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Monica Doumit: Whether Chris Minns received your vote, he needs your prayers

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NSW Premier-elect Chris Minns and outgoing premier Dominic Perrottet on election night, 25 March 2023. (AAP Image/James Gourley)

The NSW state election is over and while the results for the upper house are still being determined, it seems we will have a Labor majority government in the lower house.

What does this mean for Catholics, for people of faith more broadly and for the state?

The first thing is that, with Labor in the majority and able to govern in their own right, the influence of independent members like Alex Greenwich will wane.

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The previous Coalition government did not have a majority in the lower house, so had to make arrangements with independents for what is known as “supply and confidence.”

This means that independents agree to vote with the government on budgetary matters and on votes of “no confidence,” enabling them to form government even when they do not have a majority of members.

This is always a trade-off, because independents are then in a position to make demands for their own pet causes. The disproportionate amount of power that independents hold with a minority government explains why abortion and euthanasia were given priority of parliamentary time last term.

With the new Labor government most likely able to form a majority on its own, the independents become immediately less influential. Broadly speaking, that is a positive outcome.

Next, the post-election announcements from Premier-elect Chris Minns suggest that certain economic matters will be prioritised, particularly removing the wage cap for essential workers and an amendment to the constitution to prevent the future privatisation of Sydney Water.

Treasurer-elect Daniel Mookhey also confirmed that work on a toll cap would begin soon so that it can be implemented by January 2024.

What about matters of faith? The first priority of the newly-elected government specifically targeted at people of faith is to change the law to prohibit religious vilification.

This will make it unlawful to publicly “incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of persons on the ground of religious belief or activity” and is expected to occur in the first 100 days of this parliamentary term.

It will undoubtedly be lauded as a big win for religious groups, its scope will be limited by exceptions for academic and artistic expressions, and public discussion or debate.

In other words, the Reuben Kaye Jesus jokes will probably be fine; random protestors screaming that all Catholic clergy are paedophiles. less so.

The broader project of prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity will be more difficult. NSW and South Australia are the only two states in the country where it is still legal to discriminate against a person on the basis of religious belief or activity.

In NSW at the moment, any of us could be refused service in a venue because we are Catholic, but not for reasons of age, race, disability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

As an example of how this works, a wedding reception venue would not be permitted to refuse a same-sex wedding, but could refuse to host a reception for a Catholic couple.

Federal and state inquiries have all recommended that this be changed, however, the newly-elected Labor government will not push ahead with this as a discrete change to the law.

Instead, it plans to refer the entire NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to the NSW Law Reform Commission for update and overhaul.

While this might sound benign, those who have been watching the progress of the current Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry might be worried that this will result in a greater number of protections removed than the ones that are given. Only time (and our level of engagement) will tell.

Additionally, the newly-elected Labor government has promised to introduce a bill to outlaw so-called conversion therapy, which it defines as “formal or informal practices based on the ideology that LGBTQ+ people have a disorder or require treatment.”

In Victoria, this has gone as far as to prohibit encouraging those experiencing same-sex attraction to live chastely, to provide limits on prayer and to forbid anything except gender-affirmative treatment for anyone with gender dysphoria (including children.)

Premier-elect Minns has said that, unlike Victoria, the expression of a religious belief in a sermon or a person consensually seeking guidance through prayer will not be outlawed but it is not yet clear what will happen on the gender dysphoria side.

Finally, the new government will hopefully put an end to the long-running saga over cemeteries and support Catholic Cemeteries to continue serving Catholic and other faith communities, as it has done for more than a century.

I imagine that after the sweetness of election victory fades, the weight of responsibility and stewardship that come with governing will set in for Mr Minns and the new government.

No matter whether or not they received your vote, they should definitely receive your prayers, that God will give them the strength and wisdom to govern well.

Update 27/03/2023: An earlier version of this article erroneously said Mr Minns would increase the wages cap for essential workers.

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