Australian Christian Lobby National Conference
THE HYATT, CANBERRA
SATURDAY, 25 OCTOBER 2014
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I think I’m like many Australians, I don’t usually talk publically about my faith – and I shall not make a habit of it.
As a member of parliament and as the leader of a great political party, I am not in the business of preaching to others, and of course like most Australians, neither do I take kindly to being preached at when I am going about my business in the public square.
Today, I hope we can share our hopes and ideals robustly - respecting each other’s dignity and conscience.
I spoke with my local priest at St Thomas’ in Moonee Ponds two weeks ago when I was organising my thoughts for this speech, and he suggested I begin with something from the scriptures.
The passage I’ve chosen is from Matthew:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I am sure you recognise the beatitudes, the beginning of arguably the most famous speech in human history.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares the universal love, tolerance and service that underpins his Gospel which is the core of the Christian message.
He rejects the empty vengeance of an ‘eye for an eye’ and tells us instead to ‘turn the other cheek’.
Judge not, Jesus tells us:
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
And above all, he tells us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
To treat people as we would like to be treated.
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you
When I was at school we were taught that this was the ‘golden rule’.
It was at the heart of the Jesuit call to be a ‘man for others’.
And I have spent my working life, both representing workers and as parliamentarian, trying to measure up to this standard of compassion and empathy.
To answer the clarion call to care for the vulnerable, to speak up for the powerless, to reject hatred and intolerance, to help the poor and to pursue peace.
Of course, none of these virtues belongs to Christianity alone.
Nor does a belief in social justice necessarily depend upon the teachings of Christ.
No faith has a monopoly on compassion.
No religion ‘owns’ tolerance or charity or love.
Australia is a remarkable country, full of decent and generous people of good conscience, drawn from all faiths and none.
And Australians rightly expect our national leaders, to respect the constitutional separation of Church and State.
Remember John F Kennedy’s famous response to allegations that he was the ‘Catholic candidate’?
He declared that as President he would be: ‘responsible to all faiths, but obligated to none’
That’s the only religious test Australians apply to their leaders.
Sometimes people describe modern, multicultural, multi-faith Australia as ‘tolerant’.
But the society we have built beneath the Southern Cross goes beyond that.
We do not just ‘tolerate’ difference, we celebrate it.
Of course, we expect people to leave behind their old conflicts, respect our laws, uphold our values.
But we do not endure diversity under sufferance - we embrace the contribution that all those who’ve come from across the seas have made to their new home.
And the greatness of our nation is that every person is free to be proud of what they believe.
For Australians of faith, religion is a base to build upon in public life – even if it is also a destination for retreat, solace and sustenance in private life .
And no faith, no religion, no set of beliefs should ever be used as an instrument of division or exclusion.
As you know, far better than I, the Bible teaches us that we are all immutably imperfect.
Condemning anyone, discriminating against anyone, vilifying anyone is a violation of the values that we all share.
A violation that can never be justified by anyone’s faith or belief.
Not yours, not mine.
Freedom of worship does not mean freedom to vilify.
Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to express prejudice or hatred.
In our society, under our laws, whether we be Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or atheists – we are all Australians and we are all equal.
First, last and always equal under the law of the land.
So when I hear people invoking the scriptures to attack blended families like mine…I cannot stay silent.
I do not agree.
When I see people hiding behind the bible to insult and demonise people based on who they love…I cannot stay silent.
I do not agree.
When I hear people allege that ‘God tells them’ that marriage equality is the first step on the road to polygamy and bigamy and bestiality…I cannot stay silent.
I do not agree.
These prejudices do not reflect the Christian values I believe in.
They paint the accusers as people who would rather judge than understand.
People all too willing to cast the first stone.
And it sends a broader message, it feeds a perception that Church and faith are somehow incompatible with modern families, with modern life, with modern Australia.
And I reject that.
Christian values can still guide us in our journey through the modern world seeking optimal conditions for raising and educating children, whatever their economic circumstances and whatever the personal circumstances of their parents
There is nothing old-fashioned about compassion or respect.
Nothing out-dated in the idea of seeking peace, caring for others, contributing to society and loving your family.
Nothing obsolete about treating everyone as we would wish to be treated.
