Flat White

An unholy affair: wooing religious voters on the cheap

23 April 2022

4:00 AM

23 April 2022

4:00 AM

It may be something in the air during the Easter period (or coincidence…?) but over the past couple of weeks, every second politician is suddenly religious. At least, that’s how they want to appear.

Labor and Liberal candidates alike are attending religious services, meeting priests, and speaking with devout voters who they will rely on to get them elected in just over a month.

But are these politicians really religious? The likeliest answer is ‘no’. 

When I see a politician turn up to church for mass after years of absence, I know we must be getting close to an election. As a Catholic, it infuriates me because they are not coming to mass for the right reasons – they are attending to portray themselves as part of the Christian community.

For those who understand how politicians work, it is easy to see through the façade. For others who are not so politically savvy, they may view these political posers as genuine church service attendees. The point here is honesty. As a writer, it is my job to break this matter down to demonstrate why you cannot have faith in the ‘faith’ of the political class.

How does this affect those who are not religious?

Well, this is not necessarily about religion itself, but the principle of the matter. If politicians can pose as religious to sway Christian voters, they can don other ideological costumes to fit in with whichever voting group they need – firefighters, police, teachers, retail workers, factory workers, climate warriors, sports players, musicians, or any other demographic. They will do whatever is necessary to swing them their way, even if it means putting on an act.

The implication is more serious for religious voters. This is an important demographic, given the majority of Australians identify as religious, with Christianity being the dominant religion. In the 2016 census, Christians accounted for 52 per cent of the population – enough to tip a seat. It makes sense that candidates seeking a spot in Parliament would attempt to appeal to Christian voters.

The Labor Party learned this the hard way in the 2019 election when they suffered significant swings against them in seats they held that are dominated by religious voters. Then Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen – who famously uttered the phrase ‘if you don’t like our policies, don’t vote for us’ – found himself at the wrong end of a 5.47 per cent swing in the Western Sydney seat of McMahon, a seat saturated with religious Australians. 

A shift was signalled in the 2019 election. While Labor did well in northern Sydney and the eastern suburbs, it struggled in its blue-collar heartland in western and southwestern Sydney, and in typically blue-collar seats in Queensland. One of the biggest swings against Labor came in the southeast Queensland electorate of Blair, where Shayne Neumann found himself down 6.9 per cent.

Western Sydney is home to many devout religious communities, including Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Muslims. So too is Queensland with 15 of the top 25 ranked seats that are active in religion are in the Sunshine State. This accounts for numerous marginal seats that Labor failed to win in 2019, ultimately being the reason they lost the un-losable election. 

After Labor’s surprise loss in 2019, it was suggested that the Party needed to look at its attitude towards religious faith. Labor found itself at odds with religious voters who had made it suffer by forcing it back into Opposition for another three years. Its policies went against the values and beliefs of the very demographic that it needed to get on side to win at the polls and enter into power. 

So, what did Labor do? Nothing. For the better part of three years, they sat on their hands and kept pushing forward with more of the same policies and ideas that were not supported by people of faith. They supported lockdowns and their state counterparts imposed restrictions, to the detriment of the faithful who wished to attend religious services. They never once came to the aid of religious Australians.

Then, with the election announced for May 21, they changed their tune.

First, there was former Labor Premier and Senator Kristina Keneally, who has decided to leave the Senate and attempt to obtain a place in the House of Representatives. She has been parachuted into the usually safe Labor seat of Fowler in Sydney’s southwest. As mentioned previously, there are many devoutly religious people in western and southwest Sydney, something Keneally is likely aware of. 

With this in mind, Kristina has attended mass at Cabramatta’s Sacred Heart Church. Pictures emerged of her kneeling in the pews with her hands clasped together in prayer, receiving Holy Communion, and standing on the steps outside the church to meet churchgoers. This came just years after she said she had lost faith in the Catholic Church and that ‘Catholicism has done more harm to Australia than Islam’. She also openly supports abortion, which is at odds with the faith.

On Easter Sunday, Anthony Albanese attended mass at St Monica’s Cathedral in Cairns where he was pictured meeting Bishop James Foley. Yet not long ago, he was attending Mardi Gras. On the same day in NSW, Michelle Rowland went to mass at St Bernadette’s Lalor Park, where she asked for a picture with the priest that she posted on her Facebook page, which also displayed images of her attending Good Friday service at Mary Immaculate Quakers Hill in which she did the same.

All of these instances reek of PR stunts. Not one of these politicians goes to church regularly. They only go when it is politically convenient for them. They are opportunists. At the risk of sounding judgmental, I am going to make a brutal assessment – in my view, none of them are Christian. 

Their policies do not align with Christianity. They support abortion and euthanasia and have voted against religious freedom. It would also be unsurprising to see them support biological men in women’s sports, although it seems they have realised they are better off remaining silent on this.

That is not to say that Labor is alone in this, but they are the most egregious offenders when it comes to this sort of political opportunism. Scott Morrison’s faith is also questionable, given he tends to put it on display and has had pictures taken of him attending church services, even inviting the media to attend. The Liberal Party has failed to put an end to mandates, which continue to this day for Scripture teachers in state schools. While the Prime Minister may be more sincere in his personal faith, attending services on a regular basis, he is not living his faith values out in his actions. If anything, he comes across as hypocritical rather than opportunistic. 

Politicians should understand that religious voters are not going to support them just because they show up to church during campaign week. We can see right through you. You are as transparent as the miserable ghosts who haunt your parties. We know how you operate. We know you do not adhere to the faith.

Our faith is not a platform for you to use to get what you want. It is a sacred thing. It is not something you can just use for show. You need to live that faith out in your own life and in the actions you take. If you think you can just come to mass and you are immediately one of us, you are dead wrong. Religious Australians will punish you at the polls for the errors of your ways. 

And it will be much worse than last time. 

 Joel Agius is an independent writer. If you would like to read more of his work, you can do so at JJ’s Outlook or check out his new podcast The Agius Hour.

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