Good Lord, Where Did Labor Go?

The Australian Labor Party has abandoned Aussies of faith. This is the story being told by media outlets as diverse as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, SBS, Nine News and the ABC, in the fallout from Labor’s shock election loss.

Labor’s own Chris Bowen agrees. Pulling out of Labor’s leadership contest, he reflected that, “During the election campaign… it has been raised with me that people of faith no longer feel that progressive politics cares about them.” In a gesture to the faithful—and a rebuke to his colleagues—he declared, “We need to tackle this urgently.”

Labor does need to tackle this urgently. If May 18 taught us anything, it is this: Australia is still a country deeply shaped by faith, and any political party or prospective PM that ignores this fact will pay the price at the polling booth.

The ALP has traditionally appealed to the working class because of their strong stance on welfare and workers’ rights. As such, they would normally win huge support in Labor heartlands like Western Sydney and the blue collar strongholds of Queensland, where voters have the most to gain from their policies.

But it’s precisely here that huge swings were recorded against Labor. And as analysts have pointed out, it’s precisely here that religious voters are also well represented.

Not just the rusted-on Liberal types either—but believing battlers from the lower classes, Christians who have fled persecution in the Middle East and Asia, and many Muslim and other faithful besides.

Looking back on the election campaign, there are two defining moments that clearly carried weight with religious voters around the country.

The first was Scott Morrison, worshipping in his home church south of Sydney with hands raised. Despite all the negativity the media could muster about that photo, there was an authenticity and abandon there that stood out to the Aussie public.

The second was Bill Shorten bullying ScoMo about his religious beliefs. “I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell,” scoffed Shorten, effectively creating a de facto religious test for officewhich, by the way, is outlawed in Australia’s Constitution.

One candidate for PM wore his faith out in public, unconcerned about the public reaction. The other told the country that faith is out of place in public. For religious Australians, the choice between them was easy.

If the ALP is to gain back ground with religious voters, there are a number of issues they need to address as a matter of priority before the next election.

First, Labor needs to realise, as University of Queensland Professor Patrick Parkinson points out, that “multicultural Australia is also religious Australia”.

Labor cannot afford to welcome outsiders with open arms but then turn around and tell them to keep their beliefs to themselves. Five minutes ago, secularism meant freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. If Labor like open borders, they also need to have open minds.

They could begin by making believers of all stripes feel more welcome and valued in their caucus. It’s not uncommon to hear of MPs of faith within the Labor party feeling increasingly sidelined for their convictions. “Few active Christians remain in the parliamentary party,” says Parkinson.

Second, Labor needs to step back from such an aggressively secular vision to more moderate, mainstream values in line with the people they hope to represent. Their current platform might resonate with activists and inner-city types, but not with middle Australia.

Writes Parkinson, “On social issues, Labor is now much closer to the radical Left than to the Labor Party of Hawke and Keating.” Labor would be better off leaving radicalism to the fringe parties, where it belongs.

Third, Australia needs to know that the ALP is committed to religious freedom. In theory, Labor supported the Ruddock review, but unlike the Coalition, they didn’t commit to any of the inquiry’s recommendations.

In the lead-up to the election, Labor also set themselves in opposition to religious schools, moving against their right to choose staff who teach their values. When Christian leaders wrote to both major party leaders for clarity around religious freedom, Bill Shorten didn’t respond.

Finally, Labor would do well to demonstrate to people of faith that they’re a valued and respected part of mainstream society. This is about more than Bill Shorten’s ‘Christian-shaming’, mentioned earlier.

Shorten should have learnt from Kevin Rudd, himself a Christian. For the most part, Rudd had a great track record of giving voice to people of faith. But consider the words of the ABC’s Andrew West on Kevin Rudd’s demise:

Then, on the eve of his thumping defeat at the 2013 election, Rudd went on ABC’s Q&A program. In response to a question from a pastorasked more in sorrow than angerabout why Rudd had changed his position on same-sex marriage, Rudd tried to humiliate the man, almost spitting the word ‘mate’ at him.”

Simply put, Aussies vote against anyone who treats them with contempt—and Australians of faith are no exception to this. As John Wilson, moderator-general for the Presbyterian Church of Australia, has said, ordinary Australians want “a country where it’s okay to disagree and express that disagreement, to hold opposing views and not be marginalised for it.”

None of this should be a big ask for the ALP.

The Australia Labor Party began with strong Christian roots. It was born in the late 19th century out of the emerging labour movement in Australia which was in turn inspired by those fighting for workers’ rights in Britain.

One such inspiration was Keir Hardie, a founder of the British Labour Party. Hardie was a lay preacher and an advocate for women’s suffrage and self-rule in India. He was quoted as saying, “The inspiration which has carried me on… has been derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.”

Keir Hardie was friends with our own Labor PM Andrew Fisher, who was in office intermittently between 1908 and 1915, and who was also a committed Christian.

In fact, no fewer than half of the Prime Ministers provided to Australia by the ALP have been committed, churchgoing Christians.

Besides Andrew Fisher, these include James Scullin (1929-1932), Joseph Lyons (1932-1939), Frank Forde (1945), Ben Chifley (1945-1949) and Kevin Rudd (2007-2010, 2013). Many others had a Christian upbringing that influenced their time in parliament.

Put simply, Labor doesn’t need to be the party of sectarian secularists. This was not the case in the past, nor is it necessary today. Indeed, it was once known as the party of hard-working Catholics whose faith shaped the Labor emphasis on equality and social welfare.

