The South Australian Liberal Party terminated the membership of 150 Pentecostal Christians a fortnight ago, while it has further asked 400 more recently signed up members to show cause as to why they shouldn’t be turfed out as well.
The purge comes after more than 500 people signed up to join the SA Liberals earlier this year. This seemingly coordinated infiltration is significant as the total state branch membership is around 5,000. And it’s been perceived as an attempt to sway policy in line with faith doctrine.
Conservative Liberal MPs requested last week that acting PM Josh Frydenberg step in and call a halt to the action, claiming it was an attack on religious freedoms, which will certainly add fuel to the attempt of Pentecostal PM Scott Morrison to see religious privileges enshrined in law.
However, senior SA Liberal, Senator Simon Birmingham, has defended the move. The moderate said that he’s aware of allegations that the suspended members were planning to campaign against endorsed candidates for the next election, while some didn’t even support the party.
The rising Christian Right
The infiltration of the SA Liberal Party by Pentecostal Christians isn’t an isolated matter. At the Brisbane Church and State Summit held in February conservative members of the Christian faith meet to discuss, amongst other things, how to gain more political clout in this country.
During the conference, Liberal Nationals MP George Christensen suggested that getting more Christians into the ranks of the Coalition would shift its direction, and the smart way to go about doing this would be to conceal some of their agenda until they’re in power.
“Politics is all about numbers,” the conservative member for Queensland was quoted as saying. “The more people that you have in that broad church that are from the conservative Christian wing the more it’s going to lean in that direction.”
The Christian Right has been on the rise since the passing of marriage equality laws in December 2017. And those at the summit further discussed that targeting transgender people was a prime way for them to pushback against the LGBTIQ rights movement.
From the top down
PM Scott Morrison has worn his Pentecostal faith on his sleeve since entering federal parliament. Having abstained from the marriage equality vote in late 2017, he appeared in the press a fortnight later, then as treasurer, to announce he was pushing for greater religious protections in law.
By September 2019, this had transpired into the release of the first draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill, which purports to protect those of faith from biased treatment, while it actually seeks to bestow upon them the right to discriminate against others in the name of their faith.
Newly minted attorney general Michaelia Cash has recently indicated that her office is busy drafting a new version of the contentious bill, which has placed the religious freedoms debate firmly on the agenda for the next federal election.
The type of laws proposed in the bill could likely be used against the SA Liberals in relation to their recent dismissal of new members on the basis that those thrown out could claim to have been purged due to their Christian faith, rather than the political agenda they’d brought to the table.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.