Premier Perrottet and the mathematics of defeat

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Newly elected NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet speaks during a press conference at NSW Parliament House in Sydney on 5 October 2021. Photo: AAP, Dean Lewins

In Hornblower, the British Admiralty tasks Captain Edmund Pellew and his frigate to remain as a retreat option in case a military campaign in France fails. It is only when the army is eventually defeated that he realises why he alone was to remain when it took an entire convoy of ships to transport the army:

“The mathematics of defeat… a hateful equation.”

The election of Dominic Perrottet as Premier of New South Wales is a significant gain for the Christian community. However, in the many hours of lockdown doomscrolling I have noticed Catholics raging in debate. They ask:

How can a Catholic Premier, with a sound record of defending traditional marriage and the unborn, now lead a Government when euthanasia legislation may soon be passed?

Many Catholics take Premier Perrottet’s ‘allowance’ of a conscience vote to obtain high office as Faustian. This deal comes after Premier Berejiklian’s promise that there will be “no more conscience votes in this term of government.”

Premier Berejiklian’s promise relied on her personal sway over moderate Liberal MPs, which the current Premier does not enjoy. This was an untested promise and was already crumbling in late September as Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Minister Constance registered their support for a conscience vote on euthanasia before the end of the year.

The claim that such legislation can be blocked draws on the example of the then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott once preventing a conscience vote on Same Sex Marriage. He was successful on that occasion because traditional marriage was Coalition policy, which meant any Coalition MP that crossed the floor to support a SSM bill could be sanctioned by the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Abbott’s intervention cannot be repeated by Premier Perrottet because it is established policy of the NSW parliamentary Liberal Party to resolve social issues with a conscience vote, and there is no realistic option to make it otherwise. There are no levers he can pull to prevent a euthanasia bill tabled, read, debated, and voted on.

Prime Minister Abbott’s intervention cannot be repeated by Premier Perrottet because it is established policy of the NSW parliamentary Liberal Party to resolve social issues with a conscience vote, and there is no realistic option to make it otherwise

But how can a Catholic Premier stand by and not be morally culpable for the legislation passing.  What is more, should not the Bishops and Catholic commentators condemn him as complicit?

Given moral relativism is the predominant cultural philosophy and that anti-life laws from abortion to euthanasia have already passed in many Australian jurisdictions and across the Western world, the tide is way out  for the pro-life position.

This is evident as the current Parliament passed the most extreme abortion legislation 53-31.  25 of that majority are Government MPs.

So we have a moral dilemma: can a Catholic Premier remain in good standing with his Church when Parliament is preparing a bill to legalise euthanasia?

So we have a moral dilemma: can a Catholic Premier remain in good standing with his Church when Parliament is preparing a bill to legalise euthanasia? Thankfully we have the succinct explanation of St John Paul the Great in Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995):

“An elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”

The sainted Pope did not give Catholics a loophole to excuse themselves when convenient. Rather he recognises Catholic parliamentarians with the rest of the Church are rarely provided with absolute morally good or evil choices in public life. Fighting to be in a position to ameliorate bad laws is what every Catholic parliamentarian would hope to do for the time being.

There is no giving up on the fight for the right to life of the terminally ill.  They deserve our best efforts to minimise the bad effects of the current time with each of us playing our part.  If Catholics leave Premier Perrottet alone, like Captain Pellew, to set up this hateful equation, we ourselves shall calculate the mathematics of defeat.

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