On Political Cooperation

My title may seem oxymoronic, and perhaps it is. But here I am speaking about cooperation amongst Christian political parties. I realise putting the word “Christian” in front of this phrase does not mean everything becomes sweetness and light, but in theory it should be a bit easier for such parties to work together.

Specifically, I am referring to something I am often asked about: we now have four smaller basically Christian political parties in Australia. Without looking up the details, I list them here roughly in order of when they first came on the scene:
-the Democratic Labor Party
-Australian Christians (new name, but an offshoot of Fred Nile’s long-standing Christian Democratic Party)
-Family First
-Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party

These four minor parties have stood candidates at various elections now, for the most part without much success. Of course in its heyday, as a breakaway from the Labor Party, the DLP did rather well. But now it often only has one Senator in Federal Politics.

Family First has also had just a handful of elected candidates at state or Federal level. While Fred Nile has long been successful in NSW, the new AC party so far has no one elected (but it is quite new). The same with RUAP. So here we have four small parties with many similar aims and platforms, struggling to enter and stay in the political arena.

As I say, people often ask me why they don’t all just merge into one bigger Christian party. It is a good idea in theory perhaps, but I usually reply that it may be unlikely for various reasons. So here I want to discuss those reasons, but then move on to a hopeful development.

As to why a major merger is unlikely, consider these issues:

It is often true that when any organisation – be it political or not – is started and lead by strong, charismatic figures, it may not always be easy for such leaders to relinquish power or agree to share power with other such leaders. This is of course true in the world, but sadly can be equally true in the Christian world.

While all four parties share many common visions, directions and policies, there are some differences. All can be called Christian parties, but differences still exist. The DLP always has been and likely always will be overwhelmingly Catholic in makeup.

The other three are primarily evangelical Protestant. So that can be a sticking point of any future unity tickets. And FF, although really mainly Christian in outlook and membership, is trying hard to bill itself as just another political party, without the Christian baggage.

AC and RUAP are then the closest in terms of being up front Christian parties – unashamedly so. They are quite happy to announce and proclaim their biblical Christian roots and orientation. So for the four to join when one or two are downplaying their Christian roots and identity can be a major stumbling block from the outset.

coopFor these and other reasons a grand merger where all four lose their individual identities and they all become one big happy political party seems rather unlikely – at least at this stage. But things may change in the future. Indeed, one brand new development does give hope that some sort of unity and cooperation here may be possible.

Three of the four parties did in fact just come together, at least on a more limited, tactical front. They have agreed to cooperate in their preference deals, for the sake of standing up for life. This limited and presumably short-term trial arrangement is a promising one, and more such cooperative efforts may occur in the future. Here is how the press discusses this move:

Three socially conservative minor parties are seeking to make abortion an election-deciding issue by promising to help candidates who share similar views. The Democratic Labor Party, the Australian Christians, and Rise Up Australia Party, have signed an agreement to create a preference flow based on “shared values” such as being opposed to abortion.
And the group says it will direct supporters to preference either the Labor or Coalition candidate in key seats based on whether that candidate supports watering down abortion laws. Victorian state director of the Australian Christians, Vickie Janson, said protection of “the unborn” was one of the primary motivations of the group.
“Today, Australian Christians, the Democratic Labor Party and Rise Up Australia Party have agreed to preference candidates in this upcoming state election, who have the courage to be a voice that affirms the value of life itself,” she said.

The article continues:

The DLP Victorian president Rachel Carling-Jenkins said the historic agreement would allow people of similar views to ensure their vote counted. The parties are likely to only get a small fraction of the vote, but by combining forces they say they could do some damage in marginal seats.
Party strategists point to the marginal seat of Monbulk, held by Deputy Opposition Leader James Merlino, as an example of where the group’s actions could make a real difference. The group intends to preference Mr Merlino, because of his social views.

There was even a very short segment on this in one of the television news broadcasts. This move seems to be a helpful and sensible one, which may well pay off dividends in at least small ways. Putting political and other differences aside, if even for the short-term, for the sake of principle and the greater good is certainly commendable.

The cause of life is one of those crucial issues which all so-called Christian parties should be committed to, and should be willing to cooperate with other like-minded groups about. Why FF did not come on board here I am not privy to. But perhaps they may one day also make some such moves.

So there is hope yet. As separate parties, each running their own candidates, these parties will have little chance of much success. The truth is, the electorate pie that these groups can draw from is small to begin with, and by having four separate parties, each piece of the pie they get becomes even smaller.

So by banding together, if even on limited aims, is a sound and sensible way to proceed. Well done to these three parties for being willing to work together, to make perhaps a small bit of compromise in order to achieve a higher good and a better outcome for the unborn.

