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Cost Of Democracy
<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Is Abbott Sending Holy Smoke Signals?

Very little goes uncalculated on the campaign trail. So what was Abbott trying to tell us by speaking at a school with fundamentalist Christian values?

Tony Abbott’s choice of venue for the launch of the Coalition schools policy was telling.

It was a non-state school, of course, as might be expected from a Liberal Party that strongly favours private over public education.

Notwithstanding its eleventh-hour endorsement of the Labor government’s school funding reforms, based on the Gonski review, the Liberal Party as a whole maintains its long-standing elitist approach to school education.

Pretty obviously the Coalition’s recent conversion to the cause of needs-based funding of schools was made entirely cynically, on the basis of a perceived need to neutralise an issue on which the party was vulnerable to public opinion. One day education spokesman Christopher Pyne was bagging it and saying there was nothing wrong with the current funding model; literally the next, the Opposition policy had been reversed.

First Abbott said a Coalition government would honour Labor’s funding deal with the states for one year. Then, a few weeks back, when Abbott announced he had changed his mind and now was on a “unity ticket” with the government in respect of school funding, that promise expanded to four years.

It is a Christian school, fundamentalist Christian. On its website is a lengthy “statement of faith”. And the articles of faith included in it would, I suggest, be just a little surprising to the average secular Australian.

However most of the money will not be spent in those four years. The bulk of the federal contribution to the Better Schools Plan, some $7 billion of the $10 billion, will come in years five and six.

So, by agreeing to a unity ticket on Gonski for four years, the Coalition has only put itself on the hook for about $3 billion.

Furthermore, if you read the education policy Abbott announced, with its coded suggestion of semi-privatising 1,500 state schools, it becomes clear the Coalition is as intent as ever on subverting the state-school system.

But we digress. Let’s get back to Abbott’s choice of venue for the policy launch – Penrith Christian School – and what it tells us about the next Prime Minister of Australia.

It is not the sort of non-government school which one usually associates with the Liberal Party. It is not one of those pillars of the establishment like Malcolm Turnbull’s alma mater, Sydney Grammar, or Julie Bishop’s St Peter’s Girls School, Adelaide. Nor is it a pillar of the Catholic establishment, such as St Ignatius Riverview, which produced Abbott himself, as well as the Nats’ Barnaby Joyce.

No, indeed, Penrith Christian School is not like them at all. The schools attended by the majority of Abbott’s front bench, while technically denominational, are more redolent of privilege than faith.

Not so PCS. The name says it all. It is a Christian school, fundamentalist Christian. On its website is a lengthy “statement of faith”. And the articles of faith included in it would, I suggest, be just a little surprising to the average secular Australian.

Divine healing for one.

“We trust our heavenly Father to protect and heal our bodies from sickness and disease…” it says. One wonders how a parent might compose a note to the school authorities, informing them of a sick child. Perhaps something like this? “Sorry, little Johnny will not be in today. God is apparently angry at him, and has not cured his pneumonia.”

PCS students are presumably not taught about evolution, for the statement of faith dictates: “We believe that the heavens and the earth and all original life forms, including humanity, were made by the specific immediate creative acts of God as described in the account of origins presented in Genesis, and that all biological changes which have occurred since creation are limited to variation within each species.”

But wait, it gets better. Not only are students required to “believe in the personality of the devil” who seeks to destroy Christian faith, but are threatened that if they “reject and despise” the Christian God they will suffer “the everlasting punishment of the wicked (in the sense of eternal torment)”. The parentheses are the school’s.

Naturally enough, the PCS articles of faith dictate that “the sexual act between a man and a woman, in the state of Holy Matrimony, to be the only pattern for sexual relationships endorsed, blessed and approved by God”.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

It follows, therefore that “homosexuality and specific acts of homosexuality are an abomination unto God, a perversion of the natural order and not to be entered into by His people”.

