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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Gillard and the Bible – it’s all about the votes

March 22, 2011

By now, no one should be surprised to hear that the Labor government is firmly opposed to same-sex marriage. With the exception of a few outspoken mavericks, the message is pretty solid: no change to the Marriage Act. Add to that the fact that the Coalition have managed to gain traction – at least in some areas – with their accusation that the Greens are ‘really’ in power, and it was probably inevitable that the government would try to present itself as a distinct entity, policy-wise.

That’s exactly what Prime Minister Julia Gillard appeared to be trying to do on Sky News’ Australian Agenda last week. The result, however, was a series of incredible statements that delighted the Coalition as much as it enraged many Labor supporters and social progressives.

Gillard labelled herself a ‘cultural traditionalist’ – which is nothing less than a synonym for ‘social conservative’. Fair enough. There are plenty of social conservatives out there, looking to the past to provide guidance on how to live today. Many of them even acknowledge the fact that they need to set their personal beliefs aside when it comes to social issues. Not Gillard. Her loyalty to her ‘old-fashioned’ upbringing leads her to oppose same-sex marriage – even though the Marriage Act never contained an exclusively heterosexual provision until former Prime Minister Howard shoe-horned one into it.

Gillard’s newly-declared social conservatism is pretty selective, mind you. She’s staunchly pro-choice when it comes to abortion, a vocal supporter of women’s representation in the workplace and the rights of indigenous people to full participation in society. On the issue of same-sex marriage, however, she’s adamant.

But it was what followed this ‘cultural traditionalist’ re-badging that had jaws hitting the floor. Gillard – the avowed atheist Prime Minister – lauded the Christian Bible as a positive, foundational influence on ‘our’ culture. It is so important, apparently, that it is ‘impossible to understand Western literature’ – and, by extension, Western law and culture – without it. Not that she’s advocating religion, oh no – but coming on the heels of her avowed ‘cultural’ opposition to same-sex marriage, it’s not difficult to connect the dots.

Gillard talked about the necessity of understanding Bible stories. Which stories might those be? The story of how a man who threw out his concubine and their son into the desert because his wife was jealous? The story of how that same man was prepared to kill his remaining son to show his faith in God? How about the story of how a woman secured victory for the Israelites by first seducing, then murdering an enemy war leader?

The suspicion has to be, though, that Gillard – who’d just finished voicing her belief that heterosexual marriage had a ‘special status’ – had Sodom and Gomorrah in mind. You know, the story of the evil cities, destroyed by God because they were places where men had sex with other men?

But hold up a moment. Let’s take up Gillard’s recommendation, and really look at the story, which can be found in Genesis. There’s no indication as to why God wants to destroy the cities – just that there is an ‘outcry’ against them. The one instance where male-male sex is even mentioned is in a sequence where a group of men threaten to gang-rape two angels – and this happens after the descruction is decreed. And just incidentally, the sole ‘righteous man’ in the city tries to protect the angels by offering his daughters up as substitute rape victims. Not exactly the story most people tell, is it?

Gillard’s right – you can learn important things by reading Bible stories. In this case, you can learn that a story long used to deny same-sex attracted men equality is actually completely different.

Maybe Gillard was thinking of Leviticus, where there are a whole slew of laws set down for the ancient Israelite people – including prohibitions against male-male sex, punishable by exile. That’s fairly clear – but then why doesn’t Gillard have a problem with men who engage in sex with menstruating women? Or recommend that a man who curses his parents be executed?

Oh, maybe she’s just thinking of Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he warns that those who engage in same-sex intercourse are evil and will suffer God’s wrath. But then she doesn’t seem equally concerned with gossips (read: leakers), who will apparently suffer the same fate.

All of which is a revolting display of cherry-picking, but ultimately, means nothing.

Why?

Because we are not a theocracy.

We are a secular nation. We have specific Constitutional prohibitions against any form of mandated religion. And make no mistake – for all Gillard’s claims that what she’s talking about is ‘cultural’, the reality is that she appeals to a religious text to justify her actions as Prime Minister in denying equal rights to same-sex attracted people.

Gillard is simply trying to hide behind a smokescreen, here. It’s not ‘religious’, it’s ‘cultural’. It’s not about exalting one religion’s doctrine, it’s about staying true to an ‘important part of our culture’. Classic spin – reframe the issue, change the language, and obscure the truth.

And it’s a fair bet that the truth, in this situation, is that Gillard is dogwhistling to the Australian Christian Lobby and similarly vocal conservative Christians.

