Australian Christian Lobby
|Registration No.||40 075 120 517 (ABN)|
|Key people||Chairman, Tony McLellan
Deputy Chairman, Jim Wallace AM
Managing Director, Lyle Shelton
|Motto||Voice for values|
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is a political organisation based in Canberra, which works in six different states and territories inside the country. The ACL is politically active in Australia as a socially conservative lobbying organisation. They have been involved in several controversies, including censorship and LGBTI issues such as same-sex marriage and adoption and parenting.
The Australian Christian Coalition (ACC) was founded in 1995 by John Gagliardi, a lay leader of a large Pentecostal church in Brisbane. Gagliardi had held journalistic positions as editor of the Townsville Bulletin and as a presenter for Channel 10 news. Co-founders were John McNicoll, a retired Baptist minister turned lobbyist in Canberra, and John Miller. Miller worked with a number of community and government organisations and held leadership positions within his independent community-based church. The organisation changed its name to the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) in March 2001.
The ACL is an Australian Public Company, Limited By Guarantee and files political expenditure returns with Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). It publishes magazines such as Viewpoint, which are provided to Australian parliamentarians at no charge. It also periodically issues media releases and communicates with supporters via email newsletters.
Views and lobbying efforts
According to the ACL's website, "The vision of the Australian Christian Lobby is to see Christian principles and ethics accepted and influencing the way we are governed, do business and relate to each other as a community. The ACL aims to foster a more compassionate, just and moral society by seeking to have the positive public contributions of the Christian faith reflected in the political life of the nation." The ABC has described the ACL as "a conservative Christian lobby group providing Biblical solutions for social issues". The ACL has been described by writer Chrys Stevenson as "extremist Christians" and "dominionists", distinctions which the ACL deny and have countered. Political scientist John Warhurst described ACL as an evangelical lobby group and considers groups including ACL to be more politically influential than the Christian political party Family First.
Former senior staff members of the company have expressed concern that the ACL's policies are created by a small number of company owners, while many people assume that it represents Australian churches or a caucus of members. Then managing director Jim Wallace confirmed that the organisation represents its supporters only but that, for contentious policy decisions, he contacts a group of representative theologians representing a number of denominations.
The ACL promotes its socially conservative objectives through lobbying and public outreach. The organisation is actively involved in influencing public policy in Australia on a range of social issues.
Prior to the Australian 2007 federal election, the ACL hosted a "Make it Count" event with the Prime Minister, John Howard, and Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, speaking in turn about their positions on a range of issues effecting Christians, and again on 21 June 2010, with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Christian leaders of 20 denominations attended the events. Days later, when Julia Gillard became the Australian Prime Minister, she was asked the same set of questions.
Gillard has met with church leaders, on at least one occasion, in meetings organised by the ACL. In 2012 she pulled out of her planned appearance at the ACL national conference after Jim Wallace made remarks that homosexuality was more hazardous to health than smoking. Gillard called the comments "heartless", "wrong" and "totally unacceptable". Former attorney-general Robert McClelland addressed the ACL's national conference following Gillard's decision not to attend, defending the work of the ACL and describing Jim Wallace as a "fair-minded man". The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen in backing Jim Wallace's comments has said Mr Wallace had, "given us an opportunity to talk about something significant, namely the question of health risk".
Prior to state government elections, the ACL also hosts "Make it Count" events giving the major party leaders an opportunity to provide information on their vision for the state and how they propose to engage with the Christian constituency. Church leaders and others in the audience can also ask questions. State-based "Make it Count" events have been held in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. These events are usually webcast to a wider audience. For both federal and state elections, the ACL also holds "Meet Your Candidate" forums, primarily in marginal seats, to give voters the opportunity to meet and question the people who are seeking their vote.
In September 2011, during Child Protection Week, ACL released a report, For Kids’ Sake, in response to increasing levels of abuse, neglect and self-harm related to children, which the ACL state sliding marriage rates are partly to blame.
ACL actively oppose various political moves to recognize specific LGBTI rights in Australia, particularly those regarding same-sex marriage, LGBTI adoption and parenting, and have campaigned for the rights of church owned schools to be able to legally discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
ACL support rights for LGBTI people including access for same-sex couples to Medicare, inheritances, superannuation benefits and social security income support. Former attorney-general Robert McClelland has said protesters would not have recognised that the ACL had supported amendments to 84 pieces of commonwealth legislation that removed discrimination against same-sex couples.
