Next Parliament Urged to Protect Religious Freedom Amid Waning Support for Conservative Values

By Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at nina.nguyen@epochtimes.com.au.
April 11, 2022 Updated: April 11, 2022

Australia’s faith-based groups have called on the next Parliament to provide greater protection for people of faith and stronger support for traditional values, as conservative voters are expected to play an important role in the outcome of the upcoming federal election.

While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese did not touch on the topic of religious freedom in their opening election pitches on Sunday, both have previously promised to enshrine protections for people of faith and ensure religious bodies can protect their ethos.

However, with the shelving of the religious bill and the recent backlash against Citipointe college for its faith-based contract, candidates need to do “more than talk” and “be clear on where they stand individually on this issue” to secure votes from people of faith, a religious group has argued.

In a press release sent to The Epoch Times, the national association the Christian Schools Australia (CSA), which serves schools in more than 180 locations and is part of a global ACSI network, said Australians “want their values protected, and the right to choose schools that reflect those values protected.”

“The community support for strong [religious] protections is clear,” said Director of Public Policy at CSA Mark Spencer on April 10.

According to a national poll of 1,003 people conducted in September 2021, 71 percent of Australians believe employers should not restrict employees’ statements of religious belief, while 60 percent do not want religious schools to be forced to hire staff in conflict with the school’s statement of faith.

Spencer further noted that people of faith, which make up three-fifths of the Australian population, had a “significant impact” on the previous election outcome in 2019. Morrison’s then pledge to stand up for Christian values had earned support from traditional Australians who were concerned about the impact of same-sex marriage, which was legalised in 2017.

“If candidates seek to duck this issue or simply refer questions to campaign headquarters, people will see through that and vote accordingly,” Spencer added.

This sentiment is echoed by Australian conservative political activist Lyle Shelton, who argued: “Freedom of speech and freedom of religion should be front and centre of this campaign.”

In a commentary published on April 10, he wrote that Australia has “drifted away” from such principles as a result of the “long march of the cultural Marxists.”

“Christian and Muslim schools are under the most pressure with neither side of politics willing to help them; such is the power of the LGBTIQA+ lobby which demands they surrender their religious diversity for rainbow conformity.”

But religious freedom is not the only liberal principle that has been neglected, Shelton added.

While the two major parties are poised to focus on “woke policies” and “a personality contest” in the upcoming six weeks of the election campaign, the “real contest for ideas about freedom, the rights of the unborn, how to strengthen families, lowering the debt and how to build a strong economy that has energy security at the heart of it, will go undebated.”

On April 8, Shelton pointed to “cancel culture,” “pragmatism,” and “a misplaced desire to please the left” as the causes for the compromising of liberal values in the Coalition.

The calls for greater support for traditional values come as Australia’s most prominent Christian lobby group committed to “call out” the “ideology cancer,” which is “drifting Liberal Party to the left” through its largest information campaign.

The campaign seeks to pressure the five moderate Liberal MPs who crossed the floor on the religious bill in defiance of Morrison’s election pledge. They include Bridget Archer in Bass, Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney, Fiona Martin in Reid, Katie Allen in Higgins and Dave Sharma in Wentworth, all of whom hold key marginal seats.

Martyn Iles, managing director of the ACL, argued his campaign would “empower the right people” who can stand up for traditional values on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, queer education, and religious freedom. He also emphasised the need to make “short-term” sacrifices for “long-term gain.”

Key election issues addressed so far include post-pandemic recovery, taxes, electricity prices, investment in the defence forces and climate change policies.

Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at nina.nguyen@epochtimes.com.au.