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Tuesday 14 April 2015


P&R: Floating Down the Nile?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 11th January 2014

Fred_Nile.jpg
Fred Nile - Australia's most virulent homophobe
How exactly have Christian Right political parties worked out overseas in practise, given the alleged ascendancy of the Conservative Party?

Let's dispense with the Christian Heritage and Family Coalition Parties of Canada, Britain's Christian Peoples Alliance and France's Christian Democrats. Under First Past the Post and Preferential Voting non-proportional representation electoral systems, none of the above attract significant enough support for parliamentary representation, or even local government council elections.

For a different reason, South African's African Christian Democratic Party is also out of the picture. It was founded in 1993 and has about three MPs in South Africa's Parliament. Due to its leadership and sacrifice role in the anti-apartheid struggle over forty-five years, the African National Congress' position is unassailable, despite the presence of corruption scandals and police repression since the halcyon days of Nelson Mandela. Moreover, feminist and LGBT solidarity overseas, as well as black South African LGBT involvement within the anti-apartheid movement resulted in liberal social policies during the post-apartheid era. South Africa's Constitution encompasses sexual orientation, and South Africa legislated for marriage equality back in 2004. Sex work has been decriminalised and abortion rights are secure. The ACDP is anti-abortion, opposes the use of condoms and safe sex education, wants age of consent inequality and has never even reached two percent in most South African opinion polls, although unlike New Zealand, South Africa's electoral system has no disqualifying minimum level of list-only entry into Parliament. In 2004, it peaked at seven MPS, but since then has slumped back down to two or three votes. Its leader, Rev. Kenneth Mashoe, seems to have been oblivious to the anti-apartheid struggle and the party seems to only be concerned with social conservatism to the exclusion of anything else.

As for Australia,it does have proportional representation electoral systems and a sizeable fundamentalist constituency, as well as considerable conservative Catholic involvement in that nation's past. In the fifties, conservative Catholic anti-communist hysteria caused schism within the Australian Labor Party and trade union movement, and the formation of a breakaway conservative Catholic Democratic Labor Party, which kept the ALP out of power until the seventies, by which time DLP support had contracted sufficiently to cause the eclipse of the DLP in Australian federal and state politics. More recently, the Family First Party made temporary inroads into the Victorian and New South Wales Legislative Councils and federal Australian Senate, but was unable to sustain them.

Speaking of New South Wales, it has been that Australian state in which Australian Christian Right politics has been the most ambiguously "successful." In 1981, fundamentalist Uniting Church minister Fred Nile parlayed his Festival of Light activist support into Legislative Council representation for his fledgeling "Call to Australia Party." Subsequently renamed the "Christian Democratic Party", its representation has usually only ever been restricted to two Legislative Councillors, Fred Nile and his late wife Elaine (1936-2011). There were attempts to introduce replacement MLCs when Elaine developed respiratory health problems, which eventually ended her life. However, additional CDP MLCs have proven difficult to recruit. Marie Bignold resented the Niles' control over CTA/CDP and broke away, while John Bradford had differences with Elaine, leading to his withdrawal, and Gordon Moyes broke away for much the same reason, forming Family First New South Wales. Peter Madden, a particularly amusing CDP candidate, had been divorced due to an extramarital affair and past "sex addiction," which didn't stop him fulminating against the LGBT Mardi Gras and marriage equality, however hypocritically. There were fireworks when he used a war memorial to try to mobilise support against Mardi Gras, leading to protests from the President of the NSW Returned Services League, who resented the manipulative political use of the hallowed civic icon that depicts the sacrifices made by past generations of Australian service personnel on the battlefield. In 2011, following Elaine's death, Paul Green, a Sydney fundamentalist church minister, has become the second CDP MLC. The CDP has support within Northwest Sydney and the New South Wales countryside, but its unrelenting opposition to abortion rights, sex workers rights, euthanasia law reform, LGBT rights and adult erotic entertainment are core obsessions to the exclusion of anything substantive. It has worked with ALP and Liberal/National Coalition New South Wales state governments, but has sometimes threatened to withdraw support from Coalition governments who don't kowtow to its religious social conservative obsessions. In the heyday of the Christian Heritage Party in New Zealand, there were fraternal bonds between them and the CDP and Nile even attended several CHP conferences as a keynote speaker and guest- although the connections faded as CHP support ebbed. By the time that Capill resigned his CHP leadership, they seemed to be non-existent.

Niles' example demonstrates the folly of relying on a fundamentalist microparty for meaningful support and overall political stability. While the CDP has existed for over thirty years, it is a tiny political party and the Liberal/National Coalition has found it unreliable in terms of its consistency of support. Moreover, its unstable political lineup may be cause for amusement, but has damaging implications for state political stability. Dare we duplicate this failed legislative experiment in New Zealand? Before decisively embarking on a mistaken possibly foolhardy coalition with the Conservative Party, perhaps John Key should talk to his New South Wales counterparts about the antics of Nile and his sycophants.

Not Recommended:
African Christian Democratic Party: http://www.acdp.org.za
Christian Democratic Party (NSW): http://www.cdp.org.au
Fred Nile: Fred Nile: An Autobiography: Sydney: Strand: 2001

Craig Young - 11th January 2014

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