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Lyle Shelton wants to be a conviction politician

What’s next for the face of the losing side in an historic national debate?

Lyle Shelton was the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby and the face of the ‘No’ campaign for the same-sex marriage plebiscite. This week, he announced he is the lead Senate candidate for the Australian Conservatives in Queensland, his home state. Eternity spoke with Shelton about his plans for a Senate bid. 

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Why have you decided to run with the Australian Conservatives? 

I really felt, coming out of the marriage campaign of last year, a sense that something had shifted in terms of my own thinking and sense of direction. It was a big experience to be involved in a campaign of that magnitude and in thinking about the next phase of my life, I asked myself where I could best contribute.

I got to know Senator [Cory] Bernardi over the years and was attracted to the things he was saying. For me, it seemed like a good fit.

Was it still with ACL that I really love and believe in, or perhaps is there another part of the battlefield that I could move to, knowing that ACL is in very good hands?

In thinking through that, I felt I could best contribute by seeking to join a political party and run for elected office in the next election.

During the marriage debate, you were titled several times as ‘Australia’s most prominent Christian’. Why choose a conservative party and not a Christian party, and what do you think is the difference? 

I think it is important for Christians to evaluate where they want to get involved politically. I think it’s good for Christians to be involved in political parties. For me, the best fit was Australian Conservatives. I align with conservative social values and economic values and I got to know Senator Bernardi over the years and was attracted to the things he was saying. For me, it seemed like a good fit.

I know there are others, like the Christian Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Labor Party… look, you’ll find Christians in all these places. But I think the important thing is for Christians to engage in the political process, if that’s where they feel directed.

Your ACL replacement, Martin Illes, has said that Christians are being abandoned by both major parties. Do you agree with that and where are they being left in the lurch? 

Yes, I do. And that’s why I’ve joined a party like Australian Conservatives, which is a minor party. I’ve watched over the years parties, particularly the Labor Party, capitulate to what I would call a fairly hostile agenda against faith. They’ve taken on much of the agenda of certain identity groups and there is a clash between freedom of speech and freedom of religion which I don’t see being reconciled easily with Labor policy.

Labor has taken on the gender fluid ideology and is quite aggressively prosecuting that on a state and federal level. For me, that flies in the face of what it means to be a human creature, created male and female. To see that as part of the policy platform of a major political party is very confronting, I think, for Christians.

It can no longer be assumed that freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the truth about gender is something which our politics, our media and our academia hold as self-evident

On the Liberal side, they are torn by identity politics and a larger number of Liberal and even National Party parliamentarians have been won over by the agenda of these identity groups, in my view. To see Liberal and National party members voting in parliament against freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as we saw last December in the wake of the same-sex marriage plebiscite, for me was a big wake-up call that major parties have, as group units, lost their moorings when it comes to basic freedoms.

My criticism regarding gender issues very much applies also to a certain cohort within the Liberal Party.

This isn’t the first time you’ve run for public office. How have you and the landscape changed since 2006? 

In that time, I think things have gotten much more challenging. The environment is tougher for people of faith, and also for people of no faith who still believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion; who still believe that maleness and femaleness and marriage and family are important. You don’t have to be a Christian to subscribe to those values. And as we saw in the marriage campaign, five million Australians voted to preserve the definition of marriage, because they were concerned about all of those things.

These are values held by a large proportion of the population – faith and no faith – but there is no doubt that the landscape has changed and it can no longer be assumed that freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the truth about gender is something which our politics, our media and our academia hold as self-evident any more. If we’re to preserve these basic truths, in my view, we have to engage the political contest for ideas.

Do you think those issues you mentioned – freedom of speech, freedom of religion and gender ideology – are the big issues you’ll be talking about in the lead-up to the next election? 

Certainly as far as the Christian community is concerned, I think they are very big, confronting issues. Australian Conservatives has a broader economic platform as well which encompasses wanting to see lower taxation, limited government, affordable electricity. And those things are big challenges. The issue of our national debt and the intergenerational theft that that entails are very much issues that we’re seeking to prosecute as a party in the lead-up to the next election.

I think the greatest thing that we are missing in Australian politics is conviction.

As someone with senatorial ambitions, your constituents are no longer just Christians. How can you reconcile that with the issues you feel most strongly about? 

In the same way Christians in other political parties do. There are things that I’m concerned about that I know a lot of Christians are concerned about, but they’re also concerns shared by many other Australians. I think there’s an even greater number than the five million people who voted ‘no’ in the marriage campaign who perhaps do share these values but voted the way they did because of the campaign that was run and because they were fatigued with the issue.

The things that I’m saying about freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the truth about gender, our economy and debt, these are concerns shared by many. I think there is a resonance with those concerns. And as a Christian I have no difficulty at all prosecuting these issues.

Do you think your prominence in the same-sex marriage debate will help or hinder your run?

I think it will help. In Queensland, where I’m running for the Senate, 900,000 people voted ‘no’ in the plebiscite. They heard what we were saying. If those people remain concerned about the direction of our nation, they have the opportunity to be represented politically through candidates like myself. My aim is to do that because I think if we don’t stand up for these values politically, I’m concerned about the future of freedom and Christian faith in public discourse. In many ways, I think this is a crucial election for our nation.

Do you think we’ve seen the end of the conviction politician? 

I think, sadly, we haven’t seen enough conviction politicians over the last 10, 20, even 30 years. I hope we’re beginning to see a new wave of conviction politicians. I certainly aspire to be a conviction politician because I think the greatest thing that we are missing in Australian politics is conviction. I think political correctness has destroyed conviction.

It’s not easy to go against the flow, against the current. But it’s what we desperately need at this moment that Australia has found itself in. If we keep going the way we’re going, we will not be a free country. We will not bequeath freedom of religion to the next generation. And we risk bequeathing unsustainable debt to the next generation.

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