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Cynical play for the Right

By Greg Barns - posted Friday, 3 March 2006

Peter Costello's attack recently on multiculturalism and Islamic practices appeared to be a case of placing his own ambition above the values of tolerance and diversity. It was also a speech which will inflame social and religious tensions.

And by ignoring other forms of fundamentalism, such as that evident in some Christian churches, Costello's speech smacked of political opportunism.

The speech, in which Costello attacked multiculturalism as mushy, and warned that Muslims must abide by Australian values or face expulsion from this country, appeared to be a signal to the Liberal Party's dominant right wing that he too is a conservative.


Over the past decade Costello has courted the more liberal wing of his party with high-profile disagreements with Prime Minister John Howard over an Australian republic - which Costello favours - and Aboriginal reconciliation. Costello took part in a reconciliation walk in Melbourne in 2000.

And only last week, the Treasurer further endeared himself to his supporters when he backed a vote to remove the Health Minister's power to make a decision about the accessibility of the abortion drug, RU486.

Costello's most vocal supporters are “small l” Liberals. South Australian Chris Pyne and New South Wales backbencher Bruce Baird lead the Costello faction in the Howard-led Liberal Party.

But what are these MPs, who on occasion publicly kick against the conservative grain of today's Liberal Party, to make of Costello's tub-thumping, hard-Right rhetoric at the Sydney Institute?

Perhaps it is a signal that Costello, who has put away his field marshall's baton for the moment and ruled out a challenge to Howard, is seeking to reach out to the right wing of the Liberal Party and curry favour with conservative voters in marginal seats who have delivered the Prime Minister four election victories.

And if you want further evidence that Costello's motivation, in part at least, in delivering such an inflammatory speech was to shore up support among the Liberal Party's right wing, then note his singling out of Islamic fundamentalism, ignoring Christian fundamentalism.


Costello warned that any person who wants to live under Islamic Sharia law and does not respect the rule of law should be refused citizenship in Australia, or have it stripped from them.

But why didn't Costello target fundamentalist Christians whose actions are clearly out of step with democratic values? Such as, for example, the well-publicised conduct of a 2004 Senate candidate for the Family First Party, Danny Nalliah.

Nalliah, a pastor with the Catch the Fire Ministries, distributed a brochure in 2003 which stated, “Spot Satan's strongholds in the areas you are living (brothels, gambling places, bottleshops, mosque, temples - Freemasons/Buddhist/Hindu etc, witchcraft)”.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on February 27, 2006.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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