Ten people have served as Premier of New South Wales since 1986, from Barrie Unsworth to Gladys Berejiklian.
By my calculations, at least 5 of these people are Catholics. I’m one of them – I even have a degree in Catholic Theology, I worked for a Catholic charity, Vinnies, and I met my husband Ben during World Catholic Youth Days.
And Mike Baird, although not a Catholic, is a practicing Christian who once considered entering the Anglican ministry.
Despite this record in NSW, some sections of the community are reacting quite furiously at the idea that another person of faith – and another Catholic to boot – holds the highest office.
In recent decades, there has been hostility between Anglicans and Catholics in Australia, with clear efforts to prevent Catholics from certain jobs, including in the public service. The good news is that bigotry is largely gone.
The bad news is that there are still groups in Australian society that strongly oppose and despise people of faith participating in political debates or holding public office.
It is simply not true. Belief in God is not – and should never be – an obstacle to serving in parliament or participating in politics.
No one – including Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet – is seriously trying to make Australia a theocracy
Australia is a democracy, which means that all citizens have the right to participate in political parties, to vote and to stand for office, regardless of their gender, cultural background or religion.
As humans, we are both physical and spiritual.
After all, one need only look at the deeply spiritual stories from ancient Aboriginal culture – one of the oldest continuous cultures on Earth – to understand that humans have always had a spiritual dimension.
People bring all their experiences – including their spiritual life, however expressed – to their political activities.
Australia does not have an official religion. We are a modern, multicultural and multi-faith community. And no one – including Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet – is seriously trying to make Australia a theocracy where the rule of law is replaced by the rules of one religion.
Some of the angry reactions to Prime Minister Perrottet centered on his positions on certain votes of conscience or certain debates in the Liberal Party hall. Those who work in a moss themselves would do well to remember that conscientious votes and debates in party halls are open democratic processes – a competition of ideas – that have led to steadfast results. And in these processes, Perrottet lost.
This is how democracy works.
They may also want to remember that Perrottet is not the first Catholic Prime Minister to sit on the losing side of a conscience vote. On two occasions, I have opposed the use of embryos in stem cell research. Twice I lost and twice I accepted that the Democratic majority had a different point of view.
Sometimes I wonder if those who despise believers and try to prevent them from entering the political debate simply lack confidence in their own positions. After all, it’s easier to silence views you disagree with than to have a debate about them.
And, although Perrottet and I are both Catholics, I do not agree with all of his views. For example, unlike the new prime minister, I think the Catholic Church’s record of covering up child sexual abuse in parishes means that it has lost its legal right to secrecy when a priest confesses to having committed such abuses.
But again, no one could make that decision in our democracy. Laws that require the Catholic Church to disclose confessions of sexual abuse were passed by parliament, following the findings of a royal commission.
But here’s another thing we should all remember – most of the day-to-day decisions that come before a prime minister involve more of the earthly realm than the celestial realm. Jesus said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God”, but, of course, the Son of God gave no specific advice on the gradual abolition of stamp duties or on the princess. Ruby. be cleared to dock.
There may be a number of good reasons to oppose Dominic Perrottet – for example, his scandalous mismanagement of the workers’ compensation scheme, icare, or that under his leadership, motorists in the west of Sydney pay the highest road tolls in the city.
But opposing Dominic Perrottet because he is a person of faith is not and should not be one of them.
Kristina Keneally is Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate