Something strange is happening to the Liberal Party in South Australia, long captured by the ascendant so-called “moderate” faction, led at state level by Premier Steven Marshall and Deputy Premier and Attorney-General Vickie Chapman.
Only time will tell, but it feels like the scales are falling from the eyes of many South Australian conservative voters – voters who once relied on the party to hold the line on so-called life issues.
Not any longer. Following the passage of laws liberalising access to late-term abortion and euthanasia hundreds of practising Christians have joined the party apparently determined to influence its future policy positions.
Weirdly for a party calling itself a ‘broad church’, officials controlled by the dominant moderate faction have moved to ban many Christians from joining the party and demanded many others to show cause why they shouldn’t be expelled.
Just what rule in the party constitution these people have broken is not clear, making the so-called ‘moderate’ faction appear, well, extreme.
The move has sparked a show-down internally and the outcome is not yet clear.
So what is happening in South Australia? And why now?
The cause of the current awaking can be traced to the recent passage of extreme pro-abortion laws in South Australia, allowing abortion to birth. Although much of the media coverage focused on the ‘decriminalisation’ aspect of the Bill, the liberalisation of late-term abortion was unprecedented in the state and caused an outcry in many communities.
The legislative push was led by Chapman as a private member’s bill and openly supported by Premier Marshall, a product of an elite Lutheran education.
It triggered a protest of about 5,000 people who marched past Parliament House on a cold rainy day in February. No one was surprised when the ABC News that evening reported the crowd as “several hundred” in number.
They were addressed by pro-life parliamentarians from both sides of politics, in both state and federal parliaments. Everyone there knew the numbers in state parliament were likely against them. Still, they marched. Many were Christians, but not all.
The abortion Bill passed in February, with the support of Labor opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas, a product of an elite Catholic education.
However, it was opposed by a stalwart group of Liberal and Labor MPs, women and men, many of whom were finding their public voice in defence of life for the first time.
But it was one speaker at the rally who perhaps provided the deepest insight into the current awakening in the Liberal Party.
Recalling the first time South Australia launched into abortion liberalisation, in 1969 under another Liberal government. The then-attorney-general, Robin Millhouse, admitted in a newspaper interview more than 40 years later that his championing of that abortion law was his “deepest regret”, after a lengthy and storied career in politics and the law.
“It has become abortion on demand. I did not intend it to be that,” said Millhouse in 2014, quoted in The Advertiser. The law had been drafted to allow abortions to preserve the health of the mother, although definitions were kept vague.
“I deeply regret that the medical profession – and the lawyers – interpreted the law too widely,” said the life-long Christian, three years before his death, aged 87.
Let it be noted that Millhouse was no conservative. Indeed, in the seventies, he was a key figure in the breakaway Liberal Movement, a small-l liberal party that later formed the foundation stone of the Australian Democrats.
The quotes of the late Liberal attorney-general echoed across the crowd and across the 52 years since his so-called reforms passed Parliament.
Listening intently from the lawns outside the Adelaide Oval, many from this generation of South Australians appear unwilling to engage in the double think that in 1969 allowed the passage of a law purportedly limited on health grounds, then promptly forgetting all about it, as abortion on demand was rolled out across the state.
Many of today’s Christians appear to be younger and wiser than their parents’ generation, figuring that the new law will simply lead to increased abortions, now stretching into the third trimester, with little oversight or medical justification: a purer form of abortion on demand.
At no point during the lead-up to the passage of the Bill was any evidence presented that South Australian women were crying out for more abortions.
A close reading of the annual abortion statistics (South Australia is one of the few states which track the practice in detail, albeit releasing statistics each year that were several years old) reveals that fully one in five pregnancies in the state was terminated.
That is, for every four babies born in South Australia, one doesn’t make it. These figures are likely in line with other states, although it is difficult to confirm.
South Australia is hardly a state that could claim to be ‘under-serviced’ for abortions.
Yet, like a one-two punch, in May South Australia’s Christians were confronted by a euthanasia bill, again presented by Liberal so-called moderates led by deputy leader Chapman, and supported by fellow moderate, Marshall.
Many Liberal supporters who are Christian, and many others of sound morals, would have reasonably reminded themselves: I did not vote this Liberal Government into office so it could incubate extreme social experiments that cross moral and social norms?
South Australia’s new euthanasia law is now passed and is in an interim period before its enforcement. But just one issue illustrates its likely divisiveness: Catholic homes for the aged will have no right to conscientiously opt-out –- they will be compelled to host these deliberate killings within their walls.
Admirably, Catholic Archbishop Patrick O’Regan called publicly for the faithful to urge their MPs to vote the Bill down.
And while Catholic hospitals will be permitted to conscientiously object, the Catholic leader of the opposition, Peter Malinauskis, did not, voting in favour of the Bill.
Millennia-old taboos are falling in South Australia and ironically it is the leaders of the Liberal government who have shepherded these radical changes through Parliament.
But also falling are the illusions of many Christian Liberal Party supporters.
Politics is done by those who turn up, so it is said.
Christian Liberals are now turning up at the door of their party in their hundreds, no doubt demanding an explanation and intending to influence future policy direction.
Youthful Liberal Senator Alex Antic has been prominent in urging rank and file Christians to get involved in politics if they are not happy.
And why not? What have righteous Christians who support the Liberal Party got to lose, at this point?
They live in a state, and a country, being swiftly covered over by the policy equivalent of moral defeatism, driven by what St John Paul II called the ‘culture of death’.
The prohibitions of the Judeo-Christian Bible, supported unanimously by all strands of Christianity and many other faiths in their own ways, are being systematically uprooted across Australia and, most recently South Australia.
The long-gagged and apparently dormant conservative wing of the Liberal Party is now finding its voice, with Federal Liberal MP Tony Pasin and outgoing MP Nicolle Flint recently joining Antic in raising concerns publicly, following the Party’s moves to block new members.
But it is the state party room that remains the cauldron for future policies on life issues.
The brave, if outnumbered, pro-life Liberals will need all the new party members and more, if there is any hope of life-centred policies again becoming the norm, within a generation.
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