Looking at the two main candidates, starting with Tony Abbott. What impact do you think his religious beliefs would have on a Coalition government if he were elected prime minister?
Well he is of course an observant Catholic and has been known in the past for strong views on social policy questions—he’s very much opposed to abortion, for instance, and he takes quite a conservative stance on related issues like embryonic stem cell research. But I take him at his word when he says that should he win he’ll lead an orthodox Liberal government, that is, Liberal with a capital ‘L’. I really don’t believe there are many issues on which his religious beliefs will have a major impact.
There’s been some debate as to whether his views may have an impact on economic policy, the suggestion being that as a Catholic he’s not as committed to free enterprise. Catholicism, in Australia at least, has been identified over the years with the Labor Party, and with a more collectivist approach to economic intervention, rather than the sort of Protestant approach. But you’d have to look pretty hard to make an argument for that in contemporary Australian politics, it’s clutching at straws really.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
That said, Abbott has made a lot of his religious beliefs and he’s not afraid to lead with his chin on that, so he’s made a bit of a problem for himself in some regards. But overall, on the social conservatism, he’s not much more socially conservative in fact than Kevin Rudd was, and he has similar views to former Prime Minister John Howard. It makes an interesting contrast with Julia Gillard though, who has been quite open about her atheism, and declared that she was not a religious believer.
Speaking of Julia Gillard, how do you rate her performance as prime minister so far?
Well, it hasn’t been quite as impressive as many people thought it would be, though it has been a short period of time. She did begin very well, but there are three issues she argued she had to resolve before taking the country into an election. One was the mining tax, and she’s partially, although not fully, resolved that issue and reached an agreement with the three biggest mining companies and refashioned that tax.
The second was asylum seekers and refugees, and Australia’s policy towards border security. She really has fumbled that issue. She’s looked around for various offshore processing solutions. Her intention is to stall the debate on asylum seekers and refugees through her conservative approach, and she’s angered many supporters of asylum seekers for that reason. The East Timor processing centre is still very much up in the air, so she hasn’t been successful there.
And on the third issue, the question of climate change, she unconvincingly I think has said that, agreeing with Kevin Rudd, that Labor isn’t going to move forward. She’s now argued that she’ll put together a Citizens’ Assembly and other forms of public consultation, and said the only way we’ll move forward on climate change action is if there’s consensus in the community, which is pretty unlikely. On each of the three issues, she’s tried to take them off the election agenda, as they are potentially damaging for Labor. As an individual and a person she’s been campaigning very well, but she hasn’t been successful so far in addressing some of those policy issues, which she’s said were very important.