Indeed, it has never been more relevant, never more important.
Friends, if we can agree on these things, if we agree that our duty is to help the vulnerable, to speak up for the powerless, to gather in those who feel marginalised and excluded -
I wonder how we can continue to draw a line based on who people love?
How can compassion, charity, love, recognition and endorsement continue to be restricted to heterosexual Australia and the nuclear family?
I believe in God and I believe in marriage equality under the civil law of the Commonwealth of Australia.
I know that many of you do not share my view - and I recognise that for some people of faith, this is a most vexed question.
It is one of the reasons Labor has made marriage equality a conscience vote in previous Parliaments, and today.
We are a free society, you are entitled to your views – and I am happy to share mine with you.
I am a Christian and a supporter of marriage equality under the law.
At its heart, marriage equality is a question of legal recognition and legal support for couples committed to each other regardless of their gender.
That’s why my reasons for voting for change are based upon the broad ideal of equality – an Australia that includes everyone.
However our current law excludes some individuals.
It says to them: your relationships are not equally valued by the state, your love is less equal under the law.
It excludes couples that are already together in loving relationships – have been for many years - and are entitled to have that love recognised equally under the law.
And it excludes young same-sex attracted Australians.
Young people who look at their government, look at their own society and then look at themselves - and see a system, a nation that will never accept them or the person that they one day hope to love.
Whatever our religious views about marriage, and whatever our social views about how best to raise and educate children, we have to change this law which discriminates against adult couples on the basis of who they love.
We must all be committed to building the foundation for a fairer, more equal society, a more decent and more generous world.
As Pope Francis said in an open letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron on the eve of the G7 summit:
“Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential."
There is nothing uniquely Catholic, nothing exclusively Christian about that statement.
Yet it is also entirely Christian.
A view of the world that looks beyond ‘treasures stored up on earth’, that rejects the ravages of unfettered mercantilism and empty materialism.
Of course, governments also have a material responsibility.
A responsibility to seek prosperity, to create jobs, to deliver the revenue that supports our great and generous social democracy.
But the distance and difference between a focus on creating wealth for the nation and accumulating wealth for individuals is vast indeed.
HOMELESSNESS. POVERTY. PROSPERITY.
There is a view in some quarters of Australia that we have to choose between growth and equality.
That they are mutually exclusive.
Labor knows that equality is not the child of growth – it is the twin of growth.
Equality does not just depend upon prosperity, it generates prosperity.
Everyone benefits, when we include everyone.
So while in the proud history of our party Labor’s understanding of the means for creating equality may have changed and evolved, our objective remains unaltered.
We still believe in fairness – we always will.
We still believe that a great nation gives everyone equal opportunity to fulfil their potential.
A nation that reaches out a caring hand to those felled by the shafts of fate, that sees homelessness, poverty, loneliness and exclusions as wrongs to be righted, not problems to be avoided.
To borrow an analogy from one of my heroes, the Reverend Martin Luther King, a country should not tell a bootless man to pull himself up by his bootstraps.
That’s the Labor project, the big picture, the higher ground we strive for.
INDIGENOUS CONSTITUTIONAL RECOGNITION
We believe in an inclusive Australia – an Australia at peace with its past, seeking to right the grievous wrongs of our history.
An Australia that accords Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a meaningful place of honour in our Constitution.
And an Australia where constitutional recognition marches alongside Closing the Gap – extending opportunity and ending disadvantage.
Where constitutional change brings new energy, new urgency, new vigour and new enthusiasm for economic, social and legal change.
And I am pleased to see that the ACL has given its full support to one of the defining political challenges of our generation.
The Labor mission has always been an international mission.
We look outwards, we see and seek a role for ourselves in the world.
As Ben Chifley said, more than 60 years ago:
We have a great objective - the light on the hill - which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.
Anywhere we may give a helping hand.
That is a trait your members share with the Labor movement, whatever your politics – a moral code that goes beyond lines on a map, a duty of compassion that reaches beyond those who carry an Australian passport.
And it’s why we have all been shocked by the harshness, the savagery of this Government’s cuts to Foreign Aid.
