Most Australian political and party officials do not really understand the meaning of Conservatism. Many talk of neo-conservatism - revisiting the old ideological positioning of liberal, democrat, or socialist pragmatics versus a traditional historical or foundational raison d’être of true conservatism.
For many reasons neo-conservatives, lacking the classical Tory interpretation of conservatism, make up positions as they go along. Thus we have carte blanche interpretations on all aspects of life, and on how we should conduct ourselves morally, religiously or ethically.
The question of the gay community: exactly what and who they are and where they stand in society was never really visited until the Federal Marriage Act Amendment. For the first time the gay community was forced to take a hard look at itself and reflect both on its lobbying strategies and its perceived notions of which political party best represented them. They were abandoned by the so-called rainbow Labor movement, which saw gays as electorally on the nose and jumped into bed with the Liberals. Who says “politics makes strange bedfellows”? Both Labor and Liberal strategies were concerned with the votes of the Australian Christian Lobby and Family Values Church, which casts God as the central character and Catholic doctrine as divine inspiration for decrying all things homosexual.
Questions further arose. Why was this happening? Where was the gay lobby? What was the Lyons Forum? How did Senator Steve Fielding become the smallest minority with the biggest say in all things gay and lesbian? Was there a shift to a fascist agenda? How could it be that sudden religious fervour creates such problems for a significant voting sector such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community? Was this the problem: is LGBTI too much of a mouthful in Canberra? How many variations on a theme does the LGBTI community want?
Christianity won out, even though 90 per cent of Australia's estimated one million gays, friends, supporters and variations on family groups identify as Christian, even Gay and Catholic. What went wrong? Who’s to blame? Should the great swag of Liberal voters have stood up for their Christian beliefs of tolerance, understanding and acceptance of a group which was being unfairly singled out and discriminated against by a government? Isn’t this the philosophy of the Liberal Party, a self-styled broad church? Or has a sinister turn of events occurred in which a powerful group of federal parliamentarians wages war over those who disagree with their Bible-quoting Hillsong proclamations?
Where has the more liberal element gone? The type who say we can have liberal doses of anything. Christians, economic rationalists, Catholics, Jews, Gays, families, Social Security recipients, free marketeers, economists, doctors, even academics and businessman. All were welcome in the Liberal Party, so it seemed until 2004.
What do young people make of Alex Hawke? The 27-year-old president of the Federal Young Liberal Movement denounces gays and Greens with equal scorn, while stacking NSW Liberal branches with Moslems and Opus Dei recruits, simply because they hate homosexuals.
So why should Liberal voters support gay issues?
We must first understand the complexities of a government which has been in power for almost ten years, and on current voting intentions and results could be in power at least a decade longer.
The government ran an election campaign largely on the issues of security and economic stability: two of the great pillars of traditional conservative Toryism. Voters responded, endorsing the government with increased majorities and senate control.
To say a party has been hijacked by fundamentalist religious fanatics is accurate if we look at the Lyons Forum, the “Catholic Breakfast Club”. It sounds more like a new movie than a powerful influence on a popularly elected government. Did the voters want this? Would they have supported such a group knowing their true colours? Most such groups thrive away from the scrutiny of electors, where they can plan plot and scheme without question. With access to senior public servants, ministerial staffers and advisers, the shadowy deals take place. Spin doctors and media advisers manipulate opinion, sending out signals and rewards. A potential escape from preselection challenge ensures absolute control over debate and policy formulation. This is exclusionary - accessible only to those deemed able to aid the process. There is also an air of “do not criticise the government”.
The basis of the formation of the Liberal Party 60 years ago, and the foundational principles of its ideology gives the answer. But the Liberals self-styled “broad church” tag, and its relevance and meaning are in question.
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