I hope the strategy works, and I salute these three parties and their leaders for making this happen. Well done one and all. And well done especially to the three who signed the “Public Assurance of Cooperation”: Vickie Janson (AC), Rachel Carling-Jenkins (DLP), and Daniel Nalliah (RUAP).


[1129 words]

24 Replies to “On Political Cooperation”

  1. Hopefully more parties means more Christians becoming aware of how they can better influence Australian politics through their vote. For instance, many voters still seem to be unaware that their vote isn’t “wasted” if they vote for a small Christian party, due to the preferences flowing ‘upwards’.

    Hopefully this recent announcement will aid in the education thereof, and all of them will continue to educate Christian voters. Maybe you could do (redo?) an article about preference voting.

    I believe if more people professing to be Christians (a) understood the preference system and (b) used their vote for Christian values as opposed to largely economic reasons, there would be a much larger “pie” for these parties.

  2. Co-operation – close & kindly – is essential rather than one larger Party. After all, the past prominence of the Communist Party depended on many small ‘cells’ collaborating very closely, rather than one large structure.
    I wish them well; success is sorely needed for the future of our country.

  3. If the 4 parties had preferenced each other rather than the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, I’m convinced we’d have one of them in Victoria instead of Mr. Muir – would certainly have been a better outcome!

  4. Thanks Mark. Yes sometimes in the past the various preference deals of the four minor parties have been all over the place, and not always in the best interests of the nation or of Christian principles. Hopefully this new pact will help remedy things to some extent.

  5. I noted that DLP stands for Democratic Labour Party. The DLP may be a breakaway from the Labor Party, but it’s spelt the true Aussie way.

  6. I used to also think that it would be better for these Christian parties to unite into one, but now I have a different thought. With the LNP being so weak in the important issues of life and sexuality, it might work out well to have lots of small Christian parties, for each one can collect the vote of the previous one through preferences if there is no jealousy between the parties. What I mean is this. The strategy used to be that voters should be encouraged to put NO 1 for the candidate of our preferred small political party followed by NO 2 for the candidate of our preferred major party. With the differences between the major parties becoming more and more indistinct, if we can collect preferences among the small Christian parties, one of them may actually make it across the 50% mark before the vote ends up with a major party candidate.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  7. Churches need to teach how the Aussie preference system works. If Christians understood that their vote to a small party is not wasted, we would have people is seats today.
    Information pack for pastors perhaps?
    What about a video?
    Youtube anyone?

  8. Bill

    The nature of Party Politics is submission of individual conscience to the will of the Party, which is usually the will of the dominant member(s) of the Party.

    Our Westminster-style of Government has been taken over by Party Politics. It was originally conceived as representative Government, i.e. local members representing the wishes of their electorate to the Monarch, so that the Monarch might rule in the knowledge of the Word of God, and in the light of the opinion of the people.

    Today, Parties represent their programs to the people, and members serve the Party (Party whips, Party loyalty, etc.).

    I am sorry, but I find the term Christian Party an oxymoron.

    When God’s Word is ruling in men’s hearts, then the level of civil government is reduced. Parties are a manifestation of disobedience of God’s people in the marketplace – voting for a Party to implement its program (and increasing taxes to fund it), rather than taking Christian responsibility for self-government under the Word of God, and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

    I joined a conservative political Party once. It was just as corrupt as the non-conservative Party, with all of the posturing, and backroom conniving that went on.

    I see no help coming from Party politics, and putting the name Christian in front will only sully the name of our Lord and Saviour.

  9. Rather than following the how to vote cards handed out at the polling booth, I’ve got into the habit of working out my own preferences on the ballot paper. It’s not that hard.

  10. Thanks Lance. Needless to say I disagree in many respects, and believe that we have a God-given responsibility to be salt and light, and to engage in the political process, as imperfect as that will always be in a fallen world. But I discuss that elsewhere, so I will not repeat myself here:




  11. I don’t care, if their combined effort is able to put pressure and more pressure to reduce abortions, Good.

  12. Ross, If you’re referring to voting below the line, I used to do that but it unfortunately due to the system we have it robs the party you vote for of a primary vote and that affects not only their frontline chances at the polls but also their election fund rebates after the elections are done.

    I find it is better to work out the parties preferences are and then vote 1 above the line for the Christian party of your choice. Then they get the full benefit of your vote, and your preferences go to the place you want them to.

    Lance A Box, I get where you’re coming from but honestly the whole political system is far removed from that now – I think it’s important to have a Christian presence in politics and I don’t think you can tar all Christian parties with the same brush as what your experience was with the ‘conservative’ party you were a part of. Either way, we live in a broken world, with a fallen political system and imperfect people – I still believe that the Lord will reward our efforts to bring truth and light to bear in the political arena.

