When can religion influence politics? (or why a Christmas public holiday is OK)

We have finished the year with worries about the border between religion and politics – the Fairfax feature, Charles Richardson’s warning that Rodney Smith is too sanguine about the influence of ‘fundamentalists’, and Ross Fitzgerald’s why-oh-why piece on the fate of ‘secular democracy’. Implicit in these critiques seems to be a quasi-constitutional belief that religion has no place in the public sphere.

Ross Fitzgerald, for example, seems to be particuarly upset about the millions spent on World Catholic Youth Day. But why is this different from the numerous sporting and other major events that get state sponsorship? As Chris Berg argued during the week, the benefits of these events are typically fictitious. But given politicians like sponsoring international events, are the Catholics illegitimate in a way the petrol-heads who descend on Melbourne for car racing are not?

Fitzgerald and Charles are both concerned about religious influence on Stephen Conroy’s internet filtering plans. But given that there are also mundane secular reasons for this policy – such as Conroy says enforcing the existing censorship rules – does the fact that the Australian Christian Lobby is backing Conroy make the policy worse (especially as ACL is appealing not to religious values, but to the not-terribly-controversial view that children should not see pornography). Continue reading “When can religion influence politics? (or why a Christmas public holiday is OK)”

The distributional politics of climate change policy

One advantage of the Coalition breaking the parliamentary consensus on an ETS is that more attention is being paid to the actual content and effects of Labor’s scheme. In responding to the Coalition’s ‘new tax’ argument the government has released (to the media, I cannot find any detail online) details of how ‘millions’ of people will be better off under the ETS.

This confirms the Opposition’s point and tries to shift the politics to an old-fashioned redistributional battle. The reason millions of people will be better off is that most lower-income earners will be ‘over-compensated’ for the ETS’s price effects. This is because actual lower-income household carbon emissions will vary considerably, depending on location, housing design, and lifestyle. To ensure that households with carbon emissions at the high end of the normal range are fully compensated, households with low to average carbon emissions will receive additional payments that cover their costs and add more, which can be used to improve their overall standard of living (including consuming more energy!).

This redistribution – along with the handouts to polluters – will be financed by, as Tony Abbott says, a new tax on people with above-average earnings. Take for example a single person earning $80,000 a year. According to the government’s calculations they will be an average $677 a year worse off under an ETS, equivalent to about a 4% increase in income tax. Continue reading “The distributional politics of climate change policy”

The public’s view of religion and politics

Today the Fairfax broadsheets turn from the religious beliefs of Australians to how they see the relationship between religion and politics.

Their Nielsen poll had however been scooped by Pollytics blog, which reported during the week that most Australians think that religion and politics should be separate


Even among religious believers, 80% agree with the proposition that religion and politics should be separate. But religion appeared more popular when the 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked about whether politicians should follow Christian values in making decisions. Even among those with no religion, 10% thought politicians should follow Christian values, along with nearly 40% of people with a religion. Continue reading “The public’s view of religion and politics”

A Christmas gift of less regulation

The most comically titled minister in the Rudd government is my local member, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Every government comes to office promising to reduce onerous regulations; every government leaves office having increased them.

But in a Christmas gesture, regulation is actually being reduced. From today grannies can take their knitting needles on flights, and nail files and metal cutlery are also back. Now if only they could get rid of those ridiculous explosive residue tests as well…

Merry Christmas.

Melbourne’s disappearing milk bars

Last Saturday, as I have almost every Saturday over the last decade, I went into the milk bar at the corner of Barkly St and Canning St in Carlton to buy the papers. On the verge of tears, the owner told me that this would be the last time I’d do so. Not by choice, they were closing down.

milkbar resave
The cnr Barkly St and Canning St milk bar on its last trading day, 20 December 2009
Continue reading “Melbourne’s disappearing milk bars”

Australia’s statist right-wingers

This morning The Australian published my contribution to their What’s Right series, based on the political identity survey many of you contributed to earlier in the year.

Perhaps my main achievement is getting a newspaper to print the terms ‘classical liberal’ and ‘libertarian’ rather than blurring them with ‘the conservatives’. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to electoral politics ‘conservative’ is not such a bad catch-all term.

Various surveys over the years have asked voters to rate themselves on a 0 (left) to 10 (right) political scale. In the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2007 I classed the right as people putting themselves 7-10 on the scale and looked at their opinions on various issues. They were about 20% of the sample.

Social issues Continue reading “Australia’s statist right-wingers”

Religion’s political influence (or lack thereof)

Most Australians believe in God, but is that a politically significant fact?

Earlier in the year, I argued that while churchgoers have a consistent bias towards Coalition voting, a dwindling number of Australians were attending church. I was sceptical of the electoral impact of churches like Hillsong.

The Age this morning draws attention to an Australian Journal of Political Science article by University of Sydney academic Rodney Smith which argues more generally against the electoral influence of the churches, at least for the 2007 election.

Smith examined electoral statements from religious groups and found considerable variety in issues covered and perspectives taken. They tend to not specifically recommend a vote, though sometimes a preferred choice is implied. He notes that many church leaders would want to avoid alienating their supporters who do not share their political views. This is an important point I think. Religions are in a spiritual buyer’s market for both believers and attenders, which will tend to put a constraint on their politicking. Continue reading “Religion’s political influence (or lack thereof)”

Australian belief in higher and other powers

The Fairfax broadsheets yesterday ran the results of an ACNielsen survey on Australian religious beliefs, along with views on astrology, ESP, UFOs and witches (a somewhat provocative collection of topics).

Just over two-thirds of us believe in God or a ‘universal spirit’, while 24% do not and 6% aren’t sure. The number of non-believers exceeds the census finding of 19% of us with ‘no religion’. While the ‘not stated’ census category (it’s an optional question) presumably hides atheists and agnostics, the Nielsen survey reports that 11% are non-believers who consider themselves ‘culturally Christian’. The ‘no religion’ response in the census is only a rough proxy for the number of non-believers.

A quarter of Christians believe that the Bible is literally true, while half the believers of other religions see their major text as literally true. Belief in miracles (63%) is stronger than belief in Heaven (56%) or – conveniently, for the nation’s sinners – Hell (38%). Continue reading “Australian belief in higher and other powers”

Quadrant’s funding problem

Yesterday I received a ‘we wuz robbed’ letter from Quadrant complaining that its Australia Council literature grant had been cut from $50,000 to $35,000.

Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle is calling the decision ‘patently political’. Given that left-leaning periodicals have had their funding maintained – particularly Overland which keeps its $60,000 despite coming out only four times a year instead of Quadrant’s ten, and having a far less distinguished poetry editor (Keri Glastonbury to Quadrant‘s Les Murray) – that looks like a fair call in the absence of any contrary explanation from the Australia Council. [Update 21/12: Crikey reports the Australia Council saying Quadrant was cut for having too small a group of literary writers.]

On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of these kinds of subsidies. It’s not just my usual philosophical objections to big government (and in the scheme of big government, a few hundred thousand dollars for magazines doesn’t make much difference). The Australia Council props up nine little magazines serving a small audience for literary material. Arguably this makes it harder for any of them to get the critical mass of contributors and readers needed for a high-quality, self-sustaining literary magazine. A few of them going out of business could help the rest. Continue reading “Quadrant’s funding problem”