Australian Christian Lobby

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Australian Christian Lobby
AustralianChristianLobbyLogo2011a.jpg
Founded 1995
Registration no. 40 075 120 517[1] (ABN)
Location
Area served
Australia
Key people
Chairman, Jim Wallace AM
Managing director, Lyle Shelton
Chairman Emeritus, Tony McLellan
Slogan Voice for values
Website http://www.acl.org.au

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 Christian lobbying organisation.[2][3][4][5][6]

The ACL is an Australian Public Company, Limited By Guarantee[7] and files political expenditure returns with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).[8] Funding comes mostly from individuals but names are not disclosed by the organisation itself.[9] It has no political affiliation and makes no statements regarding faith.[9] Eternity House, the Deakin ACT headquarters of ACL is registered as a separate not-for-profit entity.[10]

ACL prepares and presents submissions to Federal and State parliaments and their agencies.[11] It publishes magazines such as Viewpoint, which are provided to Australian parliamentarians at no charge.[12] It periodically issues media releases[13] and communicates with supporters via email newsletters.[14] The organisation is involved in a campaign to support the retention of the current definition of marriage.[15] The ACL wants to suspend anti-discrimination laws in the lead up to a possible plebiscite on the issue.[16]

ACL managing director
Lyle Shelton

History[edit]

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.[17] Co-founders include John McNicoll, a retired Baptist minister turned lobbyist in Canberra, and John Miller, who worked with a number of community and government organisations and held leadership positions within his independent community-based church.[citation needed]

The organisation changed its name to the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) in March 2001.[1]

A number of senior federal politicians have been guest speakers at ACL national conferences and ACL events, including John Howard (2007),[18] Kevin Rudd (2007),[18] Malcolm Turnbull (2008),[19] Tony Abbott (2010),[20] Julia Gillard (2010),[21] Bill Shorten (2014),[22] and Scott Morrison (2016).[23]

In 2012, Gillard pulled out of a planned appearance at the ACL national conference after Jim Wallace suggested that a homosexual "lifestyle" was more hazardous to health than smoking.[24]

Staff[edit]

Year Name Period Time in office
1995 John Gagliardi 1995 – 2000 5 years
2000 Jim Wallace 2000 – 2013 13 years
2013 Lyle Shelton 2013 – present 3 years, 9 months and 26 days

Jim Wallace was the managing director of ACL from 2000 to 2013.[25][26] Lyle Shelton is ACL's managing director.[27] The company has a self-appointed board of management – board members are invited to join by existing board members.[28] Board members are not elected by members.[29] The organisation's biggest expense is paying staff.

Representativeness and influence[edit]

One of the main criticisms of the ACL is that it overstates its representativeness.[29] Professor Rodney Smith of Sydney University suggests the ACL inflates its influence with the electorate to gain access to politicians and the media.[29] A former Chief of Staff and a former Victorian State Director 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.[28]

John Warhurst, emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University said, "ACL is now established in the top echelon of lobbying groups"[30] having the, "professional knowledge to run modern election campaigns".[31] He said ACL, "will not go away".[32] Warhurst has described ACL as an evangelical lobby group, more politically influential than the Christian political party Family First.[33] Professor Marion Maddox, from Macquarie University has said that ACL has achieved, "remarkable influence with political leaders on both sides."[34]

Views and lobbying efforts[edit]

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."[35] The ABC has described the ACL as "a conservative Christian lobby group providing Biblical solutions for social issues".[36]

The ACL has been described by writer Chrys Stevenson as "extremist Christians" and "dominionists",[37] distinctions which the ACL deny and have countered.[38][39] Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland, Dr John Harrison, also described the organisation as being influenced by a dominionist and reconstructionist theology.[29]

The ACL promotes its socially conservative objectives through lobbying and public outreach. The organisation seeks to influence 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 affecting Christians,[18] 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.[20] Days later, when Julia Gillard became the Australian Prime Minister, she was asked the same set of questions.[21] Gillard has met with church leaders, on at least one occasion, in meetings organised by the ACL.[40][41]

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,[42][43] Victoria,[44] Queensland,[45] Western Australia,[46][47] Tasmania,[48] Northern Territory[49] and the Australian Capital Territory.[50] These events are often webcast to a wider audience. For both federal and state elections, the ACL holds "Meet Your Candidate" forums, primarily in marginal seats, to give voters an opportunity to meet and question the people who are seeking their vote.[51]

Family[edit]

In September 2011, during Child Protection Week, the ACL released a report, For Kids' Sake, in response to increasing levels of abuse, neglect and self-harm related to children, for which the ACL state sliding marriage rates are partly to blame.[52]

Sexuality[edit]

ACL actively opposes various political moves to recognise specific LGBT rights in Australia, particularly those regarding same-sex marriage, LGBT parenting and adoption, and have campaigned for the rights of church-owned schools to be able to legally discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.[53]

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.[54][55]

In July 2015, the Australian Christian Lobby criticised the Safe Schools program[56] as "radical sexual experimentation"[57] which "exposed students to extreme material."[58] and asked for the withdrawal of $8 million allocated to the Australia-wide program.[59][60]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

The Australian Christian lobby supports the retention of the current definition of marriage[15] contained within the Marriage Act (1961), as amended in 2004 by the Howard Government, which reads, "marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life."[61] 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, which the ACL opposes and has lobbied against.

Surrogacy and adoption[edit]

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.[62][63] 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 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.[64]

In a third case, the birth mother expressed profound regret at having entered into a surrogacy arrangement.[65] In response, ACL lobbied the Queensland Government.

