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Leaders look to God for political inspiration -

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Leaders look to God for political inspiration

Simon Santow reported this story on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 12:46:00

PETER CAVE: They say that religion and politics don't mix but it seems that Australia's politicians
are increasingly ignoring the old adage.

A new study highlights the growing use of both God and Christianity in the language used by our
political leaders.

The researcher has found that politicians believe they can tap into the "religious vote", even if
it proves more illusory than real.

Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: Political researcher Anna Crabb looked at more than 2,000 speeches given by political
leaders and prominent frontbenchers over a six-year period from 2000.

And she found some big names were lacing their political discourse with references to religion.

ANNA CRABB: Kevin Rudd and Peter Costello and John Howard, they all referred to Australia's
Judeo-Christian heritage in speeches about Australia and Australia's way of life.

SIMON SANTOW: So if you go back to the politicians of yesteryear - the Bob Hawkes, the Paul
Keatings, and even before that to Menzies and Whitlam and Fraser - were there those sort of
references?

ANNA CRABB: There were sprinklings of those references but in my research I did try and get a grasp
of how often these terms were used by those sorts of politicians and really they didn't come up
very frequently at all.

SIMON SANTOW: Anna Crabb says terrorism has inspired politicians to talk about God but so too has
their own religious belief and sense of faith.

Then there's the votes in Parliament on matters of conscience, such as stem cells and abortion.

But above all, she believes politicians think there are votes in it.

ANNA CRABB: The growth of the mega-churches and politicians going along to those events, it really
amplified this idea that there is a Christian vote out there and that Christian vote is associated
with those sort of progressive mega-churches.

The Liberals started off talking a lot more about religion, and then Labor sort of felt they had to
respond to what the Liberals were talking about, and they didn't want the Liberals to only identify
with this Christian vote, as they call it.

SIMON SANTOW: Nick Economou lectures in Politics at Melbourne's Monash University.

He thinks the notion of a "religious vote" in Australia is over-stated.

NICK ECONOMOU: I rather suspect that this is one of those areas where members of Parliament can be
a bit out of step general community perceptions. My view is that religion actually doesn't play
such a large role in Australian politics; that Australia is a fairly secular state.

SIMON SANTOW: Dr Economou says there's always been a scramble among politicians to appeal to the
mainstream.

But he warns it would be a mistake to imagine what works overseas necessarily works in Australia.

NICK ECONOMOU: In America, people are up front and try to use religion for political purposes. In
Australia, we see religious beliefs as one of those things that should remain in the realm of the
private.

In those big issues that the Church would like to win, whenever it's gone to the Parliament, they
have lost.

SIMON SANTOW: Retired Liberal politician Bruce Baird chaired a cross-parliamentary Christian
fellowship group.

BRUCE BAIRD: There are a lot of Christians across Australia that are influenced by the degree of
Christian commitment of their local member and of the leader of the Party.

SIMON SANTOW: He says he's noticed pre-selection candidates speaking openly of their religion when
vying to get into Parliament.

Then there's the example set by their leaders.

BRUCE BAIRD: We've had a whole number of leaders of political parties - John Howard, John

Anderson, Kevin Rudd - who've made no excuse in terms of their own political commitment. And each
of them spoke at the big parliamentary Christian fellowship annual prayer breakfast that was held
in the Great Hall in Canberra. And even Peter Garrett shared in terms of his Christian faith.

SIMON SANTOW: Is there any evidence to suggest that it puts anyone off?

BRUCE BAIRD: Well, I have certainly not expressed - I've been 20 years in politics - had anyone say
to me, "Oh, the problem is with you is that you can't make a balanced judgement because you're a
Christian".

SIMON SANTOW: Have you noticed any pattern emerging with where Kevin Rudd tends to make himself
available to the media on a Sunday?

Oh well, certainly he does it outside the church. But from somebody who, you know, from the other
side of politics who knows him well, and Kevin was the most regular attender from the Labour Party
of the parliamentary Christian fellowship breakfasts. He was always there and he made no excuse of
it. And as you know, he brought people together after the 2004 election, encouraging people to make
contact with the churches and not give up the vote to the Coalition parties. So he did broaden the
appeal and it is a deep down, solid faith that he has. Not a political excise but one which is
genuinely felt.

PETER CAVE: Former chairman of the parliamentary prayer group, Bruce Baird, ending that report from
Simon Santow.