Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Catholic political leaders: Does faith matter?

  • 15 November 2022
We are a tribal people, and therefore we take pride in achievements by Catholics. Church media run stories on Catholic sportspeople, celebrities, and award winners as examples of what our community can achieve. For this reason, there is always some interest in Catholic politicians whatever their political stripe. But is this interest nothing more than curiosity value? Does it matter to the church and/or to the politicians themselves? 

Today Australia is awash with politicians who identify or are identified as Catholic. Anthony Albanese is a Catholic. Down the Eastern seaboard the three state premiers, Dominic Perrottet (NSW), Daniel Andrews (Victoria) and Peter Malinauskas (SA) are Catholics. There are many other high-profile Catholics at ministerial level and as opposition leaders. Others, like Queensland Premier, Anastacia Palaszczuk attended a Catholic school. 

Given that Catholics make up only a fifth to a quarter of the Australian population they seem to be overrepresented right now. That could change quickly. But federal politics has had a run of Catholic or Catholic-educated leaders, including  Liberal prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, Nationals Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and Labor Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. 

Just to list their names makes it blindingly obvious that they are men (almost all men) with very different values. They are not only spread across the political parties, but within the parties they occupy very different places on the ideological spectrum. Turnbull and Abbott are a prime example of deeply different values, on matters like climate change and same sex marriage, within the one party. 

If you look a little deeper it is also clear that their adherence to orthodox, institutional Catholicism varies too. That should not be surprising given the decline of Catholic church adherence in the wider community. As only 10 per cent of Catholics are regular church attenders, it would be surprising if attendance by Catholic politicians was much different. As more Catholics depart from official church proclamations it would surprise if some Catholic politicians didn’t too; but when it happens in the public eye, as it did recently over the Thorburn affair with Daniel Andrews and Archbishop Peter Comensoli, it is newsworthy.   

All these facts together make for an interesting relationship between church leaders, who have many different political interests to pursue with government, and political leaders of the same faith. They can try to utilise the relationship during campaigns and policy debates, or they can be embarrassed by them if they