Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
ABC Fora with Tony Jones -

View in ParlView

(generated from captions) THEME MUSIC to Fora: Extended Mix. Hello and welcome I'm Tony Jones. Turnbull's grip on the leadership Well, the Opposition Leader Malcolm was loosened last month Joe Hockey admitted when the Shadow Treasurer to step up to the top job. he'd been canvassed by his colleagues And eyebrows were raised again beyond his portfolio when the Shadow Treasurer strayed at the Sydney Institute. to deliver a major speech on religion Joe Hockey insists an application for the leadership, that his speech isn't atheists like Richard Dawkins but rather a response to militant and Christopher Hitchens. In Defence Of God He called the speech, for diversity, tolerance and faith and in it he argues the need like Australia. in a multicultural democracy to be a minister of State, I have often said that I aspire not a minister of the Church.

that this evening So, it may seem unusual In Defence Of God. I have as the title of my speech, for a number of reasons. I have chosen this topic an important and constructive role First, I believe that faith plays in our own society. In the context of this speech, for faith in all its forms. I use the term "god" as an analogy under assault in recent times Faith and religion have come and high-profile commentators. from several best-selling that they have posed I want to respond to the challenge view about the role of faith to those of us who take a positive in the advancement of humanity. Second, as a member of parliament to be both a defender of secularity it is not inconsistent for me and a defender of faith. the separation of Church and State. I strongly support Australian secularity In fact, the beauty of modern this debate on God and faith is that we can have ridicule and violence. without fear of persecution,

many nuances. In practice, secularity has I, for example, believe has the right approach. that Australia broadly like France Contrast this with a nation is taken to an extreme where secularity actually limits individual rights. that I would contend society respects all faiths From my perspective, a secular

that no religious organisation and accepts on the functions of government. should seek to impose its views should seek to diminish the role Secularity does not mean that we lives of the majority of Australians. that faith and religion play in the should be precluded Nor does it mean that the State of religious institutions from supporting the work

constructively to the community  where they are contributing services, education or welfare. be it in the provision of social our parliaments consider issues From time to time, to vote with their conscience. that require legislators if not most, will form judgements Many parliamentarians, that flow from their beliefs. based on their faith and the values It is unrealistic to expect their faith from their judgement, that any person can neatly quarantine just as it would be unrealistic their decision-making to expect a person to strip bare of their life experiences. from the weight In that context, I will outline that I derive from my own faith. some of the values and therefore, intrinsically, Third, I believe in a multicultural a multi-faith Australia. to discuss religious diversity Therefore, it is rather timely both here and overseas. that the misuse of religion and faith I will also contend our understanding of the good can actually diminish all of the world's great religions. that is inherent in the message of the most benign end of the spectrum, So, from the lips of commentators at at the extreme, to the hands of fundamentalists that no loving and forgiving god religion continues to be used in ways have envisaged or decreed. could possibly to find meaning in our lives The struggle individual and universal. is one that is essentially It is also timeless. whether divine intervention The farmer pondering can deliver him from drought the beauty of planet Earth from space to the astronaut viewing is seeing the hand of God at work, and wondering whether he or she on the nature of our being has as much cause to reflect or the Buddhist monk as the Vatican scholar living in a remote monastery. is the history of individuals The history of humanity of what life and death is all about. trying to establish an understanding poor levels of education and literacy For much of that history, the religious hierarchy did mean that it was of most religious doctrine. that was the source God filled a knowledge vacuum. it was seen as God's work. If there was no obvious explanation,

