Labor is intensifying its attempts to court Christian votes in the lead-up to the 2022 Federal election, with Senator Kristina Keneally appearing at an online forum to address the question, “Does Christianity have a future under Labor?”
The question was posed in reference to Labor’s previous federal election loss in 2019 and current debates around religious freedom.
Keneally said the party’s post-election review concluded voters had formed the “impression that somehow Labor was not as welcoming to people of faith as our opponents”.
Labor’s removal of the conscience vote on the issue of same-sex marriage influenced this view in the electorate, which “disappointed” Keneally
“I felt that it sent a message that Labor no longer respected the views of people in the community that held a different position in good conscience on that issue,” the Senator said.
Keneally sought to present Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese as an alternative prime minister who would govern in the tradition of Catholic social teaching.
She appealed to the broad Catholic concern for social justice and ecology as important political issues in 2022, but did not substantively discuss religious freedom until questioned by organisers.
“[Albanese’s] mother Marianne steeped her son in three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and the Australian Labor Party,” Keneally said.
“From his Catholic upbringing and education he knows the importance of caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick. Of valuing the inherent human dignity in all persons.
“Now that is Labor’s vision for our country’s future. Indeed, we could call this a country where we seek to bring good news to the poor and set the oppressed free.”
Keneally did concede that discussions about the Religious Discrimination Bill have been a significant part of Labor’s increasingly vigorous outreach to religious communities, in which she is a key emissary.
Yet when asked whether Labor would support the bill, she said “we don’t have a final version”.
“We have to wait for the conclusion of those two inquiries [a Senate Inquiry and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights] before we will come down on a final position.”
She said that Labor’s principles in making a decision on the bill were influenced by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the desire to protect existing protections under Australian discrimination law.
She called for a bipartisan position on the bill, and said the Coalition government was trying to turn religious freedom into a “political football” prior to the election.
“I don’t think it serves the broader community and I certainly don’t think it serves the ends of good public policymaking,” Keneally said.
She did support the right of religious communities to preference those of their own faith in matters of employment, saying as a Catholic school teacher she learned that faith communities are “ecosystems” where every person plays a role in upholding values and norms.
“Anthony Albanese’s mother Marianne steeped her son in three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and the Australian Labor Party”
Keneally seeks to leave the Senate at the next election and move to the lower house seat of Fowler in Western Sydney, which encompasses Cabramatta and surrounding areas.
The seat has a vibrant Christian population and is among Sydney’s most culturally diverse communities.
Her appearance at the webinar, organised by Christian lobby group FamilyVoice, gave her the chance to speak about her own struggles with faith, including her doubts during the child abuse Royal Commission.
“I sometimes struggle to understand how an institution that is so flawed and allowed such evil to happen could also be a transmission of God’s grace and sacraments,” Keneally said.
“[But] I’m not sure I could give up being Catholic any more than I could give up being a woman or being 53.”