24 August 2013
Last night in Forde it was the Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) turn to host a candidates’ forum.
Right up front I must declare my fondness for secularism, and a rock solid belief in the hard-fought objective that religion has no place in politics – and religious lobbyists ought to be on thin ice in the corridors of power.
As it was the evening was a Christian coming out of sorts – and, pleasantly surprisingly, in the way I like to think of as the Aussie way, relatively free of overt Christian-ness.
The chairs in the Kimberley Park Community Centre’s main hall were mostly empty. About 80 people turned out, almost all over 50 and most at the more senior edge of senior.
Eight of Forde’s 10 candidates were present – though Rise Up Australia Party’s Jonathan Jennings was represented by a sign on the table bearing his name and an empty chair. (Where, by the way, is Jonathan Jennings?) Palmer United’s Blair Brewster had a kids’ grand final to attend.
ACL’s Wendy Francis opened the evening with verses of the Bible that extolled us to ‘speak the truth and in love, listen in love and discern in truth’.
And pretty much the evening stayed with this tone. Until the second last question – gay marriage – and even then to the audience’s credit it didn’t veer so very much off key.
Although if Peter Beattie was winning hearts and minds till then, I’m not sure he closed the sale on swinging voters in that particular room when he opened his response with ‘I’ve given this a lot of thought . . .’.
Followed by: “When I was Premier (of Queensland),” he said, “as you would all know, I was opposed to gay marriage.”
Closing with: “I support love.”
Right up there with Wendy Francis’s theme.
The room grumbled. They shifted in their chairs. Their sighs stopped short of boos. For while there was significant support for a referendum on the idea among candidates, Beattie and The Greens’ Sally Spain were the only two willing to declare their support for an inclusive definition of marriage.
But that wasn’t what I was referring to as the ‘coming out of sorts’. The coming out was that Beattie and Spain were also the only two to openly declare their practicing Christian status – Beattie on the gay marriage question, declared he was a ‘practicing Anglican’, adding somewhat privately that he’s not one to trumpet (like I said, the Aussie way and let’s keep it that way); Spain right at the opening of the event, declaring that ‘we share the planet with all species and that is our Christian duty’.
Not that either of these statements is news; just a snapshot of how the event unfolded.
One issue that once dominated Australian political landscape was raised in the Kimberley Park Community Centre: uranium mining.
Candidates’ responses were, in order:
Sally Spain (The Greens): ‘lethal technology; we are producing lethal substances for others to deal with”
Joshua Sloss (Independent): “uranium mining should be managed, not banned”
Jan Pukallus (Citizens Electoral Council): “we are for uranium mining and fourth-generation meltdown-proof reactors”
Paul Hunter (Katter Party): “not opposed to mining oil, gas, coal or uranium – if we don’t mine it someone else will”
Keith Douglas (Voice Australia): “nuclear energy can be managed; we’re better off dealing with emerging technologies and renewables”
Amanda Best (Family First): “all for investigating other consumable energies – weighing low cost of living against high health problems”
Peter Beattie (Labor Party): “reality is nuclear energy is more expensive than coal or gas – did not support uranium mining (when I was) in government because the technology is not available to protect waste; we have 300 years of coal – for clean coal”
Bert van Manen (Liberal Party, sitting member): “coal and gas – cheap energy”.
The evening’s heart was won by 19-year-old Joshua Sloss (trying saying that three times out loud.)
Sloss is standing as an independent. He took to the podium for his three minutes and began with well-rehearsed opening lines – then stopped, stuck, lost. Beattie, sitting closest, offered quiet words of encouragement. Sloss found his tongue and moved on.
His primary message was that he will represent the electorate – not himself. And that as an independent, he has no party to fall back on, only ‘the people’. I have an interview booked with Sloss over the weekend – I resolve to ask him about the place of leadership in such noble sentiment . . . what if ‘the people’ want the reintroduction of the death penalty? . . . what if ‘the people’ want a million dollar handout? I’m being extreme, but you get my point.
It’s not easy for anyone to take their place alongside seasoned candidates, and Forde was witnessing Sloss’s debut. Afterwards, as the crowd picked off candidates to corner, I approached Joshua and congratulated him on a great effort.
“Everyone keeps saying that,” he said, glancing down at his shoes. “I don’t see it like that.
“That’s because we are using a different measure,” I said.
“We are judging you on your courage and your willingness to stand.”
In reality, Forde is an electorate unconcerned with the conversations that have obsessed the nation the past couple of years. In reality – as every candidate on that stage was well aware – the issues for the voters of Forde come down to jobs, infrastructure and affordable living.
Gay marriage, asylum seekers, paid parental leave – these are luxury conversations in an electorate where last week 350 people applied for one casual vacancy in a chocolate shop, and it can take 40 minutes to get off the exit ramp on the M1.
I have been in Forde for one week, two candidates’ forums, one media conference and various ongoing small engagements – and I have yet to see much at all by way of the 185 nations apparently represented in this ‘cultural melting pot’.
I’m wondering if non-Anglo political participation is also a luxury in Forde.