Fred Nile at 85
Having just turned 85, Fred Nile is called the “Father” of the NSW Parliament. But he’s probably the “Father” of all Australia’s parliaments.
He has had a record run. Christian Democrat Nile first entered parliament in 1981, and ignoring a short break when he ran for the Senate, that makes 38 years. (This is relatively modest compared to the record-holder Billy Hughes who served the house of representatives for 51 years – but then Fred Nile has stuck with one party … “the little digger” Hughes served six.)
“My retirement plans are in God’s hands. When he says, ‘Go Fred’, then Fred will go.”
After tributes for his 85th started to appear, Fred Nile told the press gallery: “I will speak on Fred Nile’s legacy. The media think I am going to retire tomorrow because of this legacy report, but I have no plans to retire at the moment.
“My retirement plans are in God’s hands. When he says, ‘Go Fred’, then Fred will go.”
The late night sittings of the recent Abortion Reform Bill in the NSW legislative Council were torturous and wearing for progressive and conservative alike. Nile was there until midnight, and looked as though he could have kept going. It was noticeable that all the members of the House, from the Greens, Labor, the Coalition and the Shooters treated Nile with respect, and perhaps a degree of affection for the Father of the House. If for nothing else, just for being there and sticking it out.
Fred Nile is one of those people who was the answer to his own prayer.
“I recall back in July 1973 when the Festival of Light was gaining momentum and Rev Fred Nile, a Congregational minister working with Sydney’s Wesley Central, was asked to be the honorary state director,” Greg Bondar, the NSW State Director of FamilyVoice Australia writes.
“He eventually ended up leading the Festival of Light in NSW from 1974 to 2007. I also read with interest that in his autobiography, (Fred Nile: An Autobiography, published September 2001), he stated he had been praying for God to raise up someone like Malcolm Muggeridge or Mary Whitehouse [of the Festival of Light in Britain] to lead the battle against moral pollution and corruption in Australia. Interestingly in 1984 it was Malcolm Muggeridge who became a Christian and said publicly the great admiration he had for Fred Nile.”
Nile’s Christian ministry started well before his rise to prominence as a morals campaigner. After training as a minister in the Congregational church (most of which became part of the Uniting Church), Nile was National Director of the Australian Christian Endeavour Movement (CE). CE was a nationwide young people’s movement, which mentored young people to take an active part in their local church. It had an evangelistic edge, encouraging young teenagers to make decisions for Christ. In its heyday it involved thousands of young people but is much smaller today. The most active state branch is South Australia, which holds youth camps.
“He really is a marketplace guy who I think would have been stifled in the church.”
Nile continued evangelistic work becoming in turn:
• Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney
• Director of the Congregational Board of Evangelism in New South Wales.
• Director of the Methodist Mission to the People of New South Wales and,
• Director of Outreach and Evangelism, Sydney City Wesley Central Methodist Mission,
before heading up the Festival of Light and entering Parliament.
Greg Bondar, who has worked as a Liberal party staffer as well as the Christian Democrats, has a high opinion of Fred Nile, the politician.
“During my years at CDP, I have been fortunate to have Fred act as a mentor, counsellor, and Christian brother in Christ. At the risk of offending other political leaders I have worked with over the years, such as former PM John Howard and former Transport Minister Hon John Sharp, I have come to the view that the Rev Hon Fred Nile is one of the most astute political strategists I have ever worked with in politics. He knows the art of the political deal, the timing of electoral announcements and the preselection of candidates.
“Always with a sense of humour, I recall Fred correcting me when I first wrote a speech for him wherein, I titled the speech as being delivered by “Hon Rev Fred Nile MLC” Leader of the Christian Democratic Party. In his caring yet brotherly rebuke, he corrected me by saying that ‘Rev’ comes before ‘Hon’ as nothing comes before God. That lesson continues to live with me today.”
“Fred Nile is one of the most astute political strategists I have ever worked with in politics.” – Greg Bondar
Ross Clifford, the CDP Party President and Principal of (the Baptist) Morling College, gives Eternity a shrewd insight into Nile: “He really is a marketplace guy who I think would have been stifled in the church.”