ACL has responded to State Governments seeking input prior to considering proposals for the adoption of children by same-sex couples. In the submissions to, and lobbying of, the governments of NSW,[66][67] Victoria,[68] and Tasmania.[69]

In November 2015 the Victorian Upper House voted to allow same-sex couples to adopt, with the bill amended to provide exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies. The Victorian director of ACL, praised the MPs who had voted for the amendment.[70]

Freedom of speech[edit]

ACL 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.[71]

In October 2014, ACL held a conference at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra. In response to a campaign of negative online feedback and reviews, the Hyatt issued a statement that they support "equality for lesbian, gay and transgender staff and guests" and "don't discriminate against guests who want to conduct lawful business at Hyatt hotels" on the basis of their political stance.[72][30]

In March 2015, TV stations SBS, Channels 7 and 9 refused to run anti same-sex marriage TV ads which said, "wherever possible" children need a mother and a father. ACL said that freedom of speech was being censored.[73] The Australian Human Rights Commissioner at the time Tim Wilson said the ads should have been run.[74] In August 2015 TV Channels 7 & 10 and Foxtel refused to run paid anti-same-sex-marriage advertisements.[75] Paul Barry raised on the ABC Media Watch program the "skewed" media coverage and said, "surely both sides of the debate have an equal right to be heard".[76] ACL objected that the bans were a restriction of free speech.[77][78]

Ryan T Anderson, is a Heritage Foundation[79] and Witherspoon Institute speaker and has co-authored a book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. ACL was one of the sponsors of his August 2015, speaking tour.[80] The students' union at the Australian Catholic University objected to a publicly funded institution hosting the event.[81]

The ACL, citing the example of the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, being required to answer to an Anti-Discrimination Commission after distributing booklets supporting "traditional" marriage, said those laws will have to change to allow people to freely express opposition to same-sex marriage in any future plebiscite. Those advocating for same-sex marriage say it is an unreasonable request.[16]

Poverty and justice[edit]

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".[82] In an effort to minimise harm associated with poker machines, the ACL has supported a trial for mandatory pre-commitment scheme.[83] 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".[84]

ACL has worked with Micah Challenge to reduce third world poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on halving global poverty by 2012.[85] In May 2012, Wallce 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."[86]

The ACL has called on the federal government to pressure Egypt to protect religious minorities such as the Copts.[87] In response to humanitarian needs arising from conflicts in the Middle East, in 2014 ACL and others lobbied for asylum for Iraqi Christians.[88] In 2015 ACL asked the government to offer temporary asylum for people displaced by the war in Syria.[89]

The ACL and churches have said they support the Australian government's expanded refugee program, which includes more Christians, from the Middle East. Shelton said, "The ACL has long advocated for the Australian government to give priority to persecuted religious minorities", so this move is "encouraging".[90]

Youth and education[edit]

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".[91]

ACL has provided input into the formulation of the proposed Australian National Curriculum.[92] 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).[93] 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.[94]

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."[95]

Censorship[edit]

The ACL constantly lobbied against efforts to introduce an R18+ classification for video games.[96] They wanted the video game Sniper Elite V2 banned in Australia, describing the game as "sick".[97]

The video gaming community is critical of the ACL's stance against R18+ video games.[98][99] 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.[100] According to ACL, violence in video games leads to antisocial behaviour.[101] 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".[102] The ACL subsequently lobbied for the new R18+ classification to allow no more sex and violence than the MA15+ classification,[102] though they were unsuccessful.[101]

The ACL was one of the primary supporters of Senator Stephen Conroy's proposed mandatory Internet blacklist.[103] 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.[104] 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.[105] 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.[106]

Outdoor advertising[edit]

ACL has lobbied for all outdoor advertising to be G rated.[107] 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.[108] 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".[109] The billboards were removed after receiving around 30 complaints. 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".[110] 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.[111] Both major political parties voiced support for the ads. State treasurer Andrew Fraser said complaints about the ad were homophobic[112] and Healthy Communities executive director Paul Martin accused the ACL of trying to have gay people "erased from the public sphere".[113] More than 90,000 people joined a Facebook group supporting the ads following the ACL's actions.[109] The ACL's actions backfired further with several advertising agencies deciding to run the ads free of charge.[114]

In January 2014 the bipartisan Inquiry into Sexually Explicit Outdoor Advertising recommended an industry body be set up to sanction advertisers, with the Queensland Attorney-General having the power to '‘pre-vet'’ outdoor ads.[115] The chairman of the inquiry referred to controls needed in response to, '‘rogue companies that do not act in the best interest of their communities'’.[116]

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.[117][118] Thousands of copies of associated newspaper supplements were also pulped, reported as a significant cost to the advertiser.[119]

ACL campaigned against a company which hires campervans with its latest campervans displaying misogynistic and sexist slogans.[120]

Abortion and euthanasia[edit]

The ACL opposes abortion in Australia[121] and has lobbied for the repeal of legislation that permits abortion on demand. ACL has responded to proposals to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics in Victoria[122] and in Tasmania saying they limit the freedom to protest.[123] The ACL lobbies against moves to legalise euthanasia by various territory, state and federal jurisdictions.[124][125]

Prostitution[edit]

The ACL lobbies against prostitution.[126] ACL's concerns regarding current arrangements were outlined in a submission to the ACT Legislative Assembly – Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety.[127] In 2014, ACL's Queensland Director, Wendy Francis, was part of a joint parliamentary, fact-finding delegation to examine the Swedish model of prostitution law, with a view to consider its possible adaptation for Australia.[128]

Other[edit]

ACL has concerns regarding halal certification in Australia, which include the inadequacy of current halal labeling, the number of halal certifiers, workplace discrimination, animal cruelty and the lack of transparency. ACL has made a submission to the Senate Standing Committees on Economics, Third party certification of food, recommending remedial actions.[129]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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