Today, individuals are more empowered

their own core beliefs. and better able to determine solely on the priests In Christianity, we no longer rely the word of God to convey and interpret and inaccessible language. from an ancient fundamentally be a personal one. For me, religious experience should in the rituals and teachings Some will find a home institutions. of established religious Others, as Karen Armstrong argues The Case For God, in her comprehensive work, approaches of these institutions will look beyond the prescriptive to find God. Last month, Christopher Hitchens Ideas at the Sydney Opera House. opened the Festival of Dangerous rather ironically, hear his words A large crowd attended to, to the sound of music in a venue that normally rings so often inspired by faith. attracted widespread coverage, His visit to Australia which is perhaps not surprising of his bestseller, following the success How Religion Poisons Everything. God Is Not Great: indisputable eloquence and repartee. Many have been swayed by his Hitchens and Richard Dawkins popular protagonists have become the leading

between religion and atheism. in the debate that they attract a band of followers Such is the power of their advocacy

that they seek to criticise. that has the zeal of many of those perhaps, tilling fertile soil In Australia, they are, Australians are rejecting religion because we do know that more and more

in all of its forms. measure that we have of these things. The Australian Census is the best In 2006, 18.7% of the population described themselves as having no religion. At the time of Federation over a century ago, only 1.4% of the population described themselves in this way. With the exception of 2001,

the census data shows a continuous trend of more and more Australians rejecting religion in the 108 years since Federation. Of those that do describe themselves as having religious affiliation, there is strong growth in the non-Christian religions. In the 10 years between 1996 and 2006,

those of non-Christian faith grew from 3.5% to 5.6% of the population with, perhaps contrary to some popular perceptions, Buddhism being the major beneficiary of this increase. The increase in the percentage of Australians who follow Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism can be generally explained by immigration patterns. Of the Christian faiths, those that are achieving the highest growth in the actual numbers of devotees are the Pentecostal churches followed by Eastern Orthodox churches.

However, again, this is generally at the expense of other Christian faiths. To put it simply, the Christian pie is not getting bigger, but it is being sliced differently. These trends have led some to despair that we are on an irreversible track towards a godless or faithless society.

While the trend has been consistent, obviously, it would be premature to declare that the age of faith is coming to an inevitable end. For a start, we should not overlook the fact that 70% of Australians do describe themselves as having religious affiliations. Whether this continues to decline during the course of this century will depend on forces that are both within and beyond the control of the organised religions. I often reflect on why it is that Christianity is losing rather than gaining adherents in Australia. In The Case For God, Karen Armstrong argues that there has been a significant shift in the way in which all three of the great monotheistic faiths have interpreted their scriptures  be it the Torah, the Bible or the Holy Koran. Her hypothesis is essentially that as religious leaders have sought to find their way in the rationalist world that rapid scientific advancement produced, they resorted to a more literalist interpretation in defence of the scriptures. She argues that before the Age of Enlightenment the Old and New Testaments were regarded as allegorical texts and able to be interpreted

according to the age in which they were being read,

but this has fundamentally changed. As one of her book's reviewers, Mark Vernon, summarised and I quote, "The theological point for us now is that an error took hold soon after the Renaissance. This was the conviction that religious truths could be proven by reason, tested by evidence and timelessly captured in a text or doctrine." I do think that one of the reasons why Christian faith has declined in the Western world is because of the reliance placed on a literal reading of the Testaments by church leaders. Such an approach has tangled the Christian faith in a confusion of contradictions. By encouraging literalist analysis of the Bible many churches have inadvertently invited people to question the validity of a faith that seems to be based on questionable facts or outdated prescriptions. I recently read the transcript of the cross-examination

of William Jennings Bryan in the famous Scopes trial of 1925. The State of Tennessee had sought to outlaw the teaching of evolution in its schools. When a teacher, John Scopes, deliberately flouted this law he faced trial in what became one of the highest-profile battles between evolutionists and the supporters of biblical creation up until that time in United States history. The prosecution was assisted by serial presidential candidate and one of the giants of Democratic politics, William Jennings Bryan, who was called to give evidence himself. What followed was the humiliation of Bryan

and his literal interpretation of the Bible by defence advocate Clarence Darrow, as he sought to argue the historical truth of Genesis and other books of the Testaments that Adam and Eve were really the first humans to walk the earth

just 6,000 years ago, that some 2,300 years before Christ, all living things, apart from those saved by Noah, were wiped from the face of the planet and that Jonah was really swallowed by a large fish or a whale.