And “the practice of attempting to or changing one’s gender through surgical and/or hormonal or artificial genetic means is contrary to the natural order ordained by God”.

We could go on, but that pretty much hits the highlights.

Now, there’s no suggestion Tony Abbott endorses these tenets of PCS. In fact he later specifically disagreed with the school’s views on homosexuality. But in the tightly controlled Abbott election campaign, that school was not chosen by accident.

So, was the choice motivated by politics or values?

It’s not a new distinction, in reference to the Opposition leader. In his incisive Quarterly Essay on Abbott a year ago, David Marr noted that before entering politics proper, there was only one Tony Abbott: the fiercely aggressive student of B.A. Santamaria who made little effort to hide his Catholic fundamentalist world view. This Marr called “values Abbott”.

Later came “politics Abbott”, who no longer so dogmatically enunciated those values.

But, Marr wondered, how could one work out which is the real Abbott?

“What,” Marr asked, “has been abandoned? What is merely hidden on the road to power?”

Subsequently, correspondence came to light between Abbott and his mentor Santamaria, dating to the time when Abbott had decided against life in the priesthood, and was moving towards politics.

The most interesting of the letters comes from late 1987, when Abbott was still a reluctant Labor voter, and trying to work out how he could carry the socially conservative values of Santamaria’s National Civic Council (NCC) into public life.

As recorded in a lengthy piece on the letters, “Abbott confessed he was sick of the NCC criticising unwelcome social and political trends from the sidelines. He wanted to change society by working from within.”

These are not the values of the majority of the modern Liberal Party. These are the values of someone who accords primacy to his conservative social views.

But he was indecisive about which of the major political parties was the better vehicle for carrying forward those views.

In his correspondence with Santa, Abbott worried that if the ALP were not “dominated” by Santamaria-style ideas, it would succumb to “the grip of the Left or of soulless pragmatists”.

The Liberal Party, on the other hand, was “without soul, direction or inspiring leadership”, and its members were divided between “surviving trendies and the more or less simple-minded advocates of the free market”.

Well, we all know now that Abbott decided to go with the soulless Libs.

But as we come to the end of this election campaign, which he will almost certainly win, it’s worth going back to the beliefs of values Abbott.

The NCC cites five “primacies”, which speak to its social conservatism, its hostility to the economic prescriptions of both the socialist left and the free-market right, and its strong belief in “Judeo-Christian values”.

Now, look at Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme, his relatively moderate position on industrial relations, his declaration this week that notwithstanding what he called a “Budget emergency”, he is prepared to take a decade if necessary to bring the Budget back to surplus.

These are not the values of the majority of the modern Liberal Party. These are the values of someone who accords primacy to his conservative social views.

One gets the feeling there is still much – apart from his policy costings – which Abbott is hiding. And one might wonder whether, once he has won the election, things will be revealed which will surprise the rationalist right of his own party.

Of course we can’t be sure yet, but every so often we get little clues to the continued existence of the old values Abbott.

Like the education policy launch at a Christian fundamentalist school. It’s like every now and then, he can’t resist the urge to stick it up both the secular/humanist left and the reptilian right.

28 comments on this story
by J.Fraser

Hard to believe that Abbott has so much support.

The 2011 Australian census has 61% of Australians counted as christians.

It should be noted that Catholics have absolutely no problem telling statisticians their choice of religion.

Of that 61% .......... 25.3% counted themselves as Roman Catholic.

That leaves an awful lot of Australians who are most likely not prepared to go along with a fundamentalist Catholic.

Certainly not in the Lodge.

Possibly its got something to do with being aligned as a WASP.

August 30, 2013 @ 10:04pm
by John Webster

Christ, this is the year 2013 and we're still debating the ethics or otherwise of the Christian vote - what is the bloody relevance ? It would actually be useful to hear some really creative policies from the Mad Monk's bunker rather than all this negative rhetoric. Australia deserves better.

August 31, 2013 @ 7:33am
by David Stanton

At least Mike Seccombe and David Marr are consistent in their expressed political and secular views.

