The campaign is well underway after the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a double dissolution election to be held on July 2. At Vision we believe it’s vital for Christians to be politically aware and engaged, so we’re asking some of our leaders to guide you through the issues from a biblical perspective.
20Twenty’s Neil Johnson got Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby, and Rev Dr. Ross Clifford, NSW State president of the Christian Democratic Party on the phone to answer some of the big questions in the lead-up to the polls. In their conversation, they explained the confusing buzz words like double dissolution and senate reforms, and covered the important topics of marriage, gambling and one law for all. Read on for crucial guidance about what’s going on in this campaign, and how you can make your vote count.
A double dissolution election is quite unusual. There hasn’t been one in Australia since 1987. As Lyle Shelton explained, in this vote, the entire senate will be up for reelection. “In a normal election, it’s only a half senate election. So this time, all the senators are up for re-election, even those senators whose terms were still to serve out their full six years.”
This is a very extraordinary time in Australian politics, a unique time, and something that’s probably lost on the majority of Australians. (Lyle Shelton, Australian Christian Lobby)
A double dissolution is triggered when the government can’t agree on something. When the house of representatives passes a bill, but the senate rejects or fails to pass it twice, the Governor General can dissolve both houses, and let the voters decide on the bill by forming a new government.
In this case, the double dissolution was triggered by legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction commission, a watchdog for the building industry which was previously removed by the labour government. Turnbull chose to present this legislation a second time, knowing that it would be voted down, because if his gamble pays off, and he wins the election, his government will be much stronger as a result.
“It’s a very calculated political strategy,” said ACL managing director Lyle Shelton. “He is frustrated with the cross benches in the senate. He can’t get legislation through, and so he has decided to amend the voting rules so it makes it less likely for independent senators to get elected on a very small primary vote.”
This means that most of the senators who are currently blocking his bills won’t be reelected. That’s why dissolving the government is exactly what Turnbull wants right now. “This is a very extraordinary time in Australian politics,” Shelton said, “a unique time, and something that’s probably lost on the majority of Australians, who are just going about their normal day-to-day business.”
These reforms aren’t just for Turnbull’s masterplan. They’re also supposed to help people to better control who benefits from their vote. “The argument has been that someone who votes labour ends up helping someone from family first get elected,” Shelton said. “And this has happened, because of the bizarre preference flows that can occur.”
This month, Family First’s Bob Day challenged the senate reforms in the high court, claiming that they’re unconstitutional, and would disenfranchise 3 million Australians. “Presumably he’s speaking about people like me,” Mr Shelton explained, “and I’m probably a bit of an anomaly, because when I go to vote in the senate, I number every box.”
If you’re a serious minor party, we don’t believe you’ll be disadvantaged. (Rev Dr. Ross Clifford, Christian Democratic Party, on senate reform)
In the past, if you chose to vote below the line, you had to tick all the boxes, more than a hundred in some states. Most voters chose not to do this. Now, you will be asked to list up to six parties above the line.
Rev Dr. Ross Clifford, NSW state president of the Christian Democratic Party, explained that micro-parties which rely on preference flows will probably be wiped out. But there’s a chance that the larger minor parties will actually benefit from this. “Try to imagine six parties you would vote for, and not include someone like the Christian Democratic Party and Family First.”
Senator Day’s challenge has now been dismissed by the high court, and the Christian Democratic Party mostly agrees that the reforms are not unconstitutional, or unfair. “We think there should have been more consultation. It should have been done better. It should have involved much more community debate. But what it will mean is that if you’re a serious minor party, we don’t believe you’ll be disadvantaged.”
One of the hottest topics in this election is the continuing debate around marriage, and many Christians are wondering whether they can use their vote to help preserve biblical values.
With same-sex marriage now legal in New Zealand, Ireland and the United States, the major parties are being forced to address the issue. If the LNP are reelected, Turnbull has promised a plebiscite, a separate vote in which the people are asked to decide for themselves.
The Abbott/Turnbull government has said it’s going to the people, and I think that’s the right thing. (Lyle Shelton, Australian Christian Lobby)
Mr Shelton says that it’s crucial that the plebiscite go ahead, and people get to have their say. “The parliament has failed seventeen times to pass same-sex marriage laws, and numerous times around the states, it’s relentlessly pushed through the parliament. The Abbot/Turnbull government has said it’s going to the people, and I think that’s the right thing.”