From my perspective, Bryan's most damning words were, and I quote, "I believe in creation as there told, and if I am not able to explain it, I will accept it." Now, there are some that will with great conviction, even to this day,

argue that all of these things were so. In fact, a number of fast growing Evangelical churches in Australia

take a literalist approach to the scriptures. While most leaders of the older churches, if I can use that term, have moved away from such a position, I would argue that there is still an alienating liberalism that pervades many faiths and Christianity is not alone in this regard. Now, those of you, and I suspect there are a few here,

who are political junkies, will be avid watchers of The West Wing. You might recall that episode in which President Jeb Bartlett confronts a right-wing radio host who has led a crusade against homosexuality based on biblical doctrine. Bartlett wonders that if he were to form his views on homosexuality based on the prescriptions of Leviticus, whether he should also be following the guidance of the Old Testament in relation to the sale of his daughter into slavery, whether he should be putting to death his chief of staff for working on the Sabbath, or what he should be doing about footballers playing with a ball made of pigskin, or his wife for wearing cloth made from different threads. Those that seek to proclaim the prescriptions of the Bible selectively or literally

provide an armoury of ammunition to those like Hitchens and Dawkins. Laymen like myself struggle with the logic of such an approach.

And while debate rages about such matters, the true message of the scriptures  of compassion, justice, equality, dignity, forgiveness, charity and respect for other people - inevitably takes a back seat.

Hitchens and Dawkins go further than simply trying to pick holes in a literal or historical interpretation of the Bible and the texts and teachings of the other great religions. They argue that not only are all religions based on falsehoods but also that religion is a malevolent force.

Again, in this they are supported by those across the globe

who, both now and in the past, have used their faith to justify and explain suffering, war, cruelty and calamity.

It is a debating technique as old as discourse itself  to seek to define your opponents on terms that suit your hypothesis, usually by selecting the extremes, then send in the wrecking ball. It's an approach that anyone familiar the Australian Parliament would know about. I, however, do not accept that any of the great religions envisage a god or a divine force that sanctions the worst failings of humanity. Religion asks of us to become better people  to choose a life of giving and compassion. This golden rule is a thread that runs from Confucius to Christianity and from Buddhism to Islam. For me this is the essential message of all faiths  that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. As Mohammed spoke in his final sermon, "Hurt no-one, so that no-one may hurt you." Or as the great Jewish Rabbi Hillel put it, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." The God of my faith is not full of revenge as the Old Testament would suggest with a literal interpretation. The God of my faith does not cause earthquakes or tsunamis as acts of retribution. As Pope Benedict XVI identified in his recent encyclical letter, Caritas In Veritate - Love In Truth - and I quote, "Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope."

It is not a loving god that wilfully inflicts pain and suffering. No god of any mainstream religion would do that if God's love is real. And let me be clear, the Holy Koran does not extol Muslims to bomb buildings. God does not march off to war supporting one nation over another or the persecution of those of different creeds and colour. My God does not discriminate against women, nor favour firstborn children over others - and nor does God support one political party over another. All of these things have been claimed as acts of God at various times in our history. They provide easy targets for those that argue that religion causes more harm than good. However, they are not propositions that I believe have any foundation in the mainstream religions. Many today, look at the world and see one divided by religion. This is inflamed by both fear of the unknown and views formed by the actions of fundamentalists. There are some that wonder, for example, whether Islam and Christianity can peacefully coexist. My own father migrated to Australia from the Middle East  the son of an Armenian father and a Palestinian mother. Whilst Dad was a Christian growing up in Jerusalem, his closest childhood friend was a Jewish girl named Judy Meyer. Dad speaks fluent Hebrew and Arabic. He taught me tolerance. He is very ecumenical for someone who lost his home to a war that was essentially based on faith. In Australia he found a home that tolerated diversity

and shunned anti-secular behaviour. Australia has embraced religious diversity. It must always remain so, and as a member of parliament, I am a custodian of that principle of tolerance. That is why it is always disturbing to hear people, from time to time, rail against Muslims and Jews, or even Pentecostals and Catholics.