August 31, 2013 @ 8:22am
by Mahler

I think a majority of the population is as thick as a plank and would vote for Abbott and co no matter what. I saw a poll the other day, on the ABC, asking readers to say which 'costings' they had trust in - a huge majority chose Abbott's - despite the Coalition's costings not even being released. Most of the population wouldn't know a fundamentalist from a football fan. Never has the world had so much information and never have the majority been so stupid.

August 31, 2013 @ 8:36am
by David Longland

Yes, the strangely frightening fact to me is the belief that Tony Abbott is the 'moderate on that front bench. Look at 'in praise of Thatcher on steroids' Joe Hockey, The Stare, 'education requires less money' jumpy little Chris Pyne. And, The Nats.! Who knows what strange throwbacks Qld will givebthe Senate or even the House?
Well folks, strap yourselves in, we might be in for a grim parliament.

August 31, 2013 @ 8:37am
by miles blow

Genius Mike! Good work.

August 31, 2013 @ 8:50am
by Mike Patton

Good balanced article as usual Mike. I find it very hard to determine your political slant same with David Marr.
Anyway well done and I do think you are having a lot of influence with undecided voters Like J Fraser of Qld above who from years of letter writing is also clearly an undecided voter.

August 31, 2013 @ 9:07am
by chris

The only leader I've seen big noting his church attendance and making sure cameras are there is Kevin Rudd. Added to this you have him quoting the scriptures and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as moral support for his Asylum seeker policy which of course has been subsequently ditched as more boats arrived and public support evaporated.

August 31, 2013 @ 10:04am
by William Kierath

Because until we do no one will understand what we had. This group of individuals have no direction with any Social values and think we are an economy and not a Society, when of course the reverse is the fundamental structure.
How many have said Abbott is dangerous? The reality is the ignorance of the public is dangerous and that ignorance

August 31, 2013 @ 10:39am
by W. Stephen

I'm really scared for this country. Any person who can say of a dying man (Bernie Banton) that just because he's dying doesn't mean he's pure of heart. That did it for me. What sort of person is that? He's apparently going to run our country. Australian voters are fools. I live in Abbott's electorate!

August 31, 2013 @ 11:54am
by William Kierath

What a time we 're going to have after he is elected?
I don't think the general public realise what they are in for. Why? Because Joe Hockey will be as inept as his day to day uttering s and the conservative reactionary rump of the Party will deliver a destructive writhing beast intent on its Ideologies commanding the discussion.
This is the Government we have to have so we can see what we lost?

August 31, 2013 @ 12:08pm
by storchie

Abbott the chameleon! Watch and learn how we are about to be duped....

August 31, 2013 @ 6:02pm
by Jay

I know a few people who have sent their kids to that particular school. They are mostly narrow and bigoted, a variety of person which is common in the lower Blue Mountains. Abbott, will get the the votes of many of these people, as they seem to care more about keeping gay people from gaining equality, than social justice in general. And, just remember, these people think the earth is 6000 years old and that they will fly to heaven.

August 31, 2013 @ 8:01pm
by Roxee

I don't know what will happen if this "values" Abbott emerges; I know it scares me though. Of immediate concern though are the effects the education these children are getting will have on their adults lives. We are funding these faith based schools to produce children whose scientif icliteracy is going to be abysmal. I call that child abuse. Why we aren't hearing more discussion about what these children are learning from our media puzzles me. Placing adult faith beliefs above the rights of children to a proper education because some adults might get their feelings hurt perhaps.
A win for Qld. They have instructed public schools can now only teach evolution in science class and have specifically stated Intelligent Design and Creationism cannot be taught as science at all. It's amazing these religious psuedo-sciences were being taught in publuc schools in the first place, but a win is a win.

