Accusations of Religious ‘Fundamentalism’ Ring Hollow

On the ascendancy of Premier Dominic Perrottet
October 8, 2021 Updated: October 9, 2021

Commentary

Following the shock resignation of the former state Premier Gladys Berejiklian of New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state, the governing Liberal Party selected Dominic Perrottet as her replacement to become the 46th premier of the state.

Perrottet is a Catholic who attended a Catholic high school and studied law at the University of Sydney. He is a social conservative, who voted against same sex marriage, and is an opponent of abortion. He also served as a capable treasurer in the NSW government prior to his ascension.

Even before his confirmation on Oct. 6, 2021, progressive media personalities went into overdrive trying to discredit the new premier, lambasting his Catholicism and arguing that he is not suitable to serve because of his faith. One of the more strident attempts to denigrate Perrottet came from Reverend Stephanie Dowrick, who published an opinion piece with the provocative title, “NSW must do better than Dominic Perrottet as premier” in The Sydney Morning Herald.

She claimed that because he was a “highly conservative Catholic, with views that represent the most extreme end of a rigidly male-dominated institutional church” and that Australia is “no haven for religious or ideological fundamentalism.”

Of course, it is difficult to define “fundamentalism” but according to Dowrick the concept involves “a narrowness of conviction that cannot be challenged by logic, evidence or appeals to reason.”

The attack on the new premier is the manifestation of the de-Christianisation project that is currently damaging Australia.

Epoch Times Photo
A statue is seen silhouetted by the sun at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, on Oct. 23, 2020. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

One would expect attacks on Catholicism to be outdated and no longer occurring in a multi-cultural and multi-faith country.

The Church Act of 1836 established legal equality between the Anglicans, Catholics, and Presbyterians. Australia had its first Catholic prime minister in the late 1920s, James Henry Scullin.

In the 1950s, in creating industrial groups in the unions, Bartholomew A. Santamaria, a staunchly Catholic and anti-communist activist, facilitated a major split in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) through the creation of the splinter-party, the Democratic Labor Party—effectively consigning the ALP to opposition from the mid-1950s to 1972.

According to the 2016 Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catholics are now the largest Christian denomination with 22.6 percent of the population, but there are still more Protestant churches than Roman Catholic churches. The 28th Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, was in fact, also Catholic.

In these circumstances, it makes sense that a person’s religion should no longer be characterised as a negative trait when seeking public office.

However, during the last decade we have witnessed the adoption of progressive legislation that goes largely against the teachings of Christianity—and not just Catholicism. This is evidenced by the implementation of social engineering legislation: same sex marriage, liberal abortion, and voluntary assisted dying are examples of that trend, among others.

According to Dowrick, those who hold conservative views are fundamentalists and bigots.

But conservative politicians, like Perrottet, have allowed others to nurture “progressive” views in the fashioning of their laws. In contrast, his detractors, like Dowrick, do not accept that social conservatives are entitled to participate in public life.

Specifically, Dowrick writes that, “Women’s rights to choose what happens to and within their bodies, respect for the diverse LGBTQI+ communities, limitations on evangelical proselytising within schools and social services … gender equality and safety … all of this is threatened by an authoritarian perspective that believes a highly conservative, white, male-dominated hierarchy is ‘divinely ordained’ within the church.”

So, it is really the opponents of conservatism that are the “fundamentalists” because they are attempting to abrogate the rights of conservatives to free speech and participation in public life. They seek to cancel “fundamentalist” views and ruin careers. For them, only their own progressive ideas are worthy of implementation in society.

Dowrick does admit—reluctantly—that even Perrottet is entitled to believe whatever he wants to believe in—in private however—but he should not be allowed to act upon his beliefs in public.

Yet, as was argued by law professor, Harrop A. Freeman in 1958 (pdf), every “great religion is not merely a matter of belief; it is action” and that one of the “most scathing rebukes in religion is reserved for hypocrites who believe but fail to so act.”

Thus, religious belief and practice cannot neatly be separated from each other; rather they are stages of the one and indivisible reality: religious practice, or action, is an articulated belief.

Epoch Times Photo
Newly elected Premier of NSW Dominic Perrottet speaks at his first press conference as leader in Sydney, Australia, on Oct. 05, 2021. (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

This is also stipulated in Article 18 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

Those who still believe in freedom of religion will disagree with the accusations levelled at Perrottet.

For example, in a comment published in the Glen Innes Examiner on Oct. 4, 2021, Anglican Minister David Robinson argued that the claim of fundamentalism, was “anything which might disagree with Dowrick’s own very socially progressive, secular humanist beliefs” that may “endanger the kind of policy she champions on key issues.”

It is a sad day when commentators start to vilify a person because of his religious affiliations.

Moreover, endless attacks on Perrottet’s religious faith and assumed conservative and so-called fundamentalist views, deprives Australians the opportunity of understanding his policies, professional activities, successes and failures as a treasurer, views on COVID-19, and lockdown strategies. Yet, it is those views that are important in assessing his suitability as NSW premier.

Commentators are not contributing to public debate when they fail to comment on a politician’s policies, but instead, stubbornly vilify them because of their faith.

Of course, Perrottet’s ascendancy may have consequences for specific legislative proposals, notably voluntary assisted dying. Undoubtedly, proponents of such a law will blame the “fundamentalist” views of the premier for any delay in adoption of such law.

For them, the only views which can be held legitimately are those of the progressive left, which, by their deeds and vitriolic speech, claim to possess a monopoly on decency and morality.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published novels as well including, “A Twisted Choice,” and short story, “The Greedy Prospector” in “The Outback” anthology (Boolarong Press, 2021).