Amidst all the regressive unfairness of the Abbott-Hockey Budget – the single biggest cut was to foreign aid and international development assistance.
One dollar in every five cut from Commonwealth expenditure came at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable people.
And $7.6 billion dollars is not just a line in the Budget.
$7.6 billion dollars is the difference between:
- · 600,000 people having access to basic sanitation and sewerage – or the disease and sickness that come from going without, and
- It’s 180,000 kids going to school – or missing out, and
- · It’s 300,000 births attended by a trained healthcare professional - or 300,000 mothers at risk.
$7.6 billion dollars is all those things.
Bipartisanship is important in our national politics – and the Government has broken bipartisanship on Foreign Aid.
They have fractured a consensus that reaches back to the Howard Government.
Making the deepest cuts to those most in need is wrong.
Taking the most from those who have the least is cruel.
Most disappointingly, there is the hubris that some in the Liberal ranks take in this decision – and I acknowledge there is discomfort among others.
There can be no satisfaction in walking away from our international humanitarian responsibilities.
I believe Australia is a more generous, more decent country than this.
I believe “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”
And I am sure you feel the same way.
Australia cannot choose to pass by on the other side of the road.
Just as we could not choose to stand by and watch ISIL and their like inflict their barbarous, medieval murder upon the vulnerable people of Iraq.
Australia’s new involvement in Iraq, as part of an international humanitarian effort, is an act of conscience.
The men and women of our defence force are not in Iraq to pursue territory or power but to protect the displaced and help the vulnerable.
Australia’s mission is not to assert the supremacy of one faith or one people but to defend the rights of all faiths and all peoples.
We cannot negotiate with poisonous fanaticism, we cannot ignore the scale and savagery of their atrocities and we cannot co-operate with evil by refusing to support the innocent.
Just as the swamp of terrorism cannot be drained by force of arms alone, the good we can do, the humanitarian aid we can offer goes beyond military assistance.
As a generous, prosperous nation – made great in part by migration – Labor believes Australia can play a greater role in the international effort to provide refuge to the persecuted.
Nearly two million Iraqis have fled their homes in the face of the ISIL advance – and millions more have been displaced by the conflict in Syria.
200,000 people have been driven from the Syrian town of Kobane alone – joining the hundreds of thousands already displaced by civil war: Yazidi, Assyrians, Manicheans, Turkmen, Kurds and Shiites.
And I acknowledge the work of the ACL, organising ‘Solidarity Sunday’ with more than 400 Churches around Australia praying for the persecuted.
In Government, Labor increased Australia’s refugee intake under the Humanitarian Program to 20,000 places a year.
Upon coming to office, the Coalition reduced that to 13,750.
The Minister for Immigration has recently announced that Australia will accept 4,400 refugees from Syria and Iraq – but this number is included in the existing allocation of 13,750.
Given the scope and scale of the current crisis gripping the region, Labor believes that, as a starting point, those seeking refuge from the current crisis in Iraq and Syria should be taken in addition to the existing allocation – and we hope that the Government arrives at that view.
The same humanitarian calling that compels us to act in Iraq, demands that we make a meaningful contribution to the fight against Ebola.
Desperate people need our help, our resources, our expertise – we cannot stand by and watch.
And waiting until the problem comes closer to our shores is not a strategy.
These are challenging times – for our nation and for our world.
In 2014 terrorism has a new face and a new flag – but beneath it march the same enemies: war and death, hatred and suspicion, fear and distrust.
The new scourge of Ebola threatens Africa but we can trace its roots to the old afflictions of poverty, injustice, want and deprivation.
Extremism threatens our social cohesion – seeking to inflame the prejudice and intolerance that it feeds upon.
For all of us, the way forward is clear- and so is our responsibility.
I understand that not all the views I have outlined today will be accepted by the Australian Christian Lobby.
But I also believe the tenets of our shared faiths and philosophical world views can help us shape a free and confident nation in which the dignity of all persons is enhanced by laws and policies determined after mature political deliberation.
My wife Chloe suggested I conclude with a quote we both find personally inspiring, from John Wesley – it’s one we share with our children:
Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
That is perhaps our shared vocation, our calling - the cause for all of us.
Today, tomorrow and always.
Now and forever.
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