A study in June 2012 found the ACL raises LGBTI issues almost five times more than any other issue, and described the ACL's campaign against gay rights as "relentless" and "disproportionate". Other Christian leaders have stated the ACL's campaigning against gay rights does not represent the stance of all Christians, and several Christian Churches have stated they are frustrated and concerned about the ACL's actions on the issue. Greens MP Colleen Hartland has stated "I would think [the ACL's] hatred of gays is un-Christian."
Jim Wallace has stated that the claim that there is any discrimination against homosexual couples is a "myth", and the ACL has criticised the government for working with a gay advisory body to assist its decision making as "disgraceful and pandering to a minority".
There have been several bills before the Australian Federal government- including the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012- proposing changes to the definition of marriage to include same sex marriages. ACL has used various strategies to lobby against such changes.
Their objections can be summarised as
- that marriage has been defined as a heterosexual union "throughout history, transcending time, religions, cultures, and people... even in those societies which accepted or even encouraged homosexuality".
- legalising gay marriage would "create vulnerabilities for church and people of faith and their freedom of religion and conscience," with ministers being forced (or coerced) into conducting same-sex weddings against their conscience. A critic has described this statement as "a ridiculous lie", on the grounds that the bill explicitly stated that would not be the case.
- That, if gay marriage rights were granted, the next push will be for marriage to include polygamous relationships. Gay marriage campaigners pointed out that polygamous marriage is not legal in any country that has legalised gay marriage.
- That gay marriage would "sever the natural connection between marriage and children, with significant effects on the well being of children and on the family unit." They state that gay adoption can lead to the hiding of genetic parental information to children.
The ACL have also expressed concern that the public has been misled into believing that there is more public support on this issue than there really is. In June 2012, in a televised debate on Channel 7's Sunrise program, Jim Wallace responded to the show's perceived bias saying, "I think that this whole campaign would do great credit to Joseph Goebbels". The ACL has said that the show's partnership with GetUp! and associated advertising on its website "compromise Sunrise's role as a current affairs program and move it to the realm of overt activism", and as such is a breach of the Australian Commercial Television Code of Practice, which requires news to be presented impartially.
ACL and GetUp! were involved in preparing petitions opposing and supporting the proposals respectively. The first petition that ACL organised contained 52,000 signatures. The second ACL petition attracted over 100,000 signatures in six weeks. The GetUp! petition contained 140,285 signatures.
The ACL attracted controversy after Jim Wallace tweeted on Anzac Day in 2011: "Just hope that as we remember servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!" Wallace was heavily criticised on Twitter for his comments, and also received criticism from other Christian leaders. In response an online petition was started encouraging Australian Christians to state that the ACL does not represent their views. The petition was signed by over 250 people in its first 24 hours. Wallace later deleted his comment and apologised for its "ill timed" nature, but stood by the sentiment he expressed in the comment.
The ACL was involved in the National Marriage Day rally in 2011. Conflicting sources report the ACL as either a co-founder of the rally or just a supporter. The ACL's Jim Wallace told those who attended that there was, "a need to end the pejorative language framing this debate." Guest speakers at the rally stated gay marriage should be "laughed at and ridiculed," comments which were seen as damaging to the mental health of young same-sex attracted people, leading to calls for ACL to distance itself from such statements.
In 2011, ACL auspiced a coalition of churches called the Committee for the Preservation of Marriage. They circulated a summary of their stance to politicians, stating that the preservation of the "unique meaning of marriage" is "not of special or limited interest, but serves the common good, particularly the good of children". The document was endorsed by 50 national church leaders from the Anglican, Catholic, Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, Lutheran, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist Church and a faction of the Uniting Church.
In April - May 2012, ACL made submissions to the House of Representatives and Australian Senate relating to the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. On 4 May 2012, Jim Wallace appeared before the Australian Senate, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee during their consideration of the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, stating the ACL's position.
On 19 September 2012, the House of Representatives voted against the bill. A second bill was defeated later that month in the federal senate, with a third bill defeated in the Tasmanian Parliament a week later.
