12 October 2004

A plague o’ both our houses?

by Matt Rubinstein at 12:39 pm

ants.jpgThis is getting weird. I don’t know what kind of shady preference deal the Greens cut with Labor, but it can’t have been much good if it didn’t include Victoria, where Family First candidate Steve Fielding looks like bagging a Senate seat (and probably the balance of power) despite his ticket pulling 1.9% of the primary vote, while the Greens are out in the cold with 8.64%. It’s tempting to blame the Australian voting public for not bothering to fill out all 78 boxes below the line, but I think I’ll blame the Labor Party.

Maybe “blame” isn’t the word. I don’t think anyone should have control of both houses. But I’m pretty nervous about Family First, so it was with great interest that I watched the Lateline interview with Party Chairman Peter Harris last night. It didn’t help.

Tony Jones went in hard, trying to expose the god-bothering tendencies of the party (emphasis added, but reflects Jones’s delivery):

TONY JONES: Do you see the hand of God in this election result?

PETER HARRIS: I don’t know if I see the hand of God in the election result. I mean, we worked very hard and planned our strategies and implemented them to the best of our capacity, and at this current stage of the game, it seems that some of our strategies are playing out very strongly.

TONY JONES: Now, Stephen Fielding appears very likely to become a senator and indeed he could hold the balance of power in the upper house. Is that an outcome that you and your supporters will indeed be praying for?

PETER HARRIS: Well, I think that we have an opportunity still in four States.

Finally it came out that (as everybody already knew) most if not all FF candidates and executive are members of Assembly-of-God or other churches. The party fielded 126 candidates and some of them were clearly—uh—loose cannons.

It seems that McMillan FF candidate Paul Harold was responsible for posters warning “A vote for [ALP candidate] Christian Zahra is a vote for Satan” (the Lateline transcript calls him “Christian Disarray”, which makes it kind of funny). Victorian Senate candidate Pastor Danny Nalliah called on followers to pull down mosques and temples. Harris distanced himself and the party from these excesses, not entirely convincingly. It was a FF campaigner, and not a candidate, who said that all lesbians should be burnt to death, but Queensland Senate candidate John Lewis did admit that the party had withheld its preferences from Brisbane Liberal candidate Ingrid Tall because she’s gay.

On the other hand, as Harris said, Party Leader Andrea Mason is the first female indigenous leader of any party in Australia and the FF voice on Aborigines would be especially valuable now that Aden Ridgeway is on his way out. They want reconciliation; they want the Government to apologise. Harris also says they’re against the full sale of Telstra and the relaxation of the cross-media—but not the foreign media—rules. According to their website, they’re compassionate on asylum-seekers, interested in mental health, pretty bland on Iraq and terrorism, and predictable on stem-cell research.

This is what drives me crazy about these church types. So many of their principles are admirable and true, so many abhorrent and weird. They do a heap of good around the place, particularly with the homeless and other disadvantaged. But you get the feeling that at some stage they just stop thinking—at some point in the argument they back up against the orthodoxy, which is in many cases pretty scary.

So now we’re looking at a balance of power held by an apparently quite zealous party that’s some way to the left of Labor on some issues and to the right of the Coalition on others. Or, carte blanche for the Coalition. I don’t know what to hope for.

I’m biased, of course. For four years in the 1980s I went to a Christian primary school in Adelaide that was attached to the same kind of revival church as FF is (Guy Sebastian later taught at the associated high school). I didn’t like it. Every year they made us perform American evangelical musicals called things like Ants’hillvania, which always involved a lot of tights and polystyrene, terrible puns and not-at-all-disguised religious pedagogy. Now I’m a staunch atheist and hater of musicals, but I think the picture of Antony (he wanted to be independ-ant, but he was soon repent-ant, you get the idea) expresses pretty well how Steve Fielding must be feeling now.

One Response to “A plague o’ both our houses?”

  1. Nick Says:

    so you’re kind of a rod/todd flanders then, matt?

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