Government, God and GetUp!
One hears a lot of (generally left-oriented) advocates for the separation of church and state. Their intention is generally more about removing any Christian values or principles from parliamentary decision-making than concerns about the church running the country.
Christians in the parliament are repeatedly told to check their moral values at the doors of Parliament House so they aren’t determining important decisions on the things that really matter – decisions about life or death. Interestingly, few atheists, agnostics, the one Muslim or Members of Parliament with other beliefs have the same demands made of them.
Frankly, asking any person to ignore a belief system that is at the very core of their sense of identity, whether it be religion or lack thereof, is akin to asking them to leave their brain in the parliamentary cloak room.
However, there are occasions where the link between religious organisations and government can be too close. Yesterday in Senate Estimates I found one such instance.
I asked the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) about a grant for $557,000 made to Uniting Care – a division of the Uniting Church – for a gambling ‘research tool’. I was informed that the research tool was in fact a website designed to discuss policy initiatives. It can be found at unitingforchange.org.au.
Imagine my surprise when I visited this website to discover that it was in fact an activist portal “designed to help you to engage in grassroots advocacy about issues that are important to you”. The ‘about’ page features a smiling cleric and details that “the aim is to provide a channel to put your thoughts, values and faith into action.” Noble sentiments indeed.
They even have a link to ‘campaigns’ that they encourage people to participate in. Now there is nothing strange about that as there are many other activist sites doing a similar thing. We have the union-funded, multi-million dollar extravagance of GetUp! and on the right we have groups like the more modestly funded Australian TaxPayers’ Alliance and CANdo.
However, these organisations pursue all manner of policy initiatives and causes without receiving funding directly from the government.
Uniting for Change is different. It has received a direct grant of $24,247 a month for nearly the next 23 months to fulfil its stated mission. Surely it must be a coincidence that the first (and thus far only) campaign it is running is to support the government’s mandatory pre-commitment scheme for poker machines and associated demands for other gambling reform.
Now if a church or any other organisation wants to get grassroots engagement in political activism, I say good on them. However, we are wise to draw the line at governments directly funding such supposed ‘grassroots’ vehicles for change.
If a direct government grant had been given to one of the established left or right organisations in this space, there would undoubtedly be a strong voice of protest. Indeed, if that same organisation then parroted the government line on a contentious and flawed policy program, the charade would be front page news.
And yet, this Uniting for Change organisation appears to be exactly such a circumstance. Government money is funnelled into an advocacy website that seeks to support the government program under the guise of empowering the grassroots.
Frankly, it has a distinct pong about it and the fact that the departmental officers sought to describe this site as a new policy development initiative beggars belief. Put simply, it is another instance of paid propaganda, this time hidden behind the veneer of the Uniting Church.
In other words, it’s just a government-funded, religious version of GetUp!.
Personally, I consider that to be an inappropriate alliance for both the church and the state to be engaged in.