Religion and republicanism in Australian politics

Within days of becoming Prime Minister, Julia Gillard declared she was an atheist. Sensing this would not go down well with voters, she soon backtracked, explaining that she was actually an agnostic.

In contrast, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wears his Catholicism on his sleeve. And it's often said Kevin Rudd and John Howard were our most overtly religious prime ministers.

The interviewee featured here has devoted his working life to observing what motivates politicians. He is particularly interested in their religious beliefs. John Warhurst is a highly esteemed professor of political science, and one of Australia's most astute commentators on politics.

This interview is part of a series of conversations with prominent contributors to Eureka Street to mark the 20th anniversary of the journal. For many years Warhurst has written with deep insight into the political process, helping readers understand the inner workings of politics and politicians.

Warhurst was born, grew up, and received his school and university education in Adelaide. He attended the Jesuit St Ignatius College in Norwood before going to Flinder's University where he gained a BA with Honours in politics and economics, and a PhD in politics.

A career as an academic followed, with teaching positions at the Warnambool Institute of Advanced Education, the University of London, the University of New England in Armidale, and the Australian National University in Canberra where he is now Emeritus Professor of Political Science.

Warhurst has never been confined to the ivory tower of academia, and always sought to share his insights and ideas with the broader community. He has a long-running weekly column in the Canberra Times, and makes regular appearances on TV at election time.

He is probably best known for his prominent role in the Australian Republican Movement (ARM). He has been a public activist for a republic since the early 1970s, and has been both the ACT convenor, and national chair of the ARM.

When asked what motivates him he says: 'I am passionate and determined about an Australian republic because only then can Australia fully reflect its distinctive, independent national identity. It is a logical, necessary and natural evolution of Australian political and constitutional identity.'

Warhurst has been honoured with a number of major awards, including an Order of Australia in 2009 for services to political science and to the community. In 2010 he received a fellowship from the Prime Minister's Centre at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House, in Canberra for a research project entitled 'The Faith of Australian Prime Ministers'.

He is a prolific author, with some of his later books including Behind Closed Doors: Politics, Scandals and the Lobbying Industry; John Howard's Decade; and Australian Political Institutions.

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Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Australian republic, John Howard, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd



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