Faith, politics and Australia’s ‘religious prime minister series’

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Albanese would be Australia’s eighth Catholic Prime Minister, after John Lyons, Ben Chifley and Paul Keating. There were just five out of a total of 27 when Australian National University academic John Warhurst did an analysis in 2010, but Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have added to the list.

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Some say that Albanese is insincere about his religious status; Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes accused him of being a “politically expedient” Catholic who only associates with the Church when it suits him.

Her problem was that Albanese was asking for Warringah candidate Katherine Deves to be deprecated for her offensive statements about transgender people while keeping quiet about a deleted tweet from Labor Senate candidate Mich-Elle Myers. The tweet read: “I’m sick of the Catholic Church and the shit coming out of their mouths.”

Hughes described Albanese as “a complete hypocrite”, repeating comments she had made in The Catholic weekly. “He professes Catholicism as a faith while remaining completely tight-lipped about Ms. Myers.”

Yet a senior official at a Catholic organization points out that most Catholics are “nominal” Catholics, and even a cultural affinity with the church matters. Albanese has described himself as a non-practicing Catholic whose views on social justice were shaped by his Catholic upbringing.

Church watchers who read St Mary’s event as an endorsement of Albanese for prime minister noted that Fisher had not met Morrison during the election campaign. Some dismissed suggestions of patronage, arguing that Fisher’s decision to greet Albanese was merely polite, given that he lives at the cathedral.

Scott Morrison at his Horizon Church during the 2019 election campaign.Credit:AAP

A spokesman for the archbishop said visits to schools by politicians from both sides were commonplace.

“Mr Albanese received the same welcome Prime Minister Scott Morrison received when he attended De La Salle Catholic College in November last year,” the spokesperson said.

A school insider also said Catholic Education’s scrupulously fair report card on how the main parties approach education – Labor and Coalition were given the same score on every point – annoyed some within of the coalition, who expected more support after shelling out $1.2 billion to stay private. happy schools soon after Morrison took the top job.

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With the church now happy with both sides’ stance on school funding – a significant issue, given the hundreds of Catholic schools in New South Wales alone – they say it has been careful to remain neutral , lest she choose the wrong side.

Some senior clerics point to other evidence suggesting the Coalition has grown cold towards Catholics.

They suspected a snub from Morrison last year when he mentioned a range of religious charities during his introduction of the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill, but did not mention a Catholic. “Not even Vinnies,” said a senior member of the church.

There are also fewer Catholic politicians in the ranks of the Coalition these days. Meanwhile, Pentecostal influence within the Liberal Party grew; they not only include Morrison, but also Stuart Robert and Lucy Wicks.

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A senior Catholic coalition official said it had also been noted that religious organizations had “worked”, referring to the appointment of labor-affiliated people to key jobs. Such appointments are often seen as a sign that an organization expects political fortunes to take a particular direction and wants its leaders to have good connections in government.

They include former Labor Senator Jacinta Collins at the National Catholic Education Commission (appointed in early 2019), former Labor boss Pat Garcia at Catholic Health Australia (late 2019) and former NSW staff member Sam Crosby in St Vincent de Paul (end of 2020).

However, the appointments are relatively old; Collins was appointed before the last federal election and has strong ties on both sides of the House.

A review of Labor’s 2019 election defeat urged the party to reconnect with believers on social justice issues and underscore its historic ties to mainstream churches. In March, Plibersek gave a speech describing his Catholic upbringing as an influential force on his politics.

Warhurst notes that interest in the religiosity of prime ministers has revived over the past decade; until 2010, those who took religion seriously were in the minority (11 leaders against 16). Most – including Bob Hawke, Billy Hughes and Gough Whitlam – were atheists or agnostics.

“There has been a series of ‘religious’ prime ministers in Rudd, Abbott and Morrison rather than just cultural Christians,” he said. “The race took place despite declining church attendance, which is interesting. Of course, some denominations, like Pentecostals, are growing.

Labor strategist Bruce Hawker said playing on Albanese’s Catholic ties was unlikely to make inroads into the religious voters who helped elect Kevin Rudd, but it “doesn’t hurt people who are still in the process of to decide”. [to see] that the leader is a believer, for lack of a better word,” he said.

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