۷ مهر ۱۴۰۱ |۳ ربیع‌الاول ۱۴۴۴ | Sep 29, 2022
Bridget Archer

Religious group distributes illustrated leaflets showing moderate Liberals destroying faith-based schools.

Hawzah News Agency – The Australian Christian Lobby is targeting moderate Liberals who crossed the floor to strengthen protections in Scott Morrison’s religious discrimination package, distributing leaflets in their electorates showing a mocked-up image of MPs driving a wrecking ball into religious schools.

Guardian Australia has seen new leaflets attacking Liberals Trent Zimmerman, who is in a fight to retain his seat of North Sydney; Dave Sharma, who is battling to hold the eastern suburbs seat of Wentworth; and Bridget Archer, who holds the most marginal Coalition seat in the country – Bass, in Tasmania.

As well as the mocked-up image, the leaflets state the MPs “voted against protecting people of faith from discrimination” when the package was before the parliament in February. It also says the MPs “voted to remove laws that protect the values of faith-based schools”.

The leaflets ask voters to consider whether these “attacks on Christianity and other faiths accord with your values”.

Some constituents in these electorates are also reporting having been targeted by automated phone “push” polling highlighting the incumbents’ votes on the religious discrimination proposal.

Back in February, five moderates – Archer, Zimmerman, Katie Allen, Fiona Martin and Dave Sharma – crossed the floor in an attempt to add protections for LGBTQ+ students to the Sex Discrimination Act.

The eruption during the high-stakes parliamentary deliberation over religious discrimination followed the Morrison government revealing it would protect gay students from expulsion – but not other forms of discrimination – without protecting trans students at the same time.

On Tuesday night Zimmerman told Guardian Australia he was disappointed but not surprised the ACL would target him electorally in this way. He said he was certain a majority of his constituents backed his stand.

“As the son of a faith-based school principal I have a deep understanding of the role of faith-based schools,” Zimmerman said. “But I also have no regrets about standing up for gay students and teachers when I crossed the floor.”

Archer said: “I stand by my decision to ensure Tasmania’s gold standard anti-discrimination laws remain intact.”

“I have had further friendly and constructive discussions with Christian schools in northern Tasmania regarding my decision and I would welcome any discussion with the Australian Christian Lobby should they wish to reach out to me.”

Sharma said: “The ACL attacks on me are misleading. I support the ability of faith-based schools to retain their faith-based character.

“But what I do not support is the ability of faith-based schools to discriminate against teachers and students solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, as Citipointe Christian College sought to do, for instance.

“Having consulted closely with faith leaders in Wentworth throughout this process, as well as the LGBTQI+ community, I am confident that this position represents that of the vast majority of the seat of Wentworth – a seat that overwhelmingly voted in favour of marriage equality,” Sharma said.

He said if the ACL wanted to run a campaign against him “for staying true to my values and those of my community – good luck to them”.

“The ACL’s doctrinaire views are not only wildly out of step with mainstream Australia, they are also at odds with the very Christian community they purport to represent,” he said.

The fresh fracas over the leaflets comes as the prime minister is continuing to resist calls to dump the controversial Liberal candidate in Warringah, Katherine Deves.

Deves’ candidacy is intensifying pressure on Liberal moderates facing off against teal independents in metropolitan seats. Guardian Australia reported on Monday that Zimmerman had contacted the prime minister’s office seeking her disendorsement.

Christian lobby groups have used the election campaign to press both major parties to recommit to the unamended religious discrimination bill.

In February Labor helped pass the religious discrimination bill in the lower house but, along with the five Liberal MPs who crossed the floor, added amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to protect LGBTQ+ students. To prevent a second boil over from conservatives, Scott Morrison pulled the bill.

Asked on the hustings last week if he would commit to reintroduce and pass the bill in the next term, the prime minister said his “views about protecting people against religious discrimination are well known and my credibility on those issues are not challenged or under question”.

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