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Harvesting a secular Greens vote

By Max Wallace - posted Thursday, 8 July 2010

Cardinal George Pell last night told a virtual audience of churchgoers with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that the Greens have an “explicitly anti-Christian agenda”. He is “concerned about the likelihood the Greens will be gaining the balance of power in the next Senate. Their program is explicitly anti-Christian”, he said. Catholic News, June 22, 2010.

Cardinal Pell’s comments cited above drew many neatly divided responses from Catholics in the online Catholic News. Since he made those comments, Kevin Rudd has been replaced by Julia Gillard who has made her atheism known; practising Catholic Premier of New South Wales, Kristina Keneally, has supported gay adoption of children; and a new Christian survey (“We’re losing our faith in Christianity, says a new survey”, Sydney Morning Herald, June 15, 2010) has produced some surprising statistics.

It follows that the Labor Party as well as the Greens would now have to be in Cardinal Pell’s firing line. The purpose of this review is to assess the likelihood that the response of Australia’s religious right, best represented by the followers of Cardinal Pell and the Australian Christian Lobby, will influence the outcome of the next election and what the Greens could do about it.


In my article “The politics of religion” (On Line Opinion, June 4, 2010) I argued Family First’s wealth enables them to field candidates in state and federal elections with little hope of winning a seat but every hope their preferences could determine the outcome in close seats. Nothing has changed there. In fact, the Christian right has been spooked by Gillard’s ascendancy and are already mobilising to make the Labor Party pay at the ballot box.

Thus, the Labor Party have taken a gamble that the conservative Christian vote, be it evangelical or Catholic, will be trumped by Greens preferences, if they get them, and by the novelty of Gillard’s appointment.

But what is it exactly that agitates Cardinal Pell, his followers, and evangelical fellow-travellers?

  • Atheism: to hold a non-Christian, non-religious belief, is deemed anti-Christian rather than indifferent to religion. They also confuse atheism with secularism, that is, government neutrality towards all beliefs;
  • abortion;
  • contraception;
  • voluntary euthanasia; and
  • gay rights, including marriage

It’s true the Greens would be sympathetic to all of the above. But, while they are sympathetic, they don’t go out of their way to make a big deal of it. I argue they should. The Greens should declare openly they are a secular party.

The reason they should do this is that while they may gain the balance of power at the next election, it is at this stage no sure thing. Before the ascension of Julia Gillard to the prime ministership, the Greens vote was shown to be artificially inflated by the animus the electorate felt towards Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party. The Greens vote had risen to 15 per cent. It then took a steep nosedive back to 8-9 per cent after Gillard became PM.


This false dawn ended because the Greens have nothing else to retain such an increased vote. For all the variety in their many progressive policies, the Greens can’t shake off their image as a one-dimensional pro-environment party. It is sobering that the threat of global warming has not led to a dramatic increase in the Greens vote.

It is likely that what keeps the Greens in the secular closet is the negative experience they had in a past election when a religious Murdoch journalist published an article just before the election claiming the Greens were “soft on drugs”. Conservative commentators recycled this falsehood to such an extent the Greens believed it cost them seats.

This is the likely reason why they are reluctant to come out of the secular closet, despite Bob Brown recently accepting the Humanist of the Year Award. Maybe they believe the downside of coming out is that they will be subject to a torrent of abuse from Christian-leaning media alleging they are communist atheists intent on transforming Australia through godlessness, hyper-sexuality, abortion and euthanasia, where no one, from the unborn, to the elderly in nursing homes, is safe.

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About the Author

Max Wallace is vice-president of the Rationalists Assn of NSW and a council member of the New Zealand Assn of Rationalists and Humanists.

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