Australia must continue, without fear, to embrace diversity of faith provided that those gods are loving, compassionate and just. One of the great challenges for all of us all is to develop more understanding about those of different faiths. If we are to peacefully coexist, as any proper understanding of Christianity, Judaism and Islam should allow us to do,

then knowledge will be our greatest friend. To judge Islam based on the actions of extremists and terrorists would be no different than judging Christianity

on the actions of those who have, over the centuries, committed atrocities in the name of God and Christ. The brutality of the Crusades, the destruction of Constantinople,

the persecution of Jews and homosexuals,

the Inquisitions and the burning of heretics, the defence of apartheid by Afrikaans churches in South Africa  these are not the shining moments for Christianity and those of us who are Christians would reject that these were deeds properly undertaken

in the name of our religion. One of President Obama's most impressive speeches was his address to the Islamic world at Cairo University where he noted that, and I quote, "None of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed people of different faiths, but more than any other, they have killed Muslims.

Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings and with Islam." The Holy Koran teaches us that whoever kills an innocent,

it is as if he has killed all mankind. And the Holy Koran also says, "Whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind." Now, these words, whilst lauded as profound and revolutionary for an American president,

repeated the sentiments so often expressed with great eloquence by our own prime minister, John Howard,

in the immediate aftermath of the horrific Bali bombings. Yes, we should be concerned about extremists of any faith. Yes, we should fight for human rights around the world. However, to tar an entire faith based on the actions of those on the fringe is one that has no basis in a tolerant society. As we look to regimes like that of the Taliban in Afghanistan before 2002

or to the human rights abuses in Iran, we should also reflect on the success of Islamic democracy and moderation just next door to us in Indonesia. And within our own borders, we must accept the right of people to follow whatever religion they choose, to wear what they want and undertake their own rituals of observance. It always perplexes me that so many people worry about Muslim women wearing the hijab when for centuries and even in some places today, Catholic nuns dress in similar attire. What is important is that the practitioners of any faith respect the rights of others and the freedom of every individual to determine their own faith. Yes, we should condemn those governments

that force women to cover themselves from head to toe whether it is their choice or not. But we should not concern ourselves with people who make those choices themselves, as many Muslim women do. For me, faith has and continues to be a positive force across the globe. I argue this because, at its core, faith teaches us to respect others - to recognise the value of every human and to act accordingly. Faith is the spring

from which the compact that binds us together as individuals flows.

For us in Australia, we owe our liberal democratic tradition to the understanding that comes from believing in the essential worth of every other human being. It is the message of the golden rule, to love thy neighbour as thyself, and it is inspired by the understanding that we are all the children of God. In that respect for each other... It is that respect for each other that drives us

to believe in the virtues of charity, justice, equality and compassion.

In practical terms, we see the value of faith in the work of individuals and religious-based organisations within our community. The most obvious example is the link between faith and volunteering.

The ABS survey, Voluntary Work, Australia, published in 2007, found that of those Australians who had been actively involved in a religious organisation in the previous 12 months, some 57% were volunteers, compared with 29% of those who did not have any such an involvement. At its heart, faith has given us the values that are important to the overwhelming majority of Australians - a fair go, tolerance and respect, the importance of family and of making a contribution to the lives of others. I credit the influence of the Jesuits, who were responsible for my school education, in instilling in me the virtue of public service. It is why I am in politics and, I hope, in the service of those who elect me - many just outside the window here, actually. It is also why supporting charities like Sharity and the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, which raises funds for children's hospitals around Australia and in East Timor, is an important part of my life. The question in my mind is that if religious faith continues to diminish in the Western world, can we maintain those values that have underpinned our societies? This is the real challenge. We are a secular society and it is not the role of the State to proselytise on behalf of any faith. This is as it should be. People must determine for themselves whether to subscribe to any form of religious observance or belief. Nor do I believe that religion is an essential prerequisite to developing a deep respect for the values to which I have referred.

I am conscious, for example, that one of the people who guided the development of my political values was the English philosopher, John Stuart Mill. Mill was not raised in a religious household and his own views were probably agnostic, if not atheistic. Yet here was a person who developed a set of values that guide many of us who describe ourselves as liberals to this day.

