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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Does the ACL want blood on its hands?

January 6, 2011

Well, it’s a new year, and a new Victorian government. Sadly, though, it looks like the same old bigotry rearing its ugly head.

This time, it’s about bullying in schools, and the ever-popular concerned citizens who think it’s time Premier Ted Baillieu understood that the current funding situation to address this problem is just too darn unfair. Bullying is a big problem, after all, and our elected representatives need to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent properly. Accordingly, they’re up in arms, determined to champion the needs of Our Precious Children against the ‘ideological agenda’ of questionable groups.

Sounds reasonable, right? The last thing most parents would want is to see kids become the victims of people pushing narrow and potentially damaging ideas. And bullying is a huge problem, so it’s important to make sure the best possible steps are being taken to protect and educate the kids.

But wait. Who are these Corrupters of Our Youth?

Apparently, it’s the Safe Schools Coalition of Victoria.

This dangerous organisation is a network of schools, Rainbow Network Victoria, the Foundation for Young Australians and interested individuals. Its purpose is to promote school environments where same-sex attracted people are able to find acceptance and support. As part of its work, the SSCV produces information and education resource packages for schools, as well as offering courses in dealing with issues of intolerance and fear.

Pretty scary, huh? Why, you can just see the agenda dripping from their webpage.

Now we know who the ‘enemy’ is – so just who are these Noble Crusaders for Fairness? It’s our old friends, the Australian Christian Lobby. You remember, the lobby group that claims to represent all Christians in our ‘Judeo-Christian’ country? In fact, the ACL does nothing of the sort. They are not an ecumenical or interfaith group – rather, they espouse a narrow and intolerant set of values set squarely in opposition to issues that include equal rights, diversity of religion and freedom of expression. They’re also pretty adept at obscuring the differences that exist between the Christian faiths and are not above inflating their numbers to make a political point.

As lobby groups go, they’re very well-organised. They created an image for themselves of an organisation representing ‘mainstream’ values, speaking for the ‘majority’ of Australians. They’ve been so successful at this that successive Prime Ministers (John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard) afford them special attention. Political parties go out of their way to help that image along by responding to their heavily-slanted ‘values questionnaire’ at election time. Needless to say, the same privileges are not extended to lobby groups claiming to represent Muslims, atheists or any other faith. The ACL are pretty shrewd marketers. But they are not representative of most Christians in Australia.

Now we know who the players are. But just what grievous act did the SSCV commit that moved the ACL to call for Baillieu to cut funding to anti-bullying programs aimed at addressing homophobia and similar issues?

The SSCV sent a letter to schools reminding them that the upcoming Pride March will take place around the same time that classes commence, in case any students want to attend.

Yes, you read that right.

The ACL were outraged. How could the Victorian government be involved with an organisation that promoted events that were ‘no place for young children’? It’s absolutely unacceptable for taxpayers’ money to be used to ‘persuade children to attend a gay pride march’ or take up an ‘alternative lifestyle’. That money should be spent on the ‘wider context’ of bullying, not some vocal minority’s agenda.

According to the ACL, the SSCV aren’t using their funding to keep schools informed and encourage a sense of self-worth and acceptance in students. No, no, they’re actually taking funding away from ‘real’ bullying.

See what they did there?

It’s actually horribly clever.

They appeal to the ‘reasonable expectations’ of parents. Not every parent is queer, or has a queer kid, right? Bullying is a terrible thing that affects all sorts of kids, right? Doesn’t it make sense, then, to make sure we have the best possible programs to stop bullying?

You can almost see people’s heads nodding. Well, of course. But unpack the ACL’s position a little more, and you can see the really ugly side.

ACL: ‘Gay’ is a ‘lifestyle’, and it’s not one we should encourage our kids to take up.

Leaving aside the whole question of genetics, ‘lifestyle choice’ or whatever, the question remains – why not? What’s so bad about being gay that the ACL feels kids must be protected from it at all costs?

Now, obviously there’s a religious dimension here. The ACL has never made any secret of its belief that same-sex attraction is against ‘God’s law’. But it’s nastier. Look at what they said in the Star Observer article:

ACL Victorian director Rob Ward said gay pride marches were “no places for young children” …

This harks right back to a disgusting strategy employed by organisations – usually backed by the same brand of religion as the ACL – that attempts to link homosexual behaviour with pedophilia. They’ve written reams on the subject. If you have a strong stomach and can rein in your anger, just Google the two terms.

It hardly needs saying that there is no correlation between the two – but we are talking about an organisation that doesn’t scruple to misrepresent its numbers in order to push its agenda. Why would a little consideration like absolute lack of factual evidence get in the way of that?

Of course, the ACL doesn’t come right out and say that, but then they don’t have to, do they? There are plenty of other people out there saying that for them – including Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile. And with the current preoccupation with sexualisation of children’s images, child exploitation material and child safety, it’s never far from a parent’s mind.

That particular idea is contemptible – but there’s more, and it borders on the downright dangerous.

ACL: Baillieu should yank funding out of SSCV (and presumably other organisations working to promote sexual diversity) and put it to better use in a ‘wider context’.

This is a tried-and-true ploy; appealing to some notion of ‘fairness’. Is it fair, they ask, for these minority groups to get money to push their ideas while the majority suffer? Why should they get special treatment?

Of course, it’s utter rubbish. The SSCV does not take money from any other anti-bullying initiative – or any other school program, for that matter. They have a one-off grant for $80,000 from the former Brumby government. Compare that to the $800,00 pledged by Baillieu to the school chaplaincy program – a program specifically allowed to promote a particular religion inside public schools – and things fall into perspective.

The ACL wants to muddy the waters by spreading the lie that the SSCV is a tiny group getting more than its ‘fair share’ of public funding. If it succeeds, and Baillieu responds by choking off further funding, the ACL will count it as a victory. Of course, there is no guarantee that the paltry amount earmarked for the SSCV would find its way into any other anti-bullying initiative – but that’s not really the point. The ACL wants to make it very clear that there is no place in Victorian schools for any such program that addresses the needs of same-sex attracted kids.

In other words, bullying is bad, but it’s not as bad to bully the queer kid. We can have programs about not picking on the little kid, not singling out the ‘weird-looking’ kid, not reducing a kid to tears because they have braces or belong to a particular racial group – because that’s ‘real’ bullying. Hounding a kid into suicidal depression for being queer isn’t a signal that we should be teaching kids acceptance of diversity – on the contrary, we should do everything we can to convince that queer kid that there’s something ‘wrong’ with feeling the way he does. We should ‘get help for her’. We should ‘support them by showing them that being queer is bad.

Already, too many queer kids drop out of school because of the bullying and intolerance they suffer. Queer kids are six times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

And every time that kind of bullying isn’t dealt with quickly and effectively, it sends a message to the bully that what they’re doing is acceptable. That’s the kind of lesson they’ll carry into adult life, and perhaps parenthood.

If the ACL gets its way, an organisation doing far more than its fair share of heavy lifting in trying to combat homophobia and promote diversity will have what little money it does receive choked off. Without money, the SSCV will have to depend on volunteers and donations. Inevitably, there would be a scale-back of programs – not because they wanted to, but because they simply couldn’t afford it. The result would be a void where there is a real, urgent need.

And the next time a queer kid tries to kill himself, or gets bashed to within an inch of her life, the ACL and Ted Baillieu will have blood on their hands.

What frightens me is the idea that the ACL, at least, simply wouldn’t care.


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