Senator Eric Abetz

Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for Employment
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Liberal Senator for Tasmania

Address to the Australian Christian Lobby Conference, Brisbane

“If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully, again”.

So opined - that great author TS Eliott. And he was right.

That is why I was delighted to accept your kind invitation and show my support for the endeavours of the Australian Christian Lobby, an organisation that is genuinely concerned with Australia’s future both as a society as a whole and for each individual Australian.

As such, you are true nation builders and I salute your ethos and activities which your website tells me is to see ‘Christian principles and ethics accepted and influencing the way we are governed, do business and relate to each other as a community.

The Australian Christian Lobby aims to foster a more compassionate, just and moral society by seeking to have the positive public contributions of the Christian faith reflected in the political life of the nation’.

I wish you well in fulfilling that task. Our nation will be richer for it.

In that context, allow me to acknowledge all the volunteers, Board and staff that make the ACL tick, especially Chairman Tony McLellan, Vice Chairman Jim Wallace and Managing Director Lyle Shelton. The work you have done to uphold the traditional definition of marriage is to be applauded. And might I add – it is Liberal Party policy and has been since 1944.

The Party Room only recently overwhelmingly accepted the traditional definition of marriage as did both the House of Representatives and the Senate. I trust they will continue to hold firm.

With apologies to Ronald Reagan, allow me to slightly adjust his words[1]:

“And I know that you will agree with me that standing up for Australia also means standing up for the God, who has so blessed our land. I believe this country hungers for a spiritual revival. I believe it longs to see traditional values reflected in public policy again. To those who argue the separation of Church and State as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and everyday life, may I just say: separation of Church and State was not to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was to protect religious values from government tyranny.”

Last year, your State, Queensland, was the beneficiary of a new Headquarters for the ABC.

The ABC rightly moved their Brisbane Headquarters because of a concern over a cancer cluster.

At the opening of the new Headquarters, the Chairman of the ABC, a former distinguished Chief Justice of New South Wales, told the assembled, and I quote:

“a few weeks ago this building was cleansed in a traditional smoking ceremony and bad spirits were expelled.

As the Governor-General and the Managing Director of the ABC have highlighted in their address, we are here today because of the cancer cluster that was identified at our former premises.

In these circumstances, the smoking ceremony could not have been more apt.”

Really? ‘could not have been more apt’.

And yes, you heard right ‘the building was cleansed ... and bad spirits were expelled’.

On reading this speech, I thought I would take myself along to Senate Estimates, to ask a few questions of the ABC.

You might imagine the gush of words to which I was subjected. All devoid of providing a meaningful response to my many questions one of which was as to whether a Christian blessing ceremony had been contemplated. It was clear it had not.

I was told all sorts of things, that it was a “symbolic ceremony”, there is a “strong connection with the indigenous community”, the staff allegedly thought “it would be good” and I was told it was a “lovely event”.

At a cost of $500 to the Australian taxpayer I might add. I am not sure if it was necessarily a “lovely event” for them. Or indeed for the overwhelming majority of Australians that identify as Christian, let alone the indigenous community.

And let’s be clear, the ceremony to which I refer was not a Welcome to Country or an Acknowledgment of Country or Elders.

This was a separate cleansing ceremony to ward off evil spirits and one presumes the cancer they cause.

Now, Census information from 2006 informs me that 64 per cent of our indigenous population identify as Christian.

After that, the second biggest cohort amongst our indigenous population is 20 per cent, identifying with no religion.

And then there is Muslim, Baha’i amongst others.

And in Queensland, the indigenous community identifies even more strongly with Christianity than the national average.

So the number of indigenous Queenslanders actually identifying with this particular religious ceremony seems relatively small and not at all representative.

The 1st July has been celebrated in the Torres Strait Islander community as the Coming of the Light Festival for over 140 years.

Why? Because on the 1st July 1871, the London Missionary Society arrived on Erub Island. And the Festival is called the ‘Coming of the Light’ because they believe they were liberated from the world of evil spirits.

So one wonders to whom ‘our ABC’ so-called was actually pandering? To whom were they playing? And to whom were they being sensitive?

Indeed, I recall as a former Chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Native Title and in my role as Fisheries Minister, consulting with indigenous communities, in the Torres Strait Islands, and at their request, commencing our consultations in Christian prayer and concluding consultations in Christians prayer. I appreciated their commitment and expression of faith.

I ask, why is it that our indigenous community has a lot better understanding of some of these issues than ‘our ABC’.

But this is just one of a none too subtle move to deny our Christian heritage.

Similar attempts were made with the national curriculum seeking to purge our language and culture of those historic milestones and identifiers known as BC and AD.

We were told that the new language would, for the purposes of historical timelines, now become CE and BCE standing for the ’common era’, and ‘before the common era’.

My enquiring mind made me ponder as to what would happen if Freddie were to ask his teacher ‘teacher, when did the common era start?

And I wondered whether the teacher would be allowed to say ‘at the birth of Christ’?

And what would Freddie then be told if he asked why didn’t we simply call it ‘Before Christ’ or BC for short.

The good news is that we won that debate and this non-sense was withdrawn from the draft National Curriculum.

These two recent examples, highlight why it is so important that the Australian Christian Lobby be active in our community.

As Bishop Tom Frame noted in his recent book Losing my religion, there is a growing and aggressive anti-theistic trend in public commentary replacing the previously more benign atheistic view.

We need your voices, individually and collectively, to provide a reminder to our society, and especially self-appointed elites, that our Christian heritage is in fact what has made our nation and Western Civilisation strong.

And in support of this observation, allow me to quote Baroness Warnock, an atheist pillar of the small ‘l’ liberal establishment in the United Kingdom where she had many battles with religion over a whole number of issues during her long and distinguished career.