Meanwhile, opposition leader Bill Shorten has said that if the ALP are elected, they will legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days. “They are absolutely committed to this,” Shelton said. “It’s an article of faith. And that then takes away the opportunity for the Australian people to have a say.”
The ACL is a non-partizan organisation, but is committed to informing us of where parties stand on important issues. “And at this election, very very sadly, the labour party is now completely captured by rainbow politics.”
“Their national platform, as amended last August at their conference in Melbourne, is laced through with LGBTI policy initiatives, including public funding for sex-change operations, and a whole range of things, including insuring there is no freedom of religion or conscience for people in business who don’t wish to participate in same-sex marriages. They will be forced to under a labour government. So the stakes are incredibly high at this election, and our vote matters incredibly.”
I wouldn’t be so sure that there will be a plebiscite even if the coalition were to be elected. (Senator Bob Day, Family First)
Family first Senator Bob Day has suggested that if returned to power, the Turnbull government could break its promise, and with the support of labour and the greens, legislate for same-sex marriage without the peoples’ input. In an earlier interview with Neil Johnson, Mr Day reminded us that Turnbull is a same-sex marriage supporter, and this could seem like an easy way to remain popular. “I wouldn’t be so sure that there will be a plebiscite even if the coalition were to be elected. All sorts of circumstances have changed since we said that, and it’s very expensive.”
Mr Shelton respects Day’s opinion, but says that such an act would represent an enormous breach of trust. “Politicians can do anything, but I would be very surprised if they would go back on their word. This is a promise. It’s very clear. I expect that this promise will be reaffirmed during the election campaign. It will be very hard for them to walk away from it.”
The stakes are incredibly high at this election, and our vote matters incredibly. (Lyle Shelton, Australian Christian Lobby)
The Rev Dr. Ross Clifford, of the Christian Democratic Party, says that to save traditional marriage, it’s vital that Christians keep continual pressure on the government. “The way to keep it on, and I’m going to sound a bit party parochial here, is to vote for people like the Christian democratic party across the country.”
Whichever party takes power, having Christian voices in the senate will give us the chance to keep the government accountable. If labour takes over, but Christians held the balance of power, they could vote against same-sex marriage legislation. “If the liberals win, and it’s a plebiscite, who’s going to guarantee the terms of that plebiscite? Who’s going to guarantee it’s compulsory. In Ireland it wasn’t compulsory. Only about 30 per cent of the people voted, and it got through.”
Clifford says that a plebiscite must be conducted fairly, with a question agreed upon by lawyers from both sides. And he believes that Ireland voted for same-sex marriage because, in a voluntary plebiscite, only the people who are passionate about the issue will bother to vote. “But if we’re out of the game, if we’re out of the play, then you’ll get the plebiscite I’ve just described. That’s what Malcolm Turnbull will deliver.”
“We’ve got to have people in Canberra,” he said. “We’ve got to have people in the senate. We’ve got to have people that Malcolm Turnbull and the liberal party need to listen to, to say if you want our support in this parliament, this plebiscite has to be fair, has to be compulsory, has to have equal money spent on it, has to clearly have a question that gives people the right understanding of what’s going on here.”
We’ve got to have people in Canberra. We’ve got to have people in the senate. We’ve got to have people that Malcolm Turnbull and the liberal party need to listen to. (Rev Dr. Ross Clifford, Christian Democratic Party)
“If that happens,” he continued, “I reckon the plebiscite will be lost. And if it’s lost, our experience is, Australians don’t go back to vote on something they’ve already decided. And this will disappear for fifteen to twenty years off the Australian agenda.”
Clifford and Shelton both agree that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of prayer around this issue. “I don’t think the same-sex marriage issue is really about the marrying of homosexual couples. That’s at the surface. I really think it’s a push to change the shape of this country, and move it away from its Judeo-Christian value base. And I think this is what they’ve seen as the wedge to be able to achieve that end.”
“And I think we really need to be aware of that. We really need to pray. Because if this happens, and this election goes as it’s being anticipated, we’re going to lose that foundation in many many ways.”
At both state and federal levels, the Australian government has proven vulnerable to gambling lobbies. This election provides an opportunity to change that. If independent senator Nick Xenophon can replicate his 2013 success, he could have up to four spots in the new senate. With his support, Christians in the senate would have a unique opportunity for reform.
