The Power Index is a sister publication of Crikey. Its purpose is to identify ‘who really runs Australia’. Last Tuesday its focus was the ‘powerful people in religion’.
There was a list of 18 leaders or representatives of faith communities such as the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace. It created the impression that religious organisations are increasingly spreading the word by lobbying and talking up the ‘Christian vote’.
Religious leaders are using their clout and followers to influence the national debate on topics such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia, abortion. ... Religious lobby groups are making noise – and getting results.
The Power Index says churches are increasing their reliance on lobbying because fewer Australians are attending church services. This is obviously part of a more complex scenario that includes the power of the media and popular culture to shape opinion that once would have been influenced by clergy and religious teachers.
While many of the religious groups are lobbying in support of what they perceive to be wholesome causes, the activity of lobbying itself can be far from wholesome. John Warhurst writes in his 2007 book Behind Closed Doors about the methods of disgraced Western Australian Labor identity Brian Burke, one of the country’s most successful and notorious lobbyists.
His view of human nature ... is that people always have a price. He ‘identifies people’s self-interest.’ He has a pejorative, malign view of humanity. He is ‘a very good judge of weak character.’ .. [He] ‘reads faces like other people read books.’
It’s debatable how much the average Canberra lobbyist has in common with Brian Burke in terms of how low they will go in order to secure the support of a politician. But aside from the level of resources at their disposal, it seems that the lower they are prepared to go in manipulating the will of a politician, the more impressive the result is likely to be.
Lobbying often involves issues that confront the interests of powerful mining or business associations. But sometimes important changes can be achieved by small groups with a simple transparent approach to lobbying and a steadfast commitment to their cause. One such ‘not so powerful’ lobby is Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH).
ACRATH has on its website an inspiring account of its ‘Canberra Advocacy Visit 2012’, which took place last month. It had four requests to make of politicians to improve services for trafficked people in Australia. It urged MPs to support the Crimes Legislation Amendments (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. The bill was passed in the lower house in the delegation’s presence, on 21 August, with the work of ACRATH acknowledged in Hansard.
Lobbies such as ACRATH and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce are doing the right thing by attempting to appeal to the sense of compassion in our politicians. We can only trust in human nature that they will ultimately prevail. Unfortunately other groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby think in terms of the 'Christian vote' and its appeal is to the self-interest of politicians.