She made the following observation when aged 86 years old just a few years ago:

“I don’t think we ought to forget that the official religion of this country is Christianity. It is going against a cohesive tradition if all religious festivals whether they are Hindu or Muslim or whatever they are, are given equal precedence…

This is really a matter of tradition and culture and there is no doubt that ours is fundamentally Christian. So I think Christianity ought to have precedence actually. Obviously the other faiths are more than entitled to conduct funerals and so on according to their own tradition.

I wonder if a ‘something’ could apply to an ABC Headquarters opening?

Some little while ago, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences tried to ascertain the reasons for the dominance to what we refer to as our Western civilisation. At first they thought more powerful guns and then they thought it might be the political system, and then the economic systems.

Finally, they concluded and allow me to quote:

“In the past twenty years we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion. Christianity...

The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the transition to democratic politics.

We don’t have any doubt about this.”

It’s nice to know academics from Communist China can acknowledge this fact.

Let’s be clear, if our society jettisons its Christian heritage, traditions and beliefs, it will need a replacement.

I fear our religion or world view is becoming very narrow. It’s becoming all about

‘me’.

As President Obama recently acknowledged the biggest problem in the world is selfishness – self centeredness.

As Cardinal Pell so poignantly observed in The Spectator on 3rd April, 2010, ‘a person who believes in nothing can only believe in himself, and self-belief implies that anything is possible. What do lies, cheating, harm and swindling matter’.

That quote came to mind when I learned of the Girl Guides leadership seeking to remove reference to God, Queen and country from their promise, the former pledge being “to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country...”

Instead, Girl Guides were to pledge to promise that ‘I will be true to myself and develop my beliefs’, whatever that might mean.

So I pose, what happens, if my belief is communism? What happens if my belief is the caste system where some people are deemed to be less worthy than others? Or simply my belief system is well – self-centred.

I believe the Girl Guides have gone back to the drawing board, thank goodness.

The consequences of rejecting our Christian belief system would change the face of our society - make it unrecognisable and less civilised.

So as regrettable as these three quick examples are ranging from our ABC to the national curriculum to the Girl Guides, it does put a spotlight onto the unthinking and deeply corrosive trend in our society to deny our culture and heritage, a trend which needs to be challenged and arrested.

The role of the Christian Lobby in this regard is to be applauded because it reminds society of its traditions, and the basis of our culture.

And the reason it is important is that to deny it is to undermine our ‘cohesive tradition’ to quote Baroness Warnock.

The impact on Christianity on our world has been well and truly documented.

Be it from the Indian thinker, Vishal Mangalwadi, in his book, ‘The Book that made your world’ subtitled ‘How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation’ to Alvin Schmidt’s ‘How Christianity Changed the World’ to our very own national treasure, Professor Geoffrey Blainey’s ‘A Short History of Christianity’ which because of its brevity only runs to over 600 pages – they all document the hugely civilising impact that Christianity has had on the development of the Western world.

 ‘In the ancient medieval and modern worlds the Christian ethic elevated .. standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities and relief organisations, created hospitals, established orphanages, and founded schools.

Christianity almost single handedly kept classical culture alive through recopying manuscripts, building libraries, moderating warfare through truce days and providing dispute arbitration.

It was Christians who invented colleges and universities, dignified labour as a divine vocation and extended the light of civilisation.

Christian teaching advanced science, instilled concepts of political and social economic freedom, fostered justice and provided the greatest single cause of inspiration to the magnificent achievements in art, architecture, music and literature that we treasure to the present day.

The reality is that today’s secular morality could hardly have been possible without the Judeo Christian ethic that has influenced generation after generation.

In short, no other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation, movement, whatever has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done’ to quote Alvin Schmidt.

So seeking to draw all this together, I make this observation.

The fact that I need to make it is regrettable in itself.

I am sure what I am about to say will not be lost on this audience but I am concerned that many of our current commentators and reporters do need reminding or in some cases, advising that everyone has a world view.

That one’s world view informs one’s sense of morality and it is one’s sense of morality that ultimately informs one’s law making.

That is why it is singularly unhelpful and intellectually bankrupt for certain commentators to claim that those of the Christian faith should leave their religion outside the doors of Parliament House.

It seems that those that have an atheistic world view or an agnostic world view are quite entitled to carry that belief system through the doors of Parliament House.

Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as a neutral world view. Everyone has a world view and the indisputable fact is that one’s world view will ultimately inform and impact on the way one would legislate.

Let me acknowledge that many things have been done in the name of Christianity or where the description of Christianity has simply been shamelessly used without any commitment.

On other occasions, things have been done in the name of Christianity that clearly were not done as they should have been.

So, we all do need, from time to time, to engage in the exercise of stepping back and having a look at our Western civilisation and see it warts and all.

And observe those things on which Christianity has had a positive and negative impact.

But in doing so, I would invite all people that engage in such an activity, to not only look at Western civilisation, but to cast their eyes on other countries and societies that are underpinned by other world views or religious views and observe them warts and all as well.

And after that exercise has been undertaken, I pose the simple question.

Which do you prefer, and why?

As Margaret Thatcher observed when addressing a conference of the Scottish Presbyterian Church:

It appears that too many people want the house, want all the creature comforts that it provides, but are busily taking away the foundations on which it is built.

Like the parable of the wise and foolish man, the Bible teaches us that a house without foundations will ultimately fall.

And when that happens, we will have to, as T S Eliot said, “painfully begin all over again”.

That is why the role of the Australian Christian Lobby is so vitally important in maintaining at the forefront of the public mind the importance of our Christian faith and our Christian heritage.

And I for one, thank you for doing so.

Have a great conference and God Bless.


[1] President Ronald Reagan, Address Before a Joint Session of the Alabama State Legislature in Montgomery, March 15, 1982

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