It wouldn’t be the first time, after all. Despite Gillard’s protestations that she would treat people of all faiths equally, it’s very clear that the only faith she has any time for is that espoused by the most socially regressive lobby group in Australia. And why? Because it’s vocal. Because it consistently pushes the lie that it is representative of all Christians, who – when all sects are lumped together – remains the single largest represented religious group on the Australian census. In other words, it’s about buying votes.

This is hypocrisy on a grand scale.

It is absolutely nonsensical. There are no dire economic consequences foreseeable by removing discrimination against same-sex couples – in fact, a University of Queensland study suggests an economic boost from marriage licence fees and wedding costs. There are no dire social consequences foreseeable – the old myth that ‘kids need a mum and dad or else they’ll grow up to be juvenile delinquents or worse – homosexual‘ has been well and truly debunked. No one is seriously suggesting Australian society will shatter into tiny pieces because ‘Heather has Two Mommies’.

Labor’s oft-stated opposition to same-sex marriage always rang hollow. ‘We don’t want it because, um, it’s traditionally between a man and woman, and besides, the Marriage Act says so’. They hung their argument on legislation, and recently-amended legislation at that. Now, perhaps, we see what’s really at work.

Whether Gillard’s new justification is political expedience or an admission that conservative religious beliefs influence her far more than her atheism might suggest is irrelevant.

What’s relevant is that Gillard gave legitimacy to prejudice, and enshrined it in an appeal to a mythical Golden Age.

Maybe that will get her the votes she needs to govern in her own right at the next election. But those votes come at the expense of the hopes and dreams of Australians. In granting authority to a bigoted minority, Gillard has coldly dismissed the fact that she is condoning prejudice and perpetuating victimisation.

And who are those victims? They’re the people next door. They’re the people we work with, and socialise with every day. They’re the people who service our cars, fix our computers, stack our supermarket shelves and teach our children. They’re same-sex attracted people who simply want to enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. They want to get married. As long as they are denied that right, the message is clear: they do not have ‘special status’. They are not ‘real’ couples. Their love is not worthy of recognition by the State. All in the name of votes.

And for that, Prime Minister Gillard, you should hang your head in shame.


Repression is not reform, Mr Baillieu

February 15, 2011

Newly-installed Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu isn’t wasting any time making good on those campaign promises. Or at least, making good on some – those that have a potentially devastating effect on the way we live. It’s all about religion, you see. Specifically, it’s all about how insisting on compassion, decency and above all fairness unfairly discriminates against a few vocal conservative groups.

The former Brumby government laid down a series of changes to Equal Opportunity legislation that would have taken effect in August. Religious organisations would have had to prove that they had good reasons for refusing employment or services to people beyond the basic excuse of, ‘We don’t agree with how they live their personal lives’. Under these changes, such organisations would have had to show that employing someone who was gay, or a single parent, would ‘undermine’ the organisation’s beliefs or that the job in question required someone who conformed to the faith in question.

Christian lobby groups – most particularly the Australian Christian Lobby – complained bitterly at what they characterised as an attack on freedom of religion, particular religious schools. Well, now they’ve got a government who speaks their language, and that is prepared to allow these organisations to go on discriminating against anyone they don’t like.

This is what the Attorney-General, Robert Clark, had to say in this article in The Age:

‘The 2010 legislation is a far-reaching attack on the freedom of faith-based organisations and freedom of religion and belief. The amendments will restore tolerance and a sense of the fair go. Faith-based organisations and political organisations should be free to engage staff that uphold their values.’

He went on to talk about the ‘direct attack’ on religious schools, implying that somehow, the Liberal government were protecting parents’ rights to choose a good education for their children. This was further rationalised by the claim that the issue had been ‘well-canvassed’.

Well-canvassed among the vocal – and rabid – minority of the Australian Christian Lobby, perhaps. A minority that, for reasons passing understanding, seems to have the ear of government at every level.

This is an appalling decision by the Victorian government. This policy decision doesn’t only prevent reform that would allow real fairness. It sends a clear message that these organisations can go even further. By scrapping the proposed reforms, Baillieu is effectively saying to these organisations – you can do what you like, and we’ll back you up. We consider your interests to be more important than those of single parents, queer people, and those who don’t believe as you do.

This is the party that frequently rails against the idea of giving in to ‘special pleading’ from ‘minority groups’. Apparently, it’s only some minority groups, however.

Baillieu’s government thinks this is a great piece of reform, and they’ve trotted out the clichés to back themselves up. It’s a ‘fair go’. It’s about ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’.

It’s nothing of the kind.

It’s a warning: conform or be punished. And it’s targeted at people who already suffer massive discrimination simply for being who they are.