And while those of faith may be more inclined to undertake charitable work, I do not for a moment seek to ignore the work of the many individuals and organisations that contribute to society without a religious base  organisations like Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross and UNICEF. However, in a society where some are without religious belief, we all must encourage our citizenry to develop a deep understanding and respect for the social compact that underpins a strong and cohesive community. If those values are not rooted in faith then they must be forged in similar principles. A secular society does not, and should not, mean a valueless society. I want to conclude tonight by talking a little about another phenomenon that I contend is a corollary of the decline of faith in our society. Now, religion has, throughout human history, provided us with a stable reference point for our own lives. The human side of religion is exemplified by those who dedicate their lives to helping others. They often provide us with life inspiration. In the past, that inspiration has often come from the works of the saints, the mystics, the prophets and in the case of my faith, from the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Such individuals provided human guidance for followers of their time. They showed us what we can achieve when we lead lives that are good and filled with love, truth and charity. They set an example for those with and without faith and, if we open our minds, people of different faiths. For example, President Benedict's recent encyclical is an open letter to all people of good will and not just his Catholic flock. Our challenge today, is to search for those around us who set a life example.

People must live lives that are real and honest. We should not praise and admire fakes and phoneys. I find it hard to believe that any prophet or saint was without fault or vice. Their lives were often marked with the constant struggle to overcome human frailty that is very real. If I reflect on society today, the stage on which such inspirational figures play is being crowded with new characters devoid of values. They do not encourage us to reflect on how we can make our own lives or those of others better. The cult of personality is not new. However, I question the example that is set by the celebrities whose only achievement is a brand of perfume or a reality program on Foxtel, with apologies to Foxtel. I wonder if when such people become our role models

are we, in fact, just diminishing ourselves? From time to time in politics, we see a similar cult of personality. Politics attracts people who can lead and inspire. However, for much of the history of Western democracy, the values and policies of politicians have been as important as the personalities of their proponents. or maybe it's just the nature of mass communications today  but the trend that I see in politics is one where personality is winning over the substance that should be at the heart of political life.

Now, the danger is that we manufacture politicians in the same way that celebrities can be created. Too many politicians seek to portray an image of something other than themselves. Image is about spin and media management and not about the real person  warts and all. We should not be afraid to be real. We would do well to avoid confection. In short, no leader should pretend to be something they are not. Sadly, there is an expectation amongst some commentators that politicians will either tell a lie or live a lie. It is even encouraged by some. If I can use a personal example, one journalist wrote recently in disparaging terms of some remarks I had made on radio because I had been honest  he actually suggested it would have been better if I had lied. He and others are relaxed with a politician telling a lie. In fact, sadly, some politicians have been proud to lie. It is wrong and it displays a certain lack of values. It also leaves the electorate bitter and cynical. Now, be it in politics or the broader society, we face skilled practitioners in the art of spin, however, I think that most people can sense, over time, those who are fake. Australians have an ingrained ability to identify those that are fundamentally not being honest to either themselves or to others. Community leaders, in particular, must be real and true. Be it in sport, the arts, media or parliament, whilst confection may provide some short-term, superficial benefit,

over the long term, a leader who is a fake will be seen to be a leader without values. And so, I return to my main point for the speech. What we are as a society must not do... ..we as a society must not do is allow our secularity to be a reason for ignoring those

who are truly inspirational just because they are people of faith. A believer and a non-believer can learn

from those who have trodden this earth inspired by their religion and dedicated to their fellow men and women.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, I have sought to share my views on the importance of faith. As a liberal, my view is that faith is not something that can or should be imposed

by government or politicians. It will however influence my words and my deeds.

A secular society imbued with the values that faith engenders will be stronger not weaker. And Australia is all the richer when it accepts that the values that the great religions teach

are the burning beacon of a just, fair and compassionate society based on truth and respect for our own humanity. Thank you. APPLAUSE

Many thanks, Joe Hockey for an important address. And also thanks to Malessons for providing this facility this evening. So we come to question and discussion period.

And we'll finish no later than seven o'clock. There are a lot of people here, so I'll ask you to keep your comments or questions fairly brief.