In April 2013 a proposal was put forward for a 14 September referendum to ask a question regarding the recognition of same-sex marriage. ACL and other Christian groups supported the proposal. There were divisions amongst same-sex marriage advocates over the referendum proposal.
Polygamy is practised informally within Australia. The Greens faced a backlash from polyamorists when they ruled out supporting legislation to allow multiple marriages. ACL has accused the Greens of hypocrisy, because they believe the logic they use to argue for marriage equality should extend to people who have multiple partners. Commenting on the divisive effects of this backlash, Bisexual Alliance Victoria president James Dominguez said he is "horrified" his comments are being used against the push for marriage equality. Further Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Alex Greenwich said the ACL had no arguments left except fear. "The ACL’s scaremongering is a sign of desperation and will be rejected by the majority of fair-minded Australians who want their gay friends and family members to be able to share in... marriage," he said.
In May 2012, a judgement by the NSW Supreme Court ruled that two men are the legal parents of baby born via surrogacy, after the birth mother consented to relinquish her recognition on the birth certificate. Legal experts expected more applications for parentage transfers based on the decision by Justice Paul Brereton. The ACL responded to the court decision by calling for governments to repeal laws which allow single people or same-sex couples to "acquire babies" by surrogacy. In a statement, Wallace said "Babies should not be created to satisfy the lifestyle choices of singles and same-sex couples" and further that "This selfish gay agenda knows no reasonable limits and it is time that political leaders began imposing limits on them to protect the most fundamental rights of children to a mother and a father."
In another surrogacy case, where an estranged female partner was given precedence over the biological father on a birth certificate, the ACL lobbied the NSW Government to have biological details included on birth certificates, on the grounds that removing these details could be damaging to children and their biological parents.
In a third case, the birth mother expressed profound regret at having entered into a surrogacy arrangement. In response, ACL lobbied the Queensland Government. When the government announced that it would adjust the previous surrogacy legislation to exclude same sex couples, the Queensland ACL branch director, Wendy Francis, said that she was subject to a barrage of abusive and pornographic emails and mobile phone calls.
Poverty and justice
ACL Chief of Staff Lyle Shelton has stated that poker machines are "causing incredible hardship to children and to families right across this nation and needs to be tackled". In an effort to minimise harm associated with poker machines, the ACL has supported a trial for mandatory pre-commitment scheme. The ACL has worked with GetUp!, the Salvation Army and the Churches Gambling Taskforce to establish the Stop The Loss Coalition which has launched TV and radio commercials designed to assist in, "say(ing) 'no more' to the $12 billion pokies industry and the dreadful harm they inflict on hundreds of thousand of Australians".
ACL has worked with Micah Challenge to reduce third world poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on halving global poverty by 2012. In May 2012, Jim Wallace, said: "That we have both major parties abandoning their commitment to the world's poorest is a sad commentary on the level of both integrity and compassion in a Parliament Australians are increasingly losing confidence in."
ACL has asked that the ACT government's proposed religious vilification bill be shelved or abandoned, claiming the legislation will undermine freedom of speech and lead to drawn out legal battles.
Youth and education
ACL has established a leadership program targeting 18 to 26 year old young people. The Compass program is a joint-initiative between ACL and the Compass Foundation, based in New Zealand. The program includes mentoring and coaching of young Christians aged 15 to 20 years, to assist them into strategic and influential positions in their professions so they can serve Christ and have "a disproportionate impact for the Gospel".
ACL has provided input into the formulation of the proposed Australian National Curriculum. ACL lobbied against proposal to replace the terms Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD) with Before the Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE). The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority later stated they would change the explanatory material to specify the BC and AD should still be taught as well as CE and BCE.
In response to a broadening of Federal school chaplaincy funding, Jim Wallace said that "It’s not that schools shouldn't have secular student welfare workers but this should not have come from the pool of money promised to the National School Chaplaincy Program during the 2010 election campaign."
In January 2012 the ACL criticised Cineplex Australia for displaying a live uncensored Twitter feed on its website, after comments which included swearing and jokes about bestiality appeared in the feed. Cineplex Australia subsequently removed the live feed, acknowledging "It shouldn't be on there."
