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Public faith and Perrottet

  • 01 November 2021
The elevation of Dominic Perrottet to the Premiership of New South Wales caused a flurry of commentary about his religious faith. In many parts of the media his politics and personality were framed by his Catholicism. I watched on with a degree of discomfort, and with a sense of possibility. Could some of the bigoted characterisations invite a richer conversation about the ideals and deeper narratives that enliven our public leaders?

Some of the interest and almost immediate opprobrium might have been a relief to Perottet. Being banned from Kyle Sandilands radio show apparently because of his socially conservative views is surely a silver lining. That the ban came while Sandilands and his co-host were talking on air to a psychic gives the context. But it does not explain why so much of the mainstream press utilised the religious framing and were suspicious, at best, of what it might mean. Even Media Watch, the ABC’s critical eye on the media and its biases, introduced the incoming Premier as ‘conservative Catholic, Dominic Perrottet’.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s first opinion piece after Perrottet became the frontrunner to take over from Gladys Berejiklian framed his ascendence through his religious commitments, with Stephanie Dowrick describing him as ‘a highly conservative Catholic with views that represent the most extreme end of a rigidly male-dominated institutional church.’ Dowrick considered it critical Perottet not be made Premier to contain the ‘growing representation of highly conservative Christians in positions of great power’ in Australia. The last comment obviously references Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Christian Pentecostalism, a part of his political identity much scorned but rarely fully explored, in a manner repeated in much of the response to Perottet’s assumption of office.

The ABC News online Perrottet ‘explainer’ suggested that his ‘family ideals are fierce’, citing his being one of 13 children, and having 6 children with his wife, Helen. The number of children has been given pointed attention, much of it beyond the legitimate questions about how the Premier will manage work and family life. This to say nothing of the grubby social media commentary that followed the recent announcement of a seventh child.

Perrottet’s school, attended two decades ago, was also highlighted, that ABC ‘explainer’ and other news sites initially claiming it was run by Opus Dei. Though the online piece now acknowledges that the school is independent with an Opus Dei chaplain, and though the prelature is no longer described