In the last week I have been reminded twice that the Catholic Church has a great deal of sway in the Labor Party. Today I read in the Australian that PM Julie Gillard has reaffirmed Labor Party opposition to gay marriage. The PM’s opposition to gay marriage may reflect a personal, socially conservative, belief about the institution of marriage. Or, it might reflect strident opposition from Catholic members of the Labor Party.
Earlier in the week I was reading up on the Federal Government’s root and branch review of school funding, which was launched in May of this year by Julia Gillard in her role as Education Minister. There is a five member panel of experts overseeing this review. The members are as follows:
1. David Gonski is the Chairman of the review. Mr Gonski is also Chairman of Sydney Grammar School which is an independent secular school for boys. Further, he is the Chancellor of UNSW and the Chairmen of the Ingeus, the firm owned by Therese Rein, the wife of Kevin Rudd.
2. Dr Ken Boston. I don’t know where Dr Boston went to school. He is a highly respected expert on eduction at all levels.
3. Dr Carmen Lawrence, the former Labor Premier of WA. Dr Lawrence attended the Dominican Ladies College and Santa Maria College.
4. Kathryn Greiner, who is on the School Council of Loreto Kirribilli, a Catholic girls school.
5. Dr Peter Tannock, who attended Christian Brothers College in WA.
I am not suggesting that the panel members are biased in any way. But as a group they are certainly well versed in Catholic education. Catholic schools are a large part of Australia’s education system, with fully 20% of Australia’s school children attending Catholic schools. Another 18% attend non-Catholic independent schools.
Catholic schools have a special funding deal with the Federal Government which is separate to the funding arrangement with other non-Government schools. That special arrangement started with the Whitlam Government. Before 1974 there was no Federal Government funding of non-Government schools. Gough Whitlam introduced Government funding of private education, and in particular, he did that to support Catholic education. I think that makes the point about how close knit the Catholic Church and the Labor Party are.
And why not? I have always found it curious that there is not a closer alliance between the left of centre political parties and Christian groups. Christians and social democrats are collectivists. Both groups put community above individuality in their doctrine. They are not liberals, and these are not conservative philosophies either. Left of centre parties are by definition opposed to the status quo. The Christian gospels contain the revolutionary messages that the first shall be last, community is more important than family, and pursuit of personal riches is wrong. The institutionalised church may have become a powerful conservative force in Western society, just as many formerly left of centre political parties have, but Christian ideology is in its essence revolutionary.
In any case I have been reminded this week that the Catholic Church and the Australian Labor Party actually are pretty tight.