Morrison and Nile – it’s just a lurch to the right

March 1, 2013

Some days, it doesn’t pay to log on and read the news.

It started when a 24 year old asylum seeker on a bridging visa was charged with sexual assault. It’s a serious offence, and not to be belittled or dismissed. Nor is it a situation where the facts are known, or a verdict obtained. Apparently the Opposition’s Shadow Immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison, doesn’t care about that.

On the basis of this one arrest, Morrison launched into a speech full of deafening dogwhistles and rife with racism. Asylum seekers should have to conform to ‘behaviour protocols’ before being released into the community, he argued. Moreover, residents in the area should be informed before asylum seekers or refugees are settled there. While they were at it, there should be regular reports to police.

All on the basis of one arrest. No confession. No verdict.

It wasn’t long before Senators Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi (infamous for his ‘halal by stealth’ comments) jumped in to support their colleague. Abetz thought it was all quite reasonable – after all, residents would find it hard to live next to someone who didn’t speak English well. In fact, he was prepared to go even further. We should make sure that police and health authorities be notified of an asylum seeker’s arrival into the community, just in case their ‘traumatised’ state led them to need intervention.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott thought it was fair enough, and quickly pointed the finger at the government, using his patented ‘look-over-there-at-what-Julia’s-doing’ tactic. The media went along obediently. Even Malcolm Turnbull, who usually represents a voice of moderation in the Coalition, was silent.

Mind you, the government weren’t exactly quick to jump on the subject, either – not the Prime Minister, nor the Immigration Minister, nor even Kevin ‘someday-he’ll-challenge-again-you-betcha’ Rudd.

Of the major parties, only Opposition backbencher Russell Broadbent and Senator Doug Cameron spoke out against these sentiments, and they were voices crying in the wilderness.

Unable to contain her fury, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young let fly at Morrison and those who supported his comments. Whether in the media (particularly when she held her own against some extremely provocative questions from Tony Jones on ABC1’s Lateline), or in the Parliament itself, she made it clear just how disgusting she found their ideas. She announced that she would be lodging complaints with ACMA, the broadcast regulator, and attempted to move a motion in the Senate condemning the vilification of asylum seekers.

Senator Sarah-Hanson Young

Senator Sarah-Hanson Young

Now, you might think that a motion like this would be a godsend for the government. Here’s a chance for them to get stuck into the Opposition, to paint them as completely heartless, and make even their own inhumane treatment of asylum seekers look better by comparison. Best of all, they didn’t have to bring it to the chamber. But no.

The major parties once more showed that – all evidence to the contrary – they are capable of bipartisanship – when it comes to silencing the Greens. The government joined the Opposition, and refused to allow standing orders to be suspended so that Hanson-Young could move her motion. They didn’t even allow the motion a full debate.

Later, one Coalition Senator in an Estimates Committee commented to Greens Senator Richard di Natale, ‘I suppose your colleague feels better now she’s had her say’. It was a blatant pat on the head to Hanson-Young, who frequently attracts criticism for being an outspoken, young woman.

So we’re left with this; a call for asylum seekers, who’ve committed no crime and are not even under suspicion of unlawful activity, to be treated worse than convicted sex offenders. Yes, worse.

You see, under Australian law, you can’t tell people if you know someone is on the Sex Offenders Register. Not even if that person is being asked to babysit your friend’s children. You can’t go door-to-door in a neighbourhood and tell everyone that a sex offender is moving in down the street. There’s no Megan’s Law here. But if Morrison had his way, innocent people would be subject to far harsher reporting conditions and invasion of privacy than those who commit sexual offences. Men, women, and even children.

All on the basis of one arrest. No confession. No verdict.

* * * * *

As if that’s not bad enough, New South Wales state politics took a sharp lurch to the far right of the Tea Party when Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile introduced a private member’s bill that would allow charges to manslaughter to be brought if the actions of another person caused a baby to die in utero, or be stillborn. It’s called ‘Zoe’s Law’ (Zoe was the name given to a NSW woman’s unborn baby who was stillborn after a car accident), and Nile claims it’s purely about protecting a baby from a third party – say, an abusive partner or a mugger. It’s not about abortion, he says: ‘This bill provides an exemption for medical procedures, which is the terminology for a termination or abortion’.

There’s just one problem with Nile’s claims. There’s nothing in the bill to prevent the pregnant woman from being charged. Nor is there any specification in the bill to say when a foetus becomes a ‘baby’. A woman who goes horse-riding and miscarries at 8 weeks could be charged. A drug-addicted woman who is in rehab, but even sober, cannot carry the child to term. A woman who falls asleep at the wheel. A woman on antidepressants or other medications that are necessary for survival, but which can pose a danger to a foetus. A woman on chemotherapy.

All of these women could be charged under the proposed ‘Zoe’s Law’. For all Nile dresses it up as some kind of compassionate protection for the vulnerable, this is no different to the tactics used by anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-choice groups in the US. There, a woman can be locked up in some states until she has her baby, and refused medication. It’s not a big step from charging a woman with manslaughter after the death of a foetus and deciding that preventative action is a ‘better’ option. It’s all hearts and flowers and cuddly babies.