It’s just a blight on Australia’s morality. It’s time to do something seriously, and let’s hope this election brings this to the fore. (Rev Dr. Ross Clifford, Christian Democratic Party)
“We’re not about prohibition,” Clifford said, “but Poker machine gambling reform is an absolute must. It’s costing this nation billions. 180 to 300 thousand people suffer as a result of gambling addiction in this country. It’s just a blight on Australia’s morality. It’s time to do something seriously, and let’s hope this election brings this to the fore.”
“We’ve got to get our state governments weaned off gambling taxes,” said the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton. “Poker machine taxes contribute an enormous amount of money to government revenue, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, and increasingly so in Queensland, where the government has licensed several new casinos. That was a conservative government that did that.”
But it’s important to remember that the pokies aren’t the whole problem. With changes in culture and technology, gambling businesses have found new, more subtle ways of attracting customers. “I take great exception to watching the footy show with my boys on a Wednesday night,” Mr Shelton said, “and everything’s sponsored by Sportsbet.”
I just think it’s time. And I think Australians believe it is time to take this issue on. (Revd Dr. Ross Clifford, Christian Democratic Party)
And in the games themselves, Sportsbet representatives give the odds with the authority of genuine commentators, and very little acknowledgement of their motives. “This is just socialising children into a gambling culture which is not healthy,” Shelton said. “I think this is something the government’s got to look at, and hopefully something that can be worked on after the election.”
“The social disruption that this is bringing is absolutely extraordinary,” Clifford said. But he knows many people who aren’t church-goers recognise its impact. Sickened by the damage, people are ready for change. “I just think it’s time. And I think Australians believe it is time to take this issue on.”
The Christian Democratic Party recently commissioned a survey from McCrindle and associates, the country’s foremost social researchers, on the priorities of Australian Christians. The number one concern amongst 57 per cent of the surveyed Christians was the need for one law for all Australians.
We’re trying to do this positively and helpfully. We’re not trying to target anybody, but we are saying our country, we need to stand on one law, one legal system, one code for all Australians. (Rev Dr. Ross Clifford, Christian Democratic Party)
The Christian Democratic Party opposes any legal recognition of Islamic Sharia law, and upholds a policy of “one law for all Australians, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or faith”. Clifford was critical of the more negative tone of the Australian Liberty Alliance, who argue for the banning of full-face covering in public, and a ten-year moratorium on visas from countries in the Organisation of Islamic Collaboration.
Clifford says that the CDP’s policy doesn’t aim to single out any group of people. “When you vote for someone like the Christian Democratic Party, we’re trying to do this positively and helpfully. We’re not trying to target anybody, but we are saying our country, we need to stand on one law, one legal system, one code for all Australians. Own it, hold it, don’t move from it.”
Jen, a listener from North Queensland, called to ask about how the CDP’s one law for all policy applied to marriage, if heterosexual couples can be wed, and homosexual couples cannot. Clifford explained that homosexual couples receive all of the advantages and rights of any other couple. But to change, through law, the definition of marriage would be like turning a rose into a carnation.
“We’re not denying them marriage,” he said. “Marriage is by definition simply between a male and a female. So there’s still one law for all. They still benefit in every other way that’s possible under the law.”
Tackling these topics can often expose us to ridicule from a culture which is losing touch with Christian values. But with so much at stake, it’s more important than ever to keep biblical truth in the conversation. I think it’s really important that we don’t become despairing about the caricature and the characterisation of us as Christians in the public square,” Mr Shelton said. “And what I mean by that is, we are routinely called haters, and bigots, and all this negative language is cast at us.
“But since when did the people of love become haters? How on Earth did that become part of the narrative in Australia?”
Shelton said that we need to be persistent in our faith, and continue to demonstrate that we’re reasonable and loving. “The reason we take a stand against things is because we’re for things which are for the common good, like marriage and family. And they’re tremendously positive things that all Australians want to see flourish and prosper. And if we can communicate that to our fellow citizens, I think we’ll be on a winner.”
“We have to be prophetic,” says Ross Clifford, “and we have to point out where our concerns are, and what’s happening in our society. But at the same time we need to stress the positives. We are for traditional marriage. We are for families. We are for creating good societies. We are for ensuring good health. We are for ensuring that there are good laws, and a standard law, and a stable law, that guarantees human rights and human dignity for all people, including women and children.”
Clifford says that we need to preserve our heritage, rather than be ashamed of it. “And we need to be constantly saying, we’re simply trying to keep in many ways a Judeo-Christian, positive heritage. Not imposing on everybody, but making sure that the root and tradition of our systems are not lost. And this election is a real key time to do that.”