As you'll be aware, Mr Hockey, the issue of religion and politics has been quite, and you refer to it as being quite an issue in Australian politics. The turn of the 19th century was about education, the early 20th century about conscription, mid-50s about communism, later on probably about Iraq, and there seems to be a view that a lot of people oppose the involvement

of the Church in politics when they disagree with the Church. And when they happen to agree with the Church, they think it's not a bad idea. I mean, do you see any clear division in the Australian society about what is the role of God and what is the role of season? (LAUGHS) Well...

..a church has the same rights and entitlements as an individual to make a point on behalf of others.

And naturally enough, those people who have been part of the Church who enter into parliament will be influenced by the teachings of the Church. From my perspective, and I say again, faith is very much what an individual believes in, however I do not want to, you know, get into the role...

I don't think it is the role of the parliament to determine what stand a church should take on a particular issue, and nor is it the role of parliament to in any way disparage a church because it takes a political view or a view about what's in the interest of its members or congregation. Down there, and then right down the back. Joe, hi. If you are talking to us about us getting the balance right in Australia between secularism and faith, and we see moves within that Christian pie more towards the literalist perceptions of faith and often intolerant as some would say, and I would probably point out the Sydney diocese of the Anglican Church there, how do you actually think we retain the tolerance in faith that we have in our society when people are moving into those faiths more but also becoming more active in them and proselytising more and spreading more messages of intolerance? Well, I'm not sure that I agree with you that they're proselytising a message of intolerance. I don't necessarily accept that.

Some may choose to do it,

there'll always be a preacher, a priest or a minister... a minister of the Church, who may... LAUGHTER - probably a minister of the Crown as well - who may well preach intolerance, but I would say that it is the responsibility of all of us

to express an opinion when the opinion, when a church leader expresses a view that preaches intolerance. I think this is what defines us as individuals - to have the courage to stand up to people with power and with influence. And whilst they may claim to be close to God,

I believe that those people that are close to God are the ones that believe in a tolerant Australia, a compassionate community, who through their actions and their deeds, and not just their words, preach tolerance. We'll go at the back. Yeah. Er, thank you for your speech.

In Islam, there is a religious aspect and a political aspect and they're linked, and they're not separated as in Christianity. While the churches do engage in theological debate, will the government, or you know, speak for yourself, have a look at the political side of Islam, not waiting for it to come and troubles, but have a pre-emptive approach and analysis to make a peaceful process come forward?

I believe that most Muslims, particularly in Australia, accept that we are a tolerant and secular society. There will always be extremists, there will always be extremists. As for a particular imam, and I would apply this to a particular priest as well,

if they are preaching intolerance, or in particular if they are preaching illegal behaviour or encouraging illegal behaviour,

my view is that the full weight of the community through its laws should be applied to those individuals. Even to the extent of not allowing them if they should come from overseas, entry into Australia.

My clear view is that we want people of goodwill And most Australians want people of goodwill in our country. And most Muslims in Australia want people of goodwill in our country. Peter? Yes. Mr Hockey, you've spoken about the importance of religious values in Australian society, do you think that elements of religious law can be successfully integrated into a multicultural society

such as ours? Would you like to give me some examples? Sharia law, elements of sharia law. No. Will it stand alongside Australian secular law?

No. I think Australian secular law must be paramount, and when the lawmakers make those laws, then they should take into account the divergence of opinion. I do not accept that sharia law has a place alongside our law in Australia. Yeah, hi. I'm doing my PhD on historical genesis at the moment, I'm just wondering, I'm grappling along with the idea of God, and I'm wondering whether you think that God is an absolute truth or a relative truth? You've spoken a lot about faith, the talk seems to me more that it should be called In Defence Of Faith rather than In Defence Of God. Is your... There's an argument here, isn't it? There is of course. But is your view of God an absolute truth or a relative truth in that are the people of the rest of the world's faith essentially hearing to a good message but barking up the wrong tree when it comes to understanding the world? I'm just wondering how... Well, look, I'm not a theologian. I wouldn't pretend to be. Yeah. That's why I said at the outset that I aspire to be a minister

of the State rather than a minister of the Church. Having said that, I'm sure that from time to time, those churches would be keen to recruit more members. Look, I am a Christian, I am a Catholic. And I'm imperfect in that. And that's what I... From my perspective, God is an all-encompassing being.

