Academic journal article Nebula

Is Faith a "No Go Area" in Modern Politics? A Case Study of Newly Elected MPs in Western Australia's State Parliament

Academic journal article Nebula

Is Faith a "No Go Area" in Modern Politics? A Case Study of Newly Elected MPs in Western Australia's State Parliament

Article excerpt

Introduction

It has been recently suggested that Parliamentarians are invoking Christian beliefs with increasing frequency within Australian public life. In particular, it has been suggested that these beliefs have been used to justify their policies and decisions. At the most recent election in Western Australia in September 2008, a number of new Members of Parliament were regarded as having strong links to Christian churches. Indeed, one newspaper article labeled these MPs as "a god squad of devout Liberals". Given the above discussion, it is worth considering, 18 months after their election, what sort of rhetoric these members use in public life, particularly in parliament, when explaining their values and decisions. The evidence suggests that while these Parliamentarians hold strong religious views, they are careful to use more secular language when justifying their political stances.

Politicians invoking religion?

A recent article by Annabel Crabb has suggested that Australian politicians are invoking religion on a much more regular basis. Crabb's research suggested that the use of religious language increased over the period between 2000 and 2006 (Crabb 2009: 263-364). Christian beliefs were by far the most cited. Whilst Crabb's research revealed that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was the single politician most likely to use refer to his faith, Liberal and National MPs were overall more likely to cite Christian beliefs. Warhurst's overall assessment of religious expression during the Howard era supported this notion (Warhurst 2007: 23-24).

A "God-squad of devout liberals"?

Following this an article appeared in the Australian in April 2009, arguing that a god-squad of devout Liberals preaching morality and Christian values in a parliament better known for misconduct and lewd behaviour was shaping as a new force in West Australian politics (O'Brien 2009). The four MPs named as part of this "god squad" were Peter Abetz (the Member for Southern River), Ian Britza (Morley), Tony Krsticevic (Carine), and Albert Jacob (Ocean Reef). The four MPs concerned entered parliament at the same time, represent the same party, occupy a backbench position and all alluded to their faith in their maiden speech. Interestingly, all of the members except Mr Krsticevic can be described as marginal seat holders, as they contested and won seats that had been notionally Labor prior to the 2008 election. These parallels in parliamentary experience, party affiliation and political reality make them an ideal group to analyse.

The exact nature of these parliamentarians' faith is not in itself the focus of this paper, nor is there attempts to draw broader conclusions about the appropriate role of faith in politics, as these questions are too broad to address adequately in this study. This paper instead focuses on the rhetoric they use to justify their faith and what language they consider appropriate for the public arena. The principle methodology employed is the use of one-on-one interviews with each member as a means of understanding the importance of their faith as an influence on their decision-making, and analyzing the context in which they refer to their beliefs in public life. Given the above similarities in their circumstances we might expect to see a degree of consensus about their approach to these issues. What emerges however, is that the differences in emphasis are just as significant as any such level of consensus. It is clear that we should be wary about prematurely drawing conclusions concerning MPs faith and their approach to public life. When exploring the circumstances in which parliamentarians choose to use faith-related references, the evidence would suggest that the instances are relatively limited.

Faith as a motivation for entering parliament

If one were to look for an obvious "god squad" member of the Western Australian parliament, Peter Abetz, the Member for Southern River, would appear to fit the bill. …

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