Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Faith in Politics

The Hon. S.G. WADE (15:25): I am a follower of Jesus. I am a Liberal. Christians and Liberals believe in the innate worth of every individual. For me and for many Liberals, the source of human worth is that God created us in His own image. But, like the prodigal son, God has given each of us the freedom to turn to or away from Him. That God-given freedom is the foundation of pluralism, the political philosophy that holds that people of different beliefs and world views can coexist in the same society and participate equally in the political process. Pluralism is a central pillar of Australia's liberal democratic society that is rooted in our Judaeo-Christian heritage.

In a pluralist society, the church and the state should interact at arm's length. People of faith should be free to bring their religious values and views to the marketplace of ideas. The government should not be used to force people by law to do what they cannot be persuaded to do by will. I am proud of the fact that the Christian pioneers of South Australia saw that the separation of church and state is vital to the health of the church, the state and society. Through their efforts in 1851, South Australia was the first part of the British Empire to separate church and state and to end state aid to religion.

Pluralism is under challenge in Australia from a number of fronts. On the one hand, there are secularists who object to the very presence of religion in politics. The Greens' proposal to abolish parliamentary prayers is part of their broader efforts to airbrush faith out of public life. Pluralism is also challenged from some on the right, who seek to enforce their view of Christian values through wielding political power. A recent 60 Minutes investigation highlighted the work of the ISAAC Network in Australia, a Christian religious movement that seeks to take control of government—as one of what they call 'the seven mountains of society'—through mainstream political parties.

Whilst I seek to see the values of Jesus reflected in Australian society, I know that political action cannot deliver utopia. History shows us that Christian theocratic polities have repeatedly perverted Christian values and failed to deliver the Kingdom of God. Christians are called to be salt and light: we season the body politic; we should not control it.

Abortion is a key focus of Christian political activism and a clear challenge to pluralism. Australians have a diverse range of understandings of conception, birth and abortion, yet for 50 years we have maintained a balanced approach that allows abortion within a constraining framework. Last term, this parliament modernised South Australia's abortion laws, delivering what my leader described as the most conservative abortion laws in Australia. At the state election, whilst conservatives targeted the Liberal Party on abortion, no House of Assembly seat was determined on the issue of abortion.

Similarly, following the overturning of the Roe v Wade decision earlier this year, the recent US mid-term elections were a litmus test on abortion: five statewide ballot measures were conducted and all favoured access to abortion, including the Republican states of Kentucky and Montana. In both the South Australian and the United States elections the broad community has affirmed pluralism on abortion. It is vital that our political parties foster and protect pluralism within Australian society, and of course the best place to start is within our own organisations, both parliamentary and lay.

Political parties need to be diverse, inclusive communities, which reflect the communities of which they are part. Parties need to allow free votes on issues where there is a diversity of views based on divergent world views. It is very concerning to see the Australian Labor Party leaving less and less scope for conscience votes. Conscience votes granted by political parties need to be respected by the organisational wing of the parties, particularly in preselections. Candidate review processes need to ensure that parliamentary candidates respect the pluralist values of the main parties.

The Labor Party and the Liberal Party are parties of government. We exist to express our values in a way which wins the confidence of 50 per cent plus one of the electorate. Religious groups who want to see less pluralism and a more theocratic approach would be better suited to pursue their goals through dedicated political parties such as Family First. In conclusion, I affirm that I look forward to the Kingdom of God, but I am not going to rely on politicians to achieve it.