August 31, 2013 @ 8:08pm
by Steve Carey

I am bemused by this election campaign. Once upon a time someone who announced a major policy in the venue of a group which espoused bigotry and fundamentalism, would have been pilloried by the 4th estate. What happens now? Almost nothing. What a sad commentary on our times that this strange and agressive man will romp in.

August 31, 2013 @ 9:28pm
by Zoe Brain

Sydney Grammar is in no way connected with any religion. Certainly not Christianity. And it doesn't matter how much money Daddy and Mummy have, if you don't pass the very challenging entrance exam, you don't get in. Being in the top 10% of school isn't usually enough.

The privilege is there (and how)- but it's gained by going there and afterwards being a part of a powerful and privileged network. Privilege is emphatically not a pre-requisite for entry. It helps of course, by being able to afford top-quality schooling in years 1-6, and not having to be in the top 20% in the entrance exam so you get a means-tested scholarship.

Zoe E Brain, SGS Class of 75. Yes I know it's *supposed* to be an all-boys school, but in the 70s medical science hadn't caught up with Intersex conditions. It wasn't until 2005 that it was objectively determined I was more F than M. I knew from age 10, but given my appearance at the time, there didn't seem any value in pressing the point.

I hope it goes co-ed one day. I wish more girls had the opportunity for intellectual stimulation that I did.

August 31, 2013 @ 11:40pm
by Vance

A few years ago, Tony Abbott gave a speech in which he stated that feedom from religion is a very bad thing. So we can take that as gospel truth.

September 1, 2013 @ 5:44am
by Blair Donaldson

Fundamentalist Christian equals antiscience. Watch out for creationism getting promoted into the science classrooms. Tony Abbott will have Australia directed back to the dark ages in very short order.

September 1, 2013 @ 11:29am
by BBSmith

A lot of the general public is being hoodwinked,
Too many do not know how to think for themselves.
And the LNP will make sure they stay ignorant.
To slightly re-phrase what Gough Whitlam so eloquently said.

"God save the Labor party, (and the Greens)
Because if Abbott becomes Prime Minister
Nothing will save Australia."

September 1, 2013 @ 4:04pm
by Thomas

I wouldn't read too much into it. Look at the kids (and their teachers). Nicely dressed, no faces full of metal or rings through the nose, well behaved and orderly. That's why parents send their kids there, the religious question will be secondary. Chances are the school runs a fairly standard curriculum with religious education classes which kids largely disregard (as they always have). All sorts of people try to use schools to teach certain values and views of the world. Fortunately kids forget most of what they're taught. I've always thought the important thing to take away from an education is an ability to research, think and argue ideas. Nowadays in many schools the politically correct as well as the religiously motivated try to ram their ideas down the throats of kids. I've always thought a true teacher should be delighted when a student puts forward a well reasoned argument for a contrary point of view. That often doesn't happen in all sorts of schools.

September 1, 2013 @ 5:26pm
by Michael creswell

I do not trust Mr Abbott, nor any of his front bench, except perhaps Malcolm Turnbull though his credentials are somewhat tarnished by going along with policies in which he had, if indeed he no longer has, belief. I do not trust a party that would deny any person the right to a review, preferably a judicial review of a bureaucratic decision, I do not trust the fiscal policies of a party which has not come clean on the cost of its policies and, above all I do not trust the assurance that it will not change the GST, a regressive tax the only virtue of which is that it's easy to collect.
I foresee after the "tax audit" hands will be thrown up in horror as Mr Hockey exclaims that things are far worse than the government in opposition had been led to believe and with hand on heart they tell us they have no alternative but to increase the GST and since they will abolish the carbon tax the compensation for which they have not taken back it will suffice to compensate the pensioners and lower income earners for any increase. Perhaps I'm wrong but I'm not anxious to find out. Hence, I shall not be voting for my Coalition candidate next Saturday nor, except near the bottom of the ballot paper, for its Senate team.