I can't explain God, and I challenge anyone to authoritatively do so. But...

I, I... I simply apply my own beliefs and views to my work, and also to what I believe Australia should look like. And if you're asking me whether there is a definitive explanation for God, I couldn't give you one. I'm not qualified to give you one. I can only give you my personal opinion. There's a question here, then we'll go around at the back. Would you accept the proposition that the main purpose of religion is to install an ethical and moral life? If that is the case, couldn't an agnostic person also develop a philosophy that is equivalent to religion, but does not have to believe in God? Well, in a secular society, it's... (CHUCKLES) ..it's a broad church. (LAUGHS) In a secular society, agnostics, atheists, everyone is entitled to a view. And...as I say in my speech, there's the golden rule that is a consistent trait from Confucius to Christianity and from Buddhism to Islam, and that golden rule is essentially - do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Now, that's a good starting point.

That's a good starting point for agnostics and others as well.

I'll ask two questions if I can. First, you talked in your speech, Mr Hockey,

about voting with your conscience and with your god, would you say that the by and large Christian beliefs of the front bench while you were in power stood between Australians and policies that Australians largely agree with - to do with euthanasia and gay marriage - that the Christian beliefs at the front bench have forced you to stand between things that Australians were largely in support of? Look, it would have had an impact in relation to euthanasia and gay marriage. Unquestionably.

And I say again, as a member of Parliament, most members of Parliament would not divorce themselves from their personal beliefs. Particularly on conscience votes. Now, on conscience votes, I voted against the wishes of my church on one or two occasions. And I know I disappointed some within the Catholic Church. Particularly on the vote on RU486,

but also on stem cell research. But it is what I believe in. In the case of euthanasia, I know that I voted against the majority interest of my electorate. Because I voted to overturn the Northern Territory's laws permitting voluntary euthanasia. That was hard, but from my perspective, it was a conscience vote, and I voted that way. The central theme, Joe, as you rewrote it a few times would be around compassion, forgiveness and also leadership. I wonder how you reconcile that with an issue,

for example, it's been rather hot lately, to do with a particular individual who was released after serving time for paedophilia,

and I didn't hear, and I include yourself for example on Q&A on 17th September, among other members of our community that are leaders, I didn't hear a lot of compassion, forgiveness. I wonder how you reconcile that with what you've said tonight. It's very hard to forgive someone

for engaging in an act of paedophilia. It's hugely difficult.

That individual is entitled to get on with their life, but once they have served time. But as I said on that program, the people who are the victims of paedophilia will find it damn hard to get on with their lives. And that person does represent an ongoing threat. And if the local community does not want that person around, and I say this as a parent more than anything else, then that person should move on. Obviously, there are former convicted paedophiles

who live in our community, who have served their time. who have been released from jail, but as a parent,

I am a mentor and a protector to my children. And in those circumstances, whilst I may forgive that individual for committing that act, paedophilia, I need to protect my children from a possible future criminal act by that individual. I don't see it as inconsistent. Mr Hockey, you spoke of the shrinking philosophical divide in Australian politics, I'm wondering if you ever see a time when political debates or election campaigns set along religious lines, whether it's between affiliations or whether it's secular against non-secular? And do you think we should as a society or you as a parliament should put in place any measures to stop that? I don't see that happening. I really don't. There used to be a time in Australia

when Catholics were consigned to the Labor Party and Christian non-Catholics, non-Catholic Christians were in the Liberal Party. And perhaps Menzies is turning in his grave that there is a Joseph Benedict Hockey in the Liberal Party. LAUGHTER And perhaps he's also turning in his grave

at the thought that in the last Howard cabinet at least a quarter of the members were Jesuit-educated. But isn't that great? Isn't that what our country is about? That you are not, and you should not be defined on your religious beliefs. You should not be defined on your heritage or the colour of your skin.

You should be defined on the content of your heart, and your aspirations for the country. That is what a political contest should be about. Joe, you say that leaders should be real people, warts and all, a direct quote here: "We would do well to avoid confection." Are we seeing the real you? And are you the next leader of the Liberal Party? LAUGHTER That was a question from the ABC to Joe. LAUGHTER Er... Well... Hopefully you are seeing the real me.