Clifford enlarges on that in a tribute for the CDP newspaper: “A little while ago I did an interview on Fred and why I support him. I indicated that in my mind that Fred is a “marketplace” minister. That means his call is to serve the kingdom of God outside the walls of the church. Not only to serve individually but to raise up an “army” to serve with him. When one looks at Acts 17:16-32, we read of the Apostle Paul in the marketplace. This is one of the first occasions where the early leaders of the church have gone beyond the Jewish Synagogue into the pagan world. What Paul does in these verses is a model of marketplace ministry. A person who approaches ministry this way, God can use.
“His call is to serve the kingdom of God outside the walls of the church.” – Ross Clifford
“Firstly, we see that when Paul went into the marketplace he was distressed (verse 16). He was distressed by the ungodly lifestyles and worship. Fred Nile is distressed! When Fred stood in opposition to the gay Mardi Gras, it was not for lack of love for those involved, but he was distressed for where this lifestyle would lead. When he served the Billy Graham crusade, he was distressed for those outside of Christ. As he stands against the recent abortion legislation, again he is distressed for human life and human dignity. God has been able to use Fred because he is distressed for our community and the choices that are being made.
“Secondly, God could use Fred because he was prepared to ‘go’. Paul didn’t stay in the safety of the synagogue/church; he went into the Greek marketplace and debated in the Areopagus. In today’s world, it would be similar to Paul going to Oxford Street and then going into the NSW Parliament. Fred, of course, grew a team of people who had the same heart and were prepared to go for the sake of the gospel.
“God has been able to use Fred because he is distressed for our community and the choices that are being made.” – Ross Clifford
“Thirdly, God could use Fred because, like the Apostle Paul, he understood the concerns of his culture. The people of Athens were looking for spiritual direction and meaning and Paul addressed that. Fred has also been an evangelist. But also, he understood the community was concerned about moral and social issues. For example, the tobacco industry: whilst government and major political parties wouldn’t take them on, he did! It is not an exaggeration to say we live in a smoke-free environment because Fred Nile understood the concerns of parents and people of good will about tobacco. Fred has also stood up against the coal seam gas industry. He has done all he can to meet the desires of the people of NSW to have a flourishing life in a healthy community.
“Fourthly, God could use Fred Nile because he took a stand. The Apostle Paul just didn’t enter the marketplace to build relationships, important as that may be, he stood for the things of God. He expressed his concerns about where society was going and even spoke of repentance and judgment. Just one illustration of Fred taking a stand is Aboriginal land rights. Over 30 years ago, he supported the initial bill for Aboriginal land rights. The opposition party pointed out this would cost him half his votes. He knew that was right, but he followed his conscious and the Aboriginal people have never forgotten that because of Fred’s stand, the bill was passed.
“We live in a smoke-free environment because Fred Nile understood the concerns of parents and people of good will about tobacco.” – Ross Clifford
“Fifthly, God could use Fred because he shares Jesus. In Parliament he ensures that at appropriate times, the message of the gospel is shared. This is particularly seen at Christmas and at Easter. He stands beside members of Parliament, whatever their persuasion, in their time of need, and prays for them, supports them and shares Jesus. Such a person God uses.
“Lastly, God could use Fred Nile because, like the Apostle Paul, he knew there would be abuse, rejection and ill will, but he remained firm to the call. If necessary he would give his life to that call.”
Nile is a very good politician. He can count. An example of this was his correct prediction that not running a CDP candidate in each lower house seat would cost his running mate Paul Green his seat in the Legislative Council (half the house is elected at each election.) The CDP had managed to get a candidate elected at each election since 1981, standing candidates in most seats. But this year the money was diverted to marketing and a limited number of candidates stood.
Party insiders told Eternity that Green – who lost narrowly – would have been returned if Nile’s advice had been taken.
Nile knows how to do deals and get support. This means he also generates opposition to some of the stances he takes. That normally gives a politician a use-by date. Nile’s use-by date has not been reached. That is a simple, but sufficient tribute to the man.