We get a glimpse of the Australian political situation in Canberra from the following lengthy quotation of John Warhurst (Australian National University AUSTRALIAN SENATE OCCASIONAL LECTURE SERIES Theatre Parliament House 5 May 2006 ).of church social justice statements over several decades.
P There are similarities between the two cases beyond the use of the conscience vote and the party divisions that inevitably followed. The first involved a successful private members' bill moved in the House of Representatives by Kevin Andrews to overturn euthanasia legislation introduced by the Northern Territory parliament.
The second involved a cross-party private members bill
introduced into the Senate by four women,
Lyn Allison (Democrats), Claire Moore (Labor),
Fiona Nash (Nationals) and Judith Troeth (Liberal)
to overturn the ministerial control over RU486
exercised at the time by Tony Abbott, the Minister for Health. The Prime Minister personally supported the first and opposed the second (while the Opposition Leader on each occasion, Kim Beazley, supported both).
The parliamentary debates each had strong religious-secular overtones, though this was only part of the story and many other themes also featured. Notably each generated enormous religious (primarily but not solely Catholic) pressure group activity closely associated with Catholic parliamentarians in both parties, Labor as well as Liberal, and Catholic church leaders.
In 1996 it was called the Euthanasia No! campaign and in 2005 it was Australians against RU-486.
There are also differences. The euthanasia issue contained an important states-rights element. It also had less far-reaching connections to related issues, while RU486 was linked to attitudes to 'life' issues such as stem cell research, access to IVF, and cloning.
The abortion issue, exemplified by the gender of the four movers of the bill, contained a much more explicit gender dimension.
In 2006 only three women senators out of 25
voted against the private members bill.
An analysis of parliamentary voting patterns on the RU486 legislation shows that Catholic MPs voted overwhelmingly against the bill, though with some notable exceptions, such as Coonan, Nelson, Hockey and Turnbull. Among the bill's opponents Catholic Labor MPs were almost totally isolated from their party colleagues, while Coalition Catholics could see that they were not.
At the time the issue of religion surfaced to an extent rarely seen in Parliament (Shanahan 2006; 2006a). Abbott accused his opponents of a "new sectarianism" because they were implying that a Catholic could not be Minister for Health: "The last time this kind of sectarianism and alleged inability of a minister to carry out their duty in the national interest was in 1916 at the time of the conscription debate. I thought we had moved on from there" (quoted in Shanahan 2006).
Among those seeking change Senator Kerry Nettle (Greens) was photographed wearing a YMCA T-shirt with the slogan "Mr Abbott, Get your rosaries off my ovaries" (Herald Sun 10 February 2006). This T-shirt became a particular focus for the debate about the intersection between religion and politics, including numerous claims that it was offensive to Catholics (Pearson 2006; Shanahan 2006a). P
In considering politicians disregard for the natural law, we should also consider how religions interpret the natural law. If politicians are unable to properly implement the natural law into government legislation, one would hope that current religious leaders would be of assistance.
However, in recent decades where modernism still pulled many strings of Catholicism and other religions, most leaders of our various religions did not give proper support to our governments.
Certainly, little attention was paid (in Australian governments) to what the Pope had to suggest.
It is rare for political leaders to provide enlightenment regarding the natural law - but there are some - just as it is rare for religious leaders, as can be observed from a further lengthy quotation from the same lecturer Warhurst:-
P Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's Sir Thomas Playford Memorial Lecture, "Australian Politics and the Christian Church", in 2003 is the most considered and extensive elaboration of the Coalition government's position and can thus be used as an exemplar (Downer 2003; reprinted in Sullivan and Leppert 2004: 13-20). Downer's lecture, delivered with obvious feeling, brings together many criticisms, some by prominent conservative journalists,
The lecture was very personal in its critique of church leaders who have spoken out against the government's Iraq military commitment. His targets included Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth, then Primate of the Anglican Church, Downer's own denomination, and the then president of the Uniting Church, Professor James Haire. He perceived "the tendency of some church leaders
The Foreign Minister argued that the church leaders had misplaced priorities, caused perhaps by their unhealthy attraction for personal publicity.
to ignore their primary pastoral obligations
in favour of hogging the limelight on complex political issues".
It seemed to him that too often "the churches seek popular political causes or cheap headlines. And this tends to cut across the central role they have in providing spiritual comfort and moral guidance to the community". And again, "Apart from disdain
for traditional pastoral duties
and pontificating self-regard,
how best to explain the clerics who issue press releases at the drop of a hat on issues where the mind of the church itself is unresolved or not yet engaged?"
The priorities of the church leaders were not to Downer's liking: "Those clergy who have lost sight of the fundamentals have filled the vacuum with all manner of diversions.