​Thousands of protestors gathered on Manly
Beach in Tony Abbott’s Warringah electorate
on the weekend before the election to send
him a clear message to increase Australia’s
contribution to foreign aid and remind him of
the United Nations’ Development Goals which
aim to halve global poverty by 2015.

Photo: Phil Carrick

 

Foreign aid and asylum seekers have emerged as two early points of contention between the new Abbott Government and Anglican and other churches.
 
But the Coalition was not alone in drawing criticism from Christians, with the new Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, challenging the then Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s use of the Bible in Mr Rudd’s response to a question about same-sex marriage on ABC TV’s Q&A program five days before the 7 September election that put the Liberal-National coalition led by Mr Tony Abbott in power in Canberra.
 
Family violence, low-income support, housing and the Middle East were among other issues raised by churches and their agencies, while the Public Affairs Commission of Australia’s Anglican General Synod issued a 19-page document in August, Issues and Questions for the 2013 Federal Election Process, in which it also raised topics such as respect in political and other public discourse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the environment, food security and population.
 
On 24 September, the Chair of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee, Bishop Philip Huggins, issued a public statement after the new Immigration Minister, Mr Scott Morrison, appeared with military leaders at a media conference about the Government’s response to asylum seekers under its Operation Sovereign Borders policy.
 
Bishop Huggins asked the public to contrast the image of the news conference with those of young girls fleeing the Taliban, Hazara boys who watched their fathers and brothers murdered and people who fled brutal regimes in Iran and Syria.
 
“Not once, not even as an aside, has the new Government said one word of compassion regarding the plight of those who seek asylum here,” he said. “Our common humanity waits to break through the current discourse on this profoundly moral issue.”
 
Bishop Huggins suggested the new Government “draw the line” under those asylum seekers who were already here, however they arrived, by announcing an amnesty – after security checks – so that they could belong, access education and employment and be free to contribute to the country. “There are some 30,000 people in Australia, mostly young, waiting in various forms of detention. In this time of new beginning, as another Government tries to find the right balance between humanitarian objectives and the need to shut-down people smugglers, let us accept these folk and give them a future.
 
“A gesture of some compassion, balancing recent images, would be good for our nation’s soul and for our role in international leadership.”
 
On 21 September, the United Nations International Day of Peace, rallies were held to protest against the Government’s cuts to overseas aid in action coordinated by Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
 
Mr Alistair Gee, Executive Director of Act for Peace, said the rallies were an overwhelming display of support for overseas aid that helped save lives.
 
“Communities took to the streets to collect signatures, held inter-faith forums and special church services to mark the day and encourage people to sign the petition calling on our government to stop cuts to the aid budget and invest in peace-building projects,” he said.
 
Mr Gee said he hoped the Coalition would reconsider the $4.5 billion cut in the aid budget over the next four years that it announced two days before the election that swept it to power.
 
The National Coordinator of Micah Challenge, Mr John Beckett, said at the time of the announcement on 5 September that $4.5 billion could save 450,000 lives.
 
“We’re extremely disappointed to see that both parties are so preoccupied with budget cuts that they seem to have ignored the voices of the Australian people, and more significantly, have disregarded the costs this will have in terms of human lives,” Mr Beckett said.
 
The previous weekend, thousands of protesters had gathered on Manly Beach, in Mr Abbott’s
Sydney electorate of Warringah, to spell the message “Halve Global Poverty 2015”, which Micah
Challenge said demonstrated a clear desire by Australians that he increase Australia’s overseas aid as part of eff orts to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals.
 
Mr Abbott did not attend the event, but issued a statement read out by a NSW Liberal colleague that said: “Mr Rudd and his predecessor, Ms Gillard, made many promises about foreign aid – and never kept them. I would rather under promise and over deliver and in doing so, keep faith with you.”
 
The Australian Christian Lobby also expressed disappointment at the cut, with its Managing Director, Mr Lyle Shelton, saying “we’ll now build better roads for ourselves with money that could have helped keep kids alive in countries where sealed roads are a luxury”.
 
Agencies such as World Vision Australia criticised one of the new Government’s first decisions, to merge AusAID into the Foreign Affairs Department.
 
World Vision Australia’s chief executive, the Revd Tim Costello, said AusAID should remain a stand-alone agency. “Once you mix it up with our trade and diplomatic goals, you lose a focus on what aid is,” he said.
 
Dr Davies issued a statement the day after Mr Rudd’s Q&A reply to a Queensland pastor’s question, saying Mr Rudd had confused the Bible with Aristotle in asserting that Scripture had said slavery was a natural condition.
 
Mr Rudd, asked by Pastor Matt Prater how his support for same-sex marriage lined up with the Bible, replied: “Well mate if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.”
 
Archbishop Davies said Mr Rudd’s response was “profoundly wrong” in his understanding of the Bible. “He misquoted the Bible and attributed to the Bible something that Aristotle said,” Dr Davies said in a statement on 3 September.
 
“The Bible never says that. The Bible sees slavery as the result of fallen and broken relationships in society and it is crystal clear in its condemnation of the slave trade.
 
“I was disappointed by Mr Rudd’s comments last night in the same way that I was disappointed by the position he announced in May... Although there are many kinds of relationships in our society, to describe the relationship between two persons of the same sex as marriage is contrary to the Bible’s teaching.
 
“As a bishop in the Church, I do not tell our people how to vote...Christians realise that no political party will reflect their views in every policy. So they have to make a judgment as to which party best represents their views.”
 
Anglicare Australia’s Executive Director, Ms Kasy Chambers, said the election campaign had ignored the issue of fairness for the people who were doing it toughest across Australia.