September 1, 2013 @ 5:58pm
by Terence

I recently heard a discussion on the poor health and dietary problems facing kids in Aboriginal communities and that, in itself is not news. However, one of the contributors mentioned the need for theses community schools to have access to the funds necessary to employ, full time, a Registered Nurse as evidently there is no such funding currently offered by state, territory or federal programmes. Another participant asked why these remote schools could not use the school chaplaincy money (i.e. the programme introduced by the Howard government) to employ a Registered Nurse who could oversee both general health and dietary matters : good question , nobody had an answer to that. I would think that an RN would be a lot more practical value than a Chaplain.

September 1, 2013 @ 6:04pm
by AndyJ

The thought that Australia will have an Abbott-led Government distresses me.

The fact that they have decided that their budget will not be revealed until just before polling makes me angry - we are being treated as mugs.

The only thing that provides some solace is that given the reigns of power, Abbott will soon overreach and annoy the public to the extent that his party will dump him for Turnbull.

I don't hold a candle for KRudd either, but rather the devil you know in such circumstances, eh?

September 1, 2013 @ 9:33pm
by Jean Pack

The best vote on Saturday will be an informal one!


I will be putting these words across my ballot paper.

More power to the people who vote informal!


September 2, 2013 @ 11:51am
by Joshua

Oh my goodness a Christian school which takes its values from the Bible the Holy text of the Christian Faith, shock horror. Their are hundreds of these schools across Australian providing a solid education for young people. If people want a school/education that supports their faith they are entitled to it. As long as schools are abiding by national curriculum and state education standards then they should be eligible for funding. What i would like to see an article on is the underlying motive of the Left suppressing people freedom of religion with a secular agenda. People have a choice, with the majority of Australians having values that stem from the British/Christian heritage. Abbott is clearly making shout out for the Christian vote and the Independent School System.

September 2, 2013 @ 12:56pm
Show previous 25 comments
by gary russell

As Mike Seccombe points out, every action is planned in a election campaign.

The fundamentalist deceit of Tony Abbott and the awful LNP front bench that supports him, is testament to the degradation of values and truth of which Abbott himself, has been a willing architect.

His neo-con philosophy is in principle and practice, not dissimilar to those virtues sold by the extreme right in the 1930's in Europe.

Once elected democratically, European Nations that voted for that, soon found that their democracies quickly became a distant memory and their children became cannon fodder.

Unlike Mike Seccombe, I don't believe for a moment that there is anything idealistic driving Tony Abbott but the game of politics instead, and a warped and faulty ideology, (already proven diabolically incorrect by his mentor Howard) and Abbott's own appetite for power at any cost. No matter what the consequences for Australia, no matter whom he owes for getting him there.

Tony Abbott's own avarice has no basis in reality , and Australia finds itself on the verge of electing a willing plaything of the wealthy and powerful and godless.

Abbott like any other childlike archaic christian fundamentalist ego maniac, is waiting for the judgement day, and is behind the intellectual 8 ball for that reason alone. Australia's citizens find themselves lacking judgement by ignoring truth and data, (to their own peril) and would prefer instead, to play with fire, obvious corruption cubed (Murdoch, Rhinehart and Co),and brimstone.

Goodbye Australia it's been nice knowing you. When this is all over, I doubt that you will even know yourselves any more.

September 2, 2013 @ 8:14pm
by david

What you ben smoking Gary? Calm down the sun will still rise on September 8!

September 2, 2013 @ 9:37pm
by TomO

If the people who sent their kids to PCS were 'real' Christians they would just send them to the local public school down the road, so they could mix with all the other nice kids out there. These kinds of schools may not teach bigotry explicitly but they sure do teach it by their deeds, and those who demand federal subsidisation for them are promoting publicly funded bigotry. The correct attitude for both Christians and 'Australians' is, "Your kids are good enough to go to school with mine."

In fact, if all politicians were required to send their kids to public schools - as Gough Whitlam (God bless him) did - I shudder to think how good they could be... and how much better off Australia would be.

September 5, 2013 @ 7:29am
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