Oh, it all seems very reasonable. After all, if you’re not a member of this kind of religion, why would you want to work for them, or seek their help? But it’s not that simple. Understand, we’re not talking about church membership here, where belief – or even, the will to believe, could be considered a reasonable requirement. This unlimited power to discriminate extends to any business that describes itself as a religious organisation. That’s a broad spectrum, encompassing everything from schools to charities to community-based organisations to health care.

Single mum looking for a part-time job now that the kids are at school? Young gay school-leaver seeking to work in a gap year before going to uni? Devout Muslim woman wanting to help the local community by working for a welfare agency?

Need not apply.

In rural areas, sometimes these religious organisations are the only ones available. Baillieu’s so-called ‘reforms’, then, have
potential knock-on effects that could disrupt people’s lives. The only job going for teachers in any given town might be in the local Catholic school (the only one in the area) – but if the most qualified applicant is an atheist or in a de facto same-sex relationship, that school can legally refuse to employ them on those grounds alone. So that teacher faces two equally unpalatable choices; seek a job much further away, perhaps requiring hours of travel or even moving to another town, or forget about the idea of becoming a teacher in their home town.

What if a single woman employed by a religious charity became pregnant, and elected to keep the baby? She could be dismissed. Ditto the man who, after wrestling with his own sense of self for many years, finally accepts that he is a woman, and needs to transition.

And it goes further. A religious school would be able to pick and choose its teachers. Evolution? Sex education (beyond abstinence)? Forget it. And the kid who’s discovering her sexual identity is something other than what she’s been told is ‘normal’? Well, she’d better be prepared to keep it quiet, because her principal might just decide she needs to go elsewhere.

Oh, and just as a point of contrast … a convicted criminal would have more protection under Equal Opportunity in Victoria than a bisexual man or a pagan if Baillieu has his way.

Baillieu and Clark are happily condoning the kind of prejudice that leads to mental illness, violence and suicide. Worse, they’re actually championing it. Their ‘wide canvass’ doesn’t seem to have included people like these teens, who wrote of their experiences with homophobia at school:

I tried to kill myself because I was so badly teased at school for being a lesbian.. it never ended and I got severe depression and I saw no other way to be happy, I was in hospital for 2 months trying to control my depression and because doctors thought I would hurt myself again if they let me out and it also forced me to drop out of school.
(Claudia, 16 years)

i thought about it so much, i came close just as many times. but for some reason i never bought myself to try. i did have a complete plan though, i took a week to plan the whole thing out. (Craig, 16 years)

(Source: Writing Themselves In Again: 6 years on, 2nd national report on the sexual health & well-being of same-sex attracted young people in Australia, via La Trobe University)

These are the kind of kids who exist in a school system where there are programs to address issues of homophobia and violence, and where teachers are encouraged to support same-sex attracted students. Imagine these kids under Baillieu’s ‘reforms’. Because their parents want them to get a good education, or because there’s no decent public school available, they attend an independent school (most of which, as the ACL has noted on many occasions, are at least nominally religious). No teachers for them to turn to when they are victimised, no positive role model with whom they can identify. An unmistakable message that there is something ‘wrong’ with them for being queer – or even suspecting that they might be so.

This isn’t about ‘freedom’. Baillieu and Clark, with this plan, would sacrifice the well-being – and perhaps the lives – of Victorians just so they can pander to groups that believe they have the (literally) God-given right to demonise others. The very same people who tend to howl about how badly they are discriminated against if another religious group wants to exclude them, or if Mardi Gras tells them their lying rhetoric alleging all gay men are pedophiles isn’t permitted in their celebrations.

And they have the nerve – the absolute, outrageous nerve – to tell us it’s reform. It’s fair.

This is not reform, Mr Baillieu – it’s repression, pure and simple. You can dress it up with buzzwords designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, because after all, none of us like to feel we’re being denied a fair deal. But there is nothing fair about this.

The Shadow Minister, Martin Pakula, weaselled when asked whether Labor would support Baillieu on this plan. He said Labor would have to look at the amendments. That’s not good enough, Mr Pakula. Your government wanted to bring in these changes in the first place. Your government was the one that really undertook a wide canvass. You know just how important it is that these groups not be allowed to reduce people to outcasts. No amount of appeals to sacred texts can disguise the fact that what they want is the ability to arbitrarily declare some people less worthy than others. Despite their often-repeated claim that Australia is a ‘Judeo-Christian’ nation, we are a country of diverse beliefs, none of which should be subject to favourable treatment or prejudice. We are not a country subject to the doctrine of one interpretation of one religion.

And we should not be a country that turns a blind eye to the deliberate attempts of a lobby group to strip away the rights of those they simply do not like.


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