The Australian Christian Lobby, keen as ever to influence the election outcome, has adopted a new strategy. Gone is the traditional party scorecard that ranked parties according to a list of “Christian values.” Instead, the ACL wants you to look at the record of individual candidates.
“ACL won’t be providing any party platform assessments apart from what the parties themselves provide as they respond to our questionnaire,” Wendy Francis, ACL National Director for Politics of the ACL. “We want Christians to do the research and choose the person who will best represent their values in the parliament. Our election focus for 2022 is people not parties.”
In the past, the Christian lobby group’s scorecard often favoured minor parties. But Francis makes clear that this is no longer the case. “We’re not suggesting a minor party vote, rather we are suggesting vote for the person who best represents your values. If that’s a minor party then do that, but in that case consider very carefully who your preferences will flow to.”
This new strategy aims to become ACL’s most extensive election intervention ever. ACL wants to engage up to 7,700 volunteers nationwide and raise $1 million for its Federal Election Fund.
“… we are suggesting vote for the person who best represents your values. If that’s a minor party then do that, but in that case consider very carefully who your preferences will flow to.” – Wendy Francis
A test run for the new campaign strategy was held in the South Australian election in March, where the ACL focused on abortion. The new system got around the problem in the past that endorsing a particular party might have favoured One Nation. In contrast, an individual candidate for a major party might take a stronger stance against abortion.
In the recent South Australian election, the ACL circulated lists of how MPs voted for or against a bill that made late-term abortion easier. The ACL list showed them ACL favouring the new premier Peter Malinauskas of the ALP (who voted against more accessible late-term abortion) but not the former Liberal Premier Steven Marshall (who voted in favour). In South Australia, some commentators suggested that Labor was more socially conservative than the Liberals, who are dominated by their moderate faction in that state.
Asked about the success or otherwise of the new campaigning tactic in South Australia, Wendy Francis points to the wide-ranging media coverage the ACL campaign received. “We looked for proof points of the success or otherwise and believe there is good evidence to say that our campaign had a significant impact,” Francis tells Eternity.
The Family First party (restarted by conservative ex-ALP MPs after the party’s demise and merger into the short-lived Australian Conservatives at the last federal election) polled relatively well in the lower house. Still, it was eclipsed by One Nation in the race to take the final and 11th seat.
“What they did was refuse to vote to protect people of faith from discrimination, which I would have thought was a pretty basic Liberal value.” – Martyn Iles
Given a solid swing to Labor in the South Australian poll and the diverse nature of the seats involved, it was hard for Eternity to assess the impact of the ACL tactic. The federal poll could be a better test with ACL focusing on voting against “modern Liberals”, particularly the five who supported a pivotal amendment to the Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB). The Labor amendment sought to remove a section of the Sex Discrimination Act that allowed religious schools to discriminate against students on both sexuality and gender identity.
The ACL’s Managing Director Martyn Iles told Sky News the Liberal MPs are “an ideological cancer going on in the Liberal Party.”
“What they did was refuse to vote to protect people of faith from discrimination, which I would have thought was a pretty basic Liberal value,” Iles said. “And they also tried to hijack the Religious Discrimination Bill by adding amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act by deleting laws which Christian schools really rely on.”
Eternity was curious about seats such as Wentworth in eastern Sydney, where modern Liberal Dave Sharma is opposed by a progressive “teal independent” Allegra Spender. Teal independents refer to a group of mostly women independents running in Coalition seats that are relatively socially progressive. Examples include Kylea Tink, Independent candidate in North Sydney, Zoe Daniel, Independent candidate in Goldstein, and Monique Ryan in Kooyong. They are being funded by the Climate 200 advocacy group, and co-founded by millionaire businessman Simon Holmes à Court.
Where would an ACL-guided conservative Christian send their vote? “In Wentworth, the sitting member is socially progressive. If his vote is affected by our campaign, it sends a message,” Francis said.
The same would apply to the other Liberal “rebels.”
• Katie Allen in Higgins (southeast Melbourne) is in a seat with an increasing green vote.
• Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney is also opposed by a strong teal independent, Kylea Tink, a former CEO of the McGrath Foundation.
• Bridget Archer in Bass, a classic Tasmanian swing seat.
• Fiona Martin in Reid, inner western Sydney, is opposed by a disaffected Liberal standing as an independent, but Labor is more likely to take the seat if she is defeated.
ACL protest voters who want to see the Coalition returned – which is likely to be nearly all of them – will need to preference tightly since a leak of preferences could make a difference.
Members of the “modern Liberal” group who did not cross the floor, such as Tim Wilson in Goldstein (inner-south Melbourne), might also be targeted. The ACL campaign implies that they want a more conservative Liberal Party shorn of its more progressive wing.
It is an interesting political calculus as to whether a more conservative Liberal Party would do better in the mould of the Republicans in the US, where a shift to the right – and Donald Trump – created at least a period of electoral success.
The ACL campaign implies that they want a more conservative Liberal Party shorn of its more progressive wing.
A guide to the complicated set of factions in the Liberal Party is here.
The ACL campaign will be run everywhere, and not just target the “rebel” Liberals, as suggested elsewhere.
“We won’t be making any suggestions on who to vote for, but we will be asking every candidate a series of questions, making their answers public, and for sitting members, we will highlight their voting records in order for those who are interested to make informed choices at the ballot box,” Francis says.
ACL will continue one traditional piece of election campaigning: holding local candidate forums. The election campaign had barely started when the first took place on the Gold Coast. Traditionally s most of the candidates that turn up are Right of centre with a few Greens – and sometimes Labor not appearing. One suspects that simply serves to make the forums run more quickly with few votes lost by the absentees.