And let’s just ignore the fact that this law would see women’s rights are abrogated to a completely unacceptable extent.

So, friends and neighbours, this is the double barrel we’re looking down. A Federal Coalition that – let’s face it – has a damned good chance of forming the next government. A notoriously conservative State government that, all too often, gratefully accepts Nile’s vote.

And a desire to criminalise the innocent in the name of ‘protecting’ Australians.

We’re supposed to be a society that enshrines the presumption of innocence. We’re supposed to protect the right to privacy and the right to live our lives. And we shouldn’t let flowery words and protestations of ‘compassion’ distract us from what’s at the heart of these proposals – racism, fear, and social control.

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A close look at the Rise Up Australia Party

June 6, 2011

When people are dissatisfied with their elected representatives, they have a few options open to them.

They can protest, lobby, or mount advertising campaigns to pressure politicians. They can join a party and attempt to change it from within. They can decide to run for office as an Independent. They can ‘opt out’ of voting altogether.

Or they can do what the Australian Democrats and Australian Greens did before them – start their own political party.

This weekend, two groups did exactly that.

Independent MP Bob Katter announced the formation of his Katter’s Australian Party.

And evangelical Christian group Catch the Fire Ministries launched its Rise Up Australia Party.

Since Katter is already a serving MP, he’s attracted a lot of media attention already, particularly since he declared his intention to break the stranglehold of Coles and Woolworths on Australia’s grocery markets. As such, I’m not going to spend time on them here, because I want to get to the party that’s so far gone under the radar.

The RUAP is headed up by Pentecostal minister Reverend Danny Nalliah and Catch the Fire Ministries. The parent group has been in the headlines more than once in recent years; they’ve called for the destruction of mosques and places associated with witchcraft, Hinduism and gambling, they’ve warned that sharia law is being instituted by stealth in Australia, and held numerous prayer vigils in Canberra to ‘break the Satanic power’ allegedly being used by witches to influence the government. Nalliah himself was convicted under Victoria’s racial and religious vilification laws – a verdict that he appealed twice before it was finally overturned. (The judgment is available through VCAT – case number A392/2002.)

The group’s name is directly tied to CTFM – it refers to a series of prayer meetings that began in 2002. In fact, Nalliah refers to CTFM as the ‘cover’ for Rise Up Australia, and had this to say in the 9th anniversary blog:

‘There is one thing I know-we cannot compromise the Gospel in order to maintain status quo. We need to boldly stand for what we believe. Come on men & women who know God, don’t compromise in order to maintain your reputation. Stand up for what you believe. If not, we will lose the Christian heritage of our homeland of Australia.’

The RUAP builds on this statement in its listed aims. But let’s break them down a bit, shall we? Some are listed out of order for the purposes of analysis, but I’ve left in the original numbers assigned to each point.

1. Protect freedom of speech.

Sounds like a good idea, right? But wait. At the very least there’s a vested interest here. Remember that Nalliah was initially convicted under vilification laws for his comments about Islam and Moslems.

2. Establish full employment and fair wages; support/re-establish manufacturing industries in Australia.

Another apparently good idea – until you take into account this point:

7. Faith-based schools are to have the right to employ people of their choice.

So RUAP supports the idea of allowing religious (read: Christian) organisations to discriminate when hiring and firing. I’m sure Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu is happy to know that.

3. Reduce the cost of living by limiting the size of government and limiting the levels of taxation, with the least possible intrusion of governments into the lives of individuals and businesses.

Unless those businesses are churches or church organisations, of course. CTFM is already on record as opposing tax-exempt status for other religions.

4. Reaffirm our Constitutional right to freedom of religion.

6. No religion or religious practices are to be forced upon another person.

Technically, there is no such right. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states that ‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.’ As has pointed out in numerous court cases, that is not a guarantee of religious freedom per se. But okay, religious freedom. Sounds good. And this point sounds even better.

But then there’s this:

8. Schools to have faith-based chaplains.

9. School curriculums to include the teaching of the history of Western civilization and our Judeo-Christian heritage.

So, chaplains should not merely be permitted, but mandatory. Given that – as blogger Mike Stuchbery has established beyond doubt – the chaplaincy program and its accompanying Special Religious Instruction program are firmly in the grip of an evangelical Christian group bent on recruiting children into their religious beliefs, this is hardly consistent with religious freedom (or indeed freedom from religion).

Even worse, RUAP advocates shaping the national curriculum to teach distorted history in order to further their deceptive claims of pre-eminence, to – in their own words:

5. Recognise and affirm our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Australia is not and has never been a Judeo-Christian nation (and even using that word is in itself both nonsensical and insulting – it implies that Judaism is merely a form of Christianity). Our indigenous inhabitants were not Christian until converted by missionaries. Our population has always included migrants who did not subscribe to any form of Christianity – the Chinese migrants to the goldfields were some of the earliest. Our Constitution guarantees no state-mandated religion. And holding no religious belief at all well predates any white settlement on this continent.

