Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ABC PM asks 'how powerful is the Australian Christian Lobby?'

Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, Lyle Shelton, PM, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, politics, election
ACL's Jim Wallace and Lyle Shelton.
ABC PM segment transcript below.
With the issue of gay marriage brought front and centre through Kevin Rudd's 'coming out' of a change of mind, the Australian Christian Lobby has been called on to respond from a conservative Christian perspective.

This has led leading ABC Radio program to look into the group which has been a political strength especially since the Kevin 07 election where, Kevin Rudd again, harnessed elements of the Christian vote so effectively for Labor.

The key figure for the ACL over many years was former SAS commander Jim Wallace who until this month was Managing Director and has just moved to the position of Deputy Chairman. He has been replaced by former ACL Chief of Staff, Lyle Shelton.

The ACL has worked hard to interest Christians and churches in the political process, helping to run electorate meetings and hosting pre-election Make it Count events with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Kevin Rudd appeared at one of these in Canberra in 2010 the night before he was ousted by Julia Gillard.

And now as the election meanders closer, with the issue of gay marriage again front and centre, the ACL is busy on this and many other important policy debates for the diverse Christian community.

Hear AM reporter Peter Lloyd's segment on the Australia Christian Lobby or read the transcript below. Visit the ACL website.


DAVID MARK: The former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has been receiving as many brick-bats as bouquets for coming out in support of same-sex marriage. Some of the most strident criticism of his move has come from a group called the Australian Christian Lobby. It warned Mr Rudd his change of view will cost him votes in what it calls the 'Christian constituency'. But does such a constituency exist? And what power does the Australian Christian Lobby really wield? Peter Lloyd has been investigating.

PETER LLOYD: The man who runs the Australian Christian Lobby is Jim Wallace. A career soldier, Wallace rose to command the elite Special Air Service regiment. After retiring, he became a Christian soldier; founding the organisation that he still leads. The ACL's main battleground is opposition to gay marriage.
JIM WALLACE: I certainly believe that homosexuality is a sin, you know I thinks that's an orthodox Christian view.
PETER LLOYD: The Australian Christian Lobby is a private company, headquartered in Canberra. Because of its private status, the ACL's sources of funding are not publicly available. Scholar Professor Rodney Smith from the University of Sydney's department of government has studied the Lobby for a number of years.
RODNEY SMITH: Their support primarily comes in terms of open support and supporters from Pentecostal churches and from nonconformist Protestant churches - so the Baptists and the like. They have some high-level support amongst the Anglican and Orthodox and Catholic churches, but amongst the sort of rank and file - shall we say of those churches - there's much less evidence of support.
PETER LLOYD: Is it a paradox though that it seems that even though they may claim that association, they don't at the same time speak for those people?
RODNEY SMITH: Well they're very open about that, they say that they don't speak for a particular church, and that they're not an umbrella or peak organisation, but at the same time they present themselves as in a sense representing Christian views and the views of the mainstream churches and they're very aware of the impact of being seen to have senior figures from those churches support their positions and indeed to be visible at events like their Make It Count media events.
JIM WALLACE: Well ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the 'Make it Count 2010'.
PETER LLOYD: That's Jim Wallace, MCing the 'Making it Count' event in Canberra in 2010. It's the ACL's keynote public forum where it hosts top political leaders. Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have all been past guests, so too a host of state leaders. It's the public face of the ACL's lobbying effort in the capital. It's an organisation that can rightly claim some success in shaping the views of our national leaders, according to Professor John Warhurst from the Australian National University. His specialty is religion and politics.
JOHN WARHURST: They have played their part anyway in getting the political leaders on both sides to commit to particular courses of action. For example a bargain not to support the introduction of same-sex marriage was struck with both sides of politics at the time of the last election in 2010. PETER LLOYD: The ACL has, at times, claimed to have power beyond lobbying individual politicians. On Lateline in 2010, founder Jim Wallace claimed that there was a 'Christian constituency' and it was capable of influencing that year's election.
JIM WALLACE: Just by virtue of its size the Christian constituency has to have political effect. PETER LLOYD: It was a similar claim to one Mr Wallace made in 2007, the year Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister. Sydney University's Professor Rodney Smith put the claim to the test with a research study.
RODNEY SMITH: And the results of that research suggested that in fact it hadn't really amounted to much and specifically the ACL had targeted a number of seats and said these are the seats we're going to target and in those seats the swings to Labor and indeed to the Greens were exactly the same or close enough to exactly the same as to not be worth noting as in other seats in the same states. So my conclusion from that was that really the Australian Christian Lobby's capacity to mobilise a vote among Christians or among churchgoers against Labor or for Labor for that matter was vastly exaggerated.
PETER LLOYD: In its media statement criticising Kevin Rudd, the ACL has again relied on the claim that a Christian constituency exists in Australia. The lobby's managing director is Lyle Shelton. LYLE SHELTON: Well the Christian constituency is a large group of people in the Australian community who attend church very regularly.
PETER LLOYD: How much influence do you really believe you have?
LYLE SHELTON: I think we have as much influence as any other sizable constituency in the Australian community.
DAVID MARK: That's Lyle Shelton, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby. Peter Lloyd was our reporter.

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