And only over time, you'll be the judge of that. And as for leadership,

I would hope there are many leaders in the ranks of the Liberal Party. But the leader that I strongly support in an unqualified way is Malcolm Turnbull. OK, there's a question there. That's a bit hard to phrase the question, but maybe just your comment on... It's a bit hard to phrase the speech too. (LAUGHS)

LAUGHTER Just this proposition that the reason why Christianity is declining is unfortunately theological, it's tied up with the theology that has become discredited in the eyes of most people in a modern educated world, the Western world,

because it's based on irrational faith which ends up in the ultimate extreme flying planes in skyscrapers, it's based on a superiority, a supremacist idea of one single belief, the one exclusive true God and so on, it's based on the idea that human beings are subservient, that this life is unimportant compared to the one coming on. So all of these things are negative sort of ideas that run contrary to humanism, to the very basic concepts of compassion and so on, that the historical Christ mentioned before. Do you want to make a comment on that? Er, not really.

LAUGHTER I think the suggestion is that belief in faith or belief in God is not a rationalist act, I think that's the point. Um... Well, you know... ..from the perspective of a humanist, I accept that's a view. If we could, as I said to the gentleman a little bit earlier, if I could...define God in a comprehensive way, then gee, I'll be in an interesting place. And... Look, from my perspective, God is still a mystery.

And on so many occasions, I find myself asking how God's will would be shown in this instance. You know, there's so many people that say they're doing God's work.

A mate of mine is a cosmetic surgeon in Hollywood. He says he does God's work. LAUGHTER And today, I saw a report that the head of Goldman Sachs

said banks are doing God's work. So I feel that a lot of people use God's name in vain. And they say they are employees of God for the wrong reasons. So... Look, I still define myself to this day as an imperfect Catholic. And therefore God still remains a mystery in my life. As he or she does in the lives of many. For those of you who are so confident

that you fully understand the wisdom of God

or the creation of humanity, I say, "Good luck." But I think faith is a very personal thing, and that there is no conclusive answer on that.

There's a teaching that says

that Jesus was the son of God and Mary was the mother of God, how do you reconcile that? I think that's heresy, I think. LAUGHTER Well, it comes to the literal interpretation of the Bible. I mean, if you look, I know I'm going to be criticised for criticising the literal interpretation of the Bible, but if I can give you two examples... For example, in the Old Testament at Exodus,

there are guidelines for the buying and selling and treatment of slaves. And in Luke 12:47, Jesus Christ is quoted as saying, "Effectively if servants don't do what the master wants them to do, they will be beaten hard." I don't believe my God believes that. A compassionate, contemporary god would not believe that it's right to support slavery. And from my perspective, there are different moments when you are reading the Bible that a literal interpretation would seem to be acceptable, but on other occasions, it's simply just inconceivable. And I accept that. Take for example the word of Jesus Christ in Mark 10:25 about... ..it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Well, there have been numerous interpretations

of whether the camel is an elephant or whether the eye of a needle is in fact a sewing needle or the eye of the needle is a gate. I remember my father taking me to Jerusalem, and we looked at one of the gates to the Old City,

and he said definitively, "This is eye of the needle. Here it is! It's a gate. And the only way a rich man can get to heaven

is to get through the eye of a needle." And I immediately walked through the middle of it, hoping that one day I would be rich. LAUGHTER So it comes down to whether you agree with the literal interpretation of particular quotes from the Bible, or whether you accept that there is some doubt but you take the message. And it is the message that is important. Well, that was a personal and candid Joe Hockey with his assessment of the role of religion in Australian society. And if you'd like to hear the rest of that Q&A including his thoughts on the Hillsong Church, then head to our website... ..where you can watch or download a huge selection of talks from Australia and around the world. Well, that's all for today. I hope you enjoyed the show.

Tune in again next Sunday at 6pm when we'll be bringing you the highlights from the recent Media140 Conference. I'm Tony Jones and I'll see you then. Closed captions by CSI