With most of the country focused on the upcoming federal election, the Australian Christian Lobby has been highlighting MP’s who crossed the floor on the Religious Discrimination Bill. They believe this is a much bigger issue than a lot of people appreciate.
Martyn Iles is Director of the ACL, and he recently joined us on 20Twenty to share some of the work the organisation has been doing in the lead up to the election. He believes one of the main issues in parliament right now, to use a biblical metaphor, is we have ‘wheat and tares’ in all the parties.
“The wrong people are seizing control of the agenda at crucial moments,” says Martyn. “Not just in the Labor Party, but increasingly in the Liberal Party as well. The most recent example was the debate on the religious discrimination bill and the laws that enable Christian schools to operate according to their faith.”
The government wanted to pass this religious discrimination bill to prevent discrimination against people of faith, and promote religious freedom. But a number of rebels crossed the floor with Labor, and sided with the independents to defeat the bill.
“Someone needs to hold these rebels to account,” says Martyn, “These people change the very nature of the Government. We are out there in the community door knocking and canvassing. We’re doing flyer drops to highlight the records of different MPs, particularly on Christian schools and religious freedom.”
The ACL is attempting to support strong candidates because those who commit wrong must be held responsible. There is no other public-sector campaign movement capable of holding individuals accountable at the ballot box on Election Day.
“There’s no doubt they are aware of what we’re doing, and there is a fair degree of concern,” says Martyn. “That has been very effective at bringing both Labor and Liberal to the negotiating table. We’ve had commitments from both sides.”
The Coalition has promised that the religious discrimination bill will be brought back into the Parliament and there will be no associated changes to Christian schools and their rights. The difficulty is that it depends once again on the rebels supporting the Prime Minister’s agenda.
“We may well end up with a Labor government in a couple of weeks’ time,” says Martyn. “If that were to happen we also have their commitment to bring back the bill. The difficulty with Labor is that they have said that they will make a change, and it looks as if it’s mainly a change to Christian schools.”
The change will be to the law that enables Christian schools to have codes of behaviour to hold students to Christian standards, especially on things like gender identity. It affects things like the school being able to say, boys use boys bathrooms, girls use girls bathrooms, or using only the pronouns ‘he or she’.
Those sorts of things will be exceedingly difficult for Christian schools. Also codes of conduct around sexuality will be affected. If the school believes that only boys and girls should be in relationships and wants to actually have that as a standard in the school community, then that will be very difficult as well.
Martyn says there has been a big campaign movement from people like ACL to preserve our Christian schools because they are such an important place to disciple students. “We need to be able to evangelise and promote the gospel to young people, and have Christian education available for Christian parents.”
ACL wants people to take the mindset of looking at the individuals, not just the parties they come from. There will likely be a lot of minor parties in the Senate after this election, and that gives ACL and others lots of lobbying opportunities.
“For those of us who are in the lobbying space for the future and the integrity of these parties, think about who exactly it is you’re putting that number next to,” Martyn says.