It’s impossible to relive the past, but a better future can be forged. Australia is best served by two major parties whose inclusion doesn’t feel like exclusion for a vast swathe of voters.

With a left-faction opposition leader now in Anthony Albanese, that might be a challenge, but it’s far from impossible. And it’s in Labor’s best interests.

God-fearing Australians shouldn’t have to choose between the God they believe in and the party they vote for.

Labor, the faithful haven’t left you. You’ve lurched too far left and you’ve left them.

Please come back soon.

By |2019-05-29T10:45:00+10:00May 29th, 2019|Australia, Authors|18 Comments

About the Author:

Kurt Mahlburg is a qualified primary school teacher and a freelance writer. He blogs at Culture, Worldviews and Life with Jesus, besides writing for the Canberra Declaration and occasionally The Spectator Australia. He has a particular interest in speaking the truths of Jesus into the public square in a way that makes sense to a secular culture and that gives Christians courage to do the same. Kurt has also studied architecture, has lived for two years on a remote island in Indonesia, is fluent in several Indonesian languages, and among his other interests are philosophy, history, surf, the outdoors, and travel.

18 Comments

  1. Maura June 7, 2019 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Great Kurt, I pray for the Labor party – that they will cease giving into the far left and stand up for values that this country was founded on. Must be hard being a member of ALP. The sooner they admit where they went wrong, take responsibility for it , the better it will be for them and us. I vote Liberal abc pray for our Prime Minister and his family and team every day. I am so thankful to our Father God for the miracle He gave us on 18th May. Maura

  2. Jeanette Dobson June 7, 2019 at 11:11 pm - Reply

    You got it in a nut shell. Well written. Yes Labor left the people more than the people left the Labor party.

  3. Jan June 7, 2019 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Amen to your comments, Kurt
    Thanks and God bless you.

  4. John coverdale June 8, 2019 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Well said Kurt.

  5. Denise Moore June 8, 2019 at 7:40 am - Reply

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read on the election. I think you’ve nailed it Kurt. Well done and we as the body of Christ all need to step up.

  6. John Derrington June 8, 2019 at 9:00 am - Reply

    The Labour Party has in deed lost it’s way. I was a uniom delegate for 20 years and watched them shifft from wages and conditions to a socialist ideology. Wages growth regardlest of merit and productivity. That is why we have priced our labour rate out of the market, lost car industry etc. They are displaying an anti- God agenda reminiscent of communism which the Greens already serve.
    We do indeed need the Lord in prayer every minute of every hour of every day. God bless.

  7. Graeme Lyle June 8, 2019 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Well Spoken Kurt, And Yes it’s a Pity That The Labour Party does’nt subscribe to the Basic principals of That Wonderful Document “The Australian Constitution Which In Turn Called On Godly Principles anc a “Fair Go” For All Australians ( Including Those Of “Faith” In Almighty God) And His Son Jesus Christ

  8. Chris June 8, 2019 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Spot on, I always voted labor, but in the past ten years realised the party had been hi-jacked by intolerant idealogues. Until they move away from the far left, I will not vote for them again.

  9. Shelley Hayton June 8, 2019 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Brilliantly written – perhaps you can send it to the Australian?
    God bless you!

  10. Monica Bennett-Ryan June 8, 2019 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    “Freedom of religion, not freedom from religion!” Great catchphrase!

  11. Patrick June 8, 2019 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Too true, we want our Christian faith to mean something in this country and above all to be respected

  12. Debra Mieth June 8, 2019 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    Prime Minister Scott Morrison won my heart when he hugged flood victims while touring North and Central Queensland in February. I didn’t know he was a Christian then, only discovering it later in an article in the New York Times, but it was typical Christian style. And those people hugged him right back with some crying in his arms. In January I was visiting Central Queensland. Driving back to Brisbane I saw Bill Shorten’s big red Labor bus headed north electioneering. I arrived back the day after seeing the red bus, just in time to avoid the cyclonic rain and floods. But during all the media flood coverage and cleanup I saw not a hint of that bus, nor Bill Shorten. They must have felt the first spits of the cyclone and hightailed it out of there I reckon.

  13. Bronwyn June 8, 2019 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Interesting…

  14. Mim June 9, 2019 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Great article! This past election say a mighty movement of people to PRAY for their nation and seek God’s face. We need to keep that going, as a genuine movement, not just a short-term “panic” reaction. God will exalt the nation that is humble enough to follow Him!

    • Warren Jones June 10, 2019 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Amen

  15. Jaime Kerr June 9, 2019 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Well written and informative article. I’ve always voted Labour until now mainly because their social polices have dangerous consequences. They need to remember their stand for equality and justice was founded on Christian roots.

  16. Margaret O June 11, 2019 at 9:47 am - Reply

    I do believe it’s too late; Labor would have to backtrack on too many issues. Tanya P’s proposal to taxpayer-fund abortion in state hospitals was, for many, the final nail in the coffin. How can they now backtrack?

  17. Maree Chapman June 18, 2019 at 8:37 am - Reply

    For me I had voted labour in the Queensland election and have felt ashamed and repented before God for having done so when the woman leading labour brought in full term abortion and the sexualisation of our youn children in the safe schools program which will cause our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren much confusion and distress i n years to come.I see it as transgenderism in a cruel name to disguise. I so valued the 8 mps of the gold coast who voted against it. I was apalled during the federal election when the labour party took as its’ agenda the policy of forcing the medical profession to perform these procedures against their will with the threat of withdrawing funding from the hospitals where these people who had committed to preserving life were working. Having seen labour govs in action in Qld and Victoria. I could not possibly votr for labour again.

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