RUAP would insist, however, that children be taught nothing of Australia’s varied religious heritage. That children be misled into thinking that white settlement brought one form of religion to this country, establishing itself as the sole possessor of Australian spirituality.

And just to drive the point home, the RUAP have this policy:

15. Protect Australia from multiculturalism. People who live in Australia should become Australian – we are multi-ethnic, not multi-cultural. We do not advocate homogenising – immigrants are free to celebrate their own backgrounds, but must respect the Australian culture. We are opposed to a dual legal system, i.e. we oppose introduction of Sharia law in Australia. We will educate people about the implications of radical Islamic teaching. We advocate no Centrelink benefits for polygamists.

Freedom of speech – unless you want to talk about sharia law in a positive way. Freedom of religion – unless that religion is something RUAP finds abhorrent. Celebrate ethnic heritage – within narrowly specified guidelines that conform to an evangelical group’s definition.

And then there’s the odd little after-thought of the anti-polygamy statement. Clearly, that’s aimed at religious groups, but there is growing support for polyamory in Australia that has nothing to do with issues of faith. They, too, would be affected by this policy – although in the eyes of RUAP, that might simply be an unlooked-for bonus in the quest to make Australia in their religious image.

Which brings us to this:

20. While we recognise the Aboriginal people as the first people of Australia, we encourage them to accept our Government’s apology and invite them to issue a statement of thanks for the good that the British heritage has brought to our nation.

In other words – we did something for you, now it’s your turn to do something for us. This is Brendan Nelson’s non-Apology speech as policy: indigenous people should acknowledge that white settlement was a good thing, accept the symbolic apology they were given (apparently the formal acceptance of the Apology speech by indigenous representatives doesn’t count), and stop whining.

10. Improve discipline in our schools.

This is one of those motherhood statements that is ultimately meaningless unless read in the light of the overall agenda. What, exactly, constitutes ‘discipline’ for RUAP? Obeying the teacher? Complying with a ban on expressions of religious freedom like wearing a burqa or questioning the indoctrination it wants to replace historical inquiry?

And then we get to the social policies:

11. Protect the traditional family unit – father, mother, and children.

12. Parents have the right to discipline their children, within sensible historical, non-abusive guidelines.

13. Protect children from homosexuality as it creates health problems. Promote children’s rights – children have the right to have both male and female role models as parents (father and mother).

14. We wish to make abortion history by providing those social conditions that support women in their lives to become fulfilled and not being forced into situations where they feel there is no option but to have an abortion.

No surprises here, really. Every one of these is consistent with Pentecostal doctrine. And every one contains some extremely ugly ideas. Let’s just grab a few.

‘Protecting children’ is code for any number of repressive policies. This can already be seen in the US, where states and counties justify the removal of women’s reproductive rights, single parents’ rights and queer people’s rights ‘for the sake of the children’. It’s all supported by lofty sentiments about ‘health’, or ‘fulfilling women’, of course – RUAP is not going to come right out and say, ‘Homosexuals and women who have abortions are evil and going to hell’.

‘Homosexuals cause health problems’. HIV/AIDS, obviously. This is the tried-and-true tactic of blaming the victim. The comment about the ‘traditional family unit’ ties in with the generally homophobic sentiment – queer parents would hurt their kids (with the disgusting whiff of ‘gays are pedophiles’ that tends to accompany such sentiments).

‘No option but to have an abortion’. And how about women becoming ‘fulfilled’? Clearly, RUAP’s stance is that every woman’s destiny is to have children, and those who find fulfilment elsewhere are either sick or evil. No woman chooses to be childless, right?

To round out these social policies, the inevitable dogwhistle:

16. All boats trying to enter Australian waters by illegal means should be stopped to preserve the lives put at risk by people smugglers.

RUAP appears to have assimilated Abbott’s ‘Stop the Boats’ slogan – and its ridiculous justification – remarkably well.

Finally we have a couple of motherhood statements:

17. Protect the environment, as God gave it to mankind to look after.

18. We support the right for Israel to exist with Jerusalem as its undivided capital.

19. All elected Members of Parliament for RUA Party are encouraged to donate a percentage of their salary to the poor and the needy.

Number 17 is meaningless – there’s no detail other than the restatement of what is by now unmistakable – it’s all about enforcing a particular religion’s view of the world.

I actually agree with the notion of charitable donations from MPs – only the RUAP doesn’t go far enough. Anyone elected to public office should be encouraged to do this.

The foreign policy statement is pretty much self-explanatory.

So that’s the Rise Up Australia Party – a narrowly representative, single-agenda driven body directly linked to a religious organisation known for its bigotry, hate speech and determination to dominate Australia. It probably won’t get much attention from the media – after all, it’s just a small party, right? What are the chances it could ever influence any government?

I imagine people said much the same thing about Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats, Steven Fielding’s Family First and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

In an era where two-party dominance is increasingly coming under fire, and where Independent MPs can hold the balance of power, nothing should be taken for granted.

And our best course of action is to stay informed.


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