The video gaming community is critical of the ACL's stance against R18+ video games. A commentator stated that the fact the Catholic Church was in favour of introducing R18+ video games and the ACL was not proved "once and for all" that the ACL do not represent all people of Christian faith. The government announced in June 2012 that an R18+ category for video games would be introduced on 1 January 2013, "bringing Australia into line with the rest of the world". The ACL is now lobbying for the R18+ classification, which is still having its standards determined, to allow no more sex and violence than the current MA15+ classification.
The ACL was one of the primary supporters of Senator Stephen Conroy's proposed mandatory Internet blacklist. The ACL sought to extend the blacklist to filter all pornographic materials and not just materials which are considered inappropriate for children (the original reason for the blacklist's creation). An Australian citizen who wanted to download pornographic material via the internet would then have had to request that their internet service provider unblock the filter. One day prior to the government announcement of a delay to the implementation of the internet filter scheme, the ACL was briefed leading to some criticism of their "disproportionate influence" on the filtering policy. In November 2012, after years of debate, the federal government formally abandoned its attempts to introduce the internet filter, a move that disappointed the ACL.
ACL has lobbied for all outdoor advertising to be G rated. In May 2011 the advertising agency Adshel pulled a series of billboards from circulation in Brisbane following what has been described as a coordinated campaign from the ACL. The advertisements, which were encouraging safe sex, featured a fully clothed, hugging gay couple holding an unopened condom packet. Under a second unopened condom packet, was the name of the advertisement campaign, 'Rip & Roll'. Adshel's CEO stated they removed the billboards after receiving around 30 complaints and that "None of the complaints indicated any liaison with the Australian Christian Lobby, so Adshel was made to believe that they originated from individual members of the public". The billboards were reinstated following counter-protests of their removal and revelations that the ACL was responsible for the campaign. When the ACL was accused of homophobia, an ACL representative publicly stated their complaints had nothing to do with homosexuality and that they opposed "the sexual nature of the ads". However several of the individual complaints to Adshel suggested the ads would "encourage homosexuality". Following the controversy, the Queensland ACL branch director, Wendy Francis, said that she was subject to a barrage of abusive and pornographic emails and mobile phone calls.
Both major political parties voiced support for the ads. State treasurer Andrew Fraser said complaints about the ad were homophobic and Healthy Communities executive director Paul Martin accused the ACL of trying to have gay people "erased from the public sphere". Over 90,000 people joined a Facebook group supporting the ads following the ACL's actions. The ACL's actions backfired further with several advertising agencies deciding to run the ads free of charge.
In response to a November 2013 petition on outdoor advertising by the ACL's which gathered 1399 signatures, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said that he recognises the challenges for parents in trying to restrict children's exposure to sexually explicit images and slogans. The Queensland Government has said it will assess whether there is a need for legislative reform of outdoor advertising.
ACL campaigned against a Sydney billboard which displayed a man simulating sex with a pig. The billboard was removed by its owners who apologised for any offence. Thousands of copies of associated newspaper supplements were also pulped, reported as a significant cost to the advertiser.
The ACL is pro-life and has lobbied for the repeal of legislation that sanctions abortion on demand. ACL has sponsored Gianna Jessen, an 'abortion survivor' to come to Australia to talk about her experiences and to lobby federal politicians ahead of a Senate debate on late-term abortions.
The ACL lobbies against moves to legalise euthanasia by various territory, state and federal jurisdictions. ACL claims the cheapening of human life by the promotion of suicide options, could lead to dangerous scenarios where healthy people could end their lives for comparatively trivial reasons such as a relationship break up.
The ACL lobbies against prostitution. ACL's concerns regarding current arrangements were outlined in a submission to the ACT Legislative Assembly - Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety.
In April 2012, in a Canberra Court, a woman was found guilty of intentionally possessing a sex-slave. In October 2012, ACL made a submission to the House of Representatives Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Human Rights Sub‐Committee Inquiry into Slavery, Slavery like conditions and People Trafficking. ACL said, "Australia is considered a destination for sex trafficking by the US Department of State, which noted in 2010 that women from Southeast Asia, China, and South Korea may come to Australia voluntarily to work in both legal and illegal brothels, but under conditions that amounted to debt bondage or sexual servitude." In response to this issue, ACL has made a number of recommendations.
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