyist has in common with Brian Burke in terms of how low they will go in order to secure the support of a politician. But aside from the level of resources at their disposal, it seems that the lower they are prepared to go in manipulating the will of a politician, the more impressive the result is likely to be. 

It is challenging for lobbyists attempting to appeal to the ‘better angels’ of our politicians. That is exactly what, for example, the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, is doing. Its rival Clubs Australia simply has to remind politicians of the seats their party will lose in the next election if it supports anti-gambling measures such as pre-commitment technology. 

Lobbying often involves issues that confront the interests of powerful mining or business associations. But sometimes important changes can be achieved by small groups with a simple transparent approach to lobbying and a steadfast commitment to their cause. One such ‘not so powerful’ lobby is Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH).

ACRATH has on its website an inspiring account of its ‘Canberra Advocacy Visit 2012’, which took place last month. It had four requests to make of politicians to improve services for trafficked people in Australia. It urged MPs to support the Crimes Legislation Amendments (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. The bill was passed in the lower house in the delegation’s presence, on 21 August, with the work of ACRATH acknowledged in Hansard. 

Lobbies such as ACRATH and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce are doing the right thing by attempting to appeal to the sense of compassion in our politicians. We can only trust in human nature that they will ultimately prevail. Unfortunately other groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby think in terms of the 'Christian vote' and its appeal is to the self-interest of politicians.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Jim Wallace, Australian Christian Lobby, ACL, lobbying, politics, John Warhurst



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Existing comments

It srikes me that lobbying politicians seem to be the antithesis of much of the gospel. The main work of the church should be about changing lives, individual by individual. And if people are no longer attending church then perhaps 'lobbying' in that direction may be worthwhile. This is not to say that the activities of such groups as ACRATH and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce do not have noble goals - and worthwhile things can be achieved. It just seems to be playing the politicians' games a bit too much.
Pam | 10 September 2012

An interesting read that really encourages one to think about what good lobbying should involve. After last week's media coverage, I was hoping to read more about the ACL and its tactics, especially given that Jim Wallace's photo dominated the heading. The article fuelled my intellectual appetite, but didn't fully satisfy.
Joshua Anderson | 10 September 2012

I have no problem at all with church people stating their opposition to any issue - but the thing that riles me is when they oppose things like same-sex marriage without having the rational capacity to present an argument. When all is said and done, after they've twisted and turned and used every one-line comeback they know, whether from the the Torah, the New Testament or even Origin of the Species, it's obvious their opposition is to homosexual persons per se. Clear and simple irrational fear-mongering homophobia.

Also how can churches lobby against gambling when a huge chunk of the funds for their social welfare programs (often government-sanctioned contracts) comes from gambling revenue?
AURELIUS | 10 September 2012

Jim Wallace’s remarks should themselves carry a health warning. Not only do they reinforce the toxic notion that same sex attraction is intrinsically wrong and aberrant; but they diminish the beauty and compassion inherent in true Christianity; a practise that most of us can, at best, only aspire to.

One can only imagine the pain experienced by a young person whose same sex attraction, whose very nature is put into question, or even dismissed as immoral, as ‘unclean’. No wonder the drug taking, the suicides and other destructive behaviours.

Human sexuality is a very complex creature; far more grey than black or white.

It is best tended to by gentle, wise and humble hands.
Peter Day | 10 September 2012

the efforts of Micah Challenge to build support for increasing Australian overseas aid and commitment to the Millenium development Goals is another impressive example of informed engagement with politicians powered by compassion
Doug | 10 September 2012

Christians and non-Christians need to advocate for just parliamentary voting Australia-wide. In the last Queensland election, the LNP gained only 49.65 % of the primary vote, but 87.6% of the seats, gaining 78 of the 89 seats. With a much fairer mixed member voting system, as operating in New Zealand, the allocation of seats would have been as follows: LNP 44 seats; ALP 24 seats; KAP 10 seats; Greens 6 or 7 seats; Independents 4 or 5 seats. The LNP would not have been able to form government in its own right. The abolition of Queensland's Legislative Council in 1922 was a huge blow to Queensland democracy. The Beattie Government's introduction of OPTIONAL preferential voting was another blow to democracy in this state. The unjust voting system is leading to voting excesses for the party in power. The excesses of the Bjelke Petersen era have been followesd by excesses of both ALP and LNP governments. As one historical sage put it, 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absoletely.' The Australian House of Representatives voting system is also unjust. A party with 10 % or more of the vote can have no representatives in this House. Justice advocates, please speak up!
Grant Allen | 10 September 2012

It seems that truth is always losing out in the media, for some reason. A perfect example is how Jim Wallace has been portrayed for pointing out a simple fact. It is so worrying to see all sorts of commentators jump on the bandwagon of absolute denial of what the evidence tells us on the impact of gay lifestyle on the health and length of life for a particular group of people, for many decades now. To see this being repeated again in the Q&A program tonight is so disheartening - an audience obviously packed with gays (as it always is) rabidly attacking the token Christian on the panel for having the temerity to say that the literature tells us Jim Wallace is correct, and that unless there is evidence to contrary we should take this fact seriously and try to help those that suffer from this awful situation. There is of course AMPLE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE that the lifespan of a person living with HIV is much shorter than the majority of the population and even those of smokers! Here is something I found within minutes by googling that has been put out by the Australian Research Centre in its 2009 Sex, Health & Society report: “The median survival period among people diagnosed with AIDS increased from 19 months prior to 1998 to 69 months in 2002…. The HIV-positive population in Australia is surviving longer and getting older on average. The median age of men at AIDS diagnosis increased from 37 prior to 1999 to 44 in 2007, and from 33 to 43 in women” I think that the median age is actually much higher than 44 and 43? So how is Wallace wrong and spreading misinformation? Can we stop perpetuating misleading rubbish in the media, please?
Dan | 10 September 2012

Politics can be extremely dirty, Michael. Political lobbying also. ACL may appear to wield a baseball bat in comparison with ACRATH and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. Christianity and politics are not the same and I think organisations which attempt to take their Christianity into politics in a big way, such as ACL, do so at the peril of aforesaid Christianity.
Edward F | 11 September 2012

Dan, your facts on HIV are correct - but HIV is pandemic and not a homosexual disease. The comparison is similar to saying that the Aboriginal lifestyle is unhealthy or that diabetes is an indigenous disease. Also, HIV no longer shortens people's lifespan with current medications. It is a chronic, but manageable condition in developing countries that can afford the latest treatments. It's in places like Africa where the disease is rampant, more commonly among heterosexuals, and is often left untreated or badly treated. Few people living with HIV in countries like Australia actually develop AIDS any more. And to the gay man in the Q&A audience on Monday night who declared that he was HIV negative - there was really not need for that. It showed a lack of compassion for people who are HIV positive who would not feel the need to declare on public television that they are positive.
AURELIUS | 12 September 2012


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