    As for uniting the Christian parties, it’s a grand idea in principle but often hard to achieve in practice – as I said, I think it is better that we focus on increasing the overall “pie” of voters voting for Christian parties/principles, and encourage each of the Christian parties to work together for overriding core principles.

  13. The old adage is: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”!

    John Newton, as I recall it, once said that, if the chapel was on fire, he would not ask people who came with buckets of water whether or not they believed in the Calvinist 5 Points, or if they were Papists – so long as they helped to put out the fire!

    Our nation is very much part of what Billy Graham once called a “World Aflame” – set alight by the minions of Lucifer… firefighters of all political stripes are much needed. Wilberforce, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury and William Gladstone were never in the same political party, as far as I know…

  14. Lance, my (limited) understanding is the the Fred Nile party (at least) does not require it’s members to submit their individual consciences to the will of the Party.


    I’m very sceptical of your claim that voting below the line robs your preferred party of a primary vote. I don’t see why this would be the case, as you still put a “1” against one of the candidates.

    However, I believe that above-the-line voting ought to be changed so that you number all the parties above the line (or all the candidates below), which means that the back-room preference deals would be a thing of the past (except for how-to-vote cards).

  15. Philip, if what you say is true, then that is a breath of fresh air.

    God bless.

  16. The American founding fathers (Eg Jefferson) were quick to point out that democracy requires morality to work and this is demonstrated almost daily by various dysfunctional (and bankrupt) governments around the world and increasingly in Australia. As we continually embrace immorality this is reflected in our governments and our economies. The coincidence of morality and pre-eminence in Western society is not coincidental at all and has been demonstrated time and time again. The recent “world financial crisis” is yet another example of immorality leading to economic decline.

    The CDU (Christian Democratic Union) in Germany appears to be one of the better functioning governments in the world today but even their economy is being sapped by the immorality of the other European states as well as in their own. Christianity in Germany is probably less fragmented than ours which would explain why they were able to achieve political (and economic) success.

    As we stand, despite the huge advancements in technology, the wealth is concentrated in too few hands and this is stifling the Western economies and helping to promote immorality. We are wasting far too many resources on immoral and unfruitful pursuits and too many people are making money from immoral practices which adversely affect the rest of society. There are very few ways to get things right and millions of ways to get things wrong and without a moral basis and in a complex world, we are managing to find them.

    With the way the Australian Senate is being used we need to push for it to be more democratically elected, perhaps with a single Federal electorate (or with a component of state representatives) and with optional party preferential voting above the line as well as individual preferential voting below. Some of the problems we have are because the system is being pushed beyond what it was designed to do.

  17. Phillip, it is correct that candidates for the Christian Democratic Party are not required to “toe the party line” as long as their values and practices do not go against the biblically revealed principles the party stands for. In short, everything scripture holds true is the party line, though the interpretation of this sometimes looks like opposing views, but only in peripheral areas, never in the core values of God having the highest place of honour and the sanctity of marriage and life.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  18. Garth’s comment at the top is very much on the mark. I’m often amazed at how many people there are who don’t understand the simple preference systems which operate in most lower houses, whether full or optional preferential. In NSW we have the optional preferential system and many people voting for minor parties or independents don’t even bother to put a second or subsequent preference for a major party to make their vote really count. Other’s don’t realise that they can vote that way. A first preference vote for a Christian party acts as a signal to politicians but I sometimes despair at the ignorance of many voters in general, including many Christians.

  19. Phillip, I’d agree with you regarding above the line voting changes, and as to the primary vote – it is what I understand to be true from information sent to me from the CDP – I may have misread it. It certainly directly affects their post-election funds, but while I no longer have the information available to me I do remember them saying something about it being labelled as a preference vote not as a primary vote. I am happy to be corrected.

    However, while I can’t comment on other parties, I echo what Phillip says about the CDP allowing conscience voting amongst it’s members. From what I have seen and heard, Fred Nile has stood true to those values for more than 30 years, not doing compromising backroom deals to achieve his aims but simply promoting and standing for truth, win or lose. He seems to hold a place of respect (though probably grudging in some instances) amongst both major parties for this.

    But, he is certainly not the only Christian person of integrity in politics, there are some very brave men and women of God who currently stand in politics – and we owe it to our regions, the nation and ourselves to ensure that we seek out (and research), and support those local reps that do stand for Christian values.

  20. Garth says “ … voting below the line … robs the party you vote for of a primary vote and that affects not only their frontline chances at the polls but also their election fund rebates after the elections are done. ?I find it is better to work out the parties preferences are and then vote 1 above the line.”

    Firstly: Candidates (rather than parties) receive Primary votes, and any election refund, from ALL their 1 votes – whether above the line OR below the line. So a 1 above has exactly the same value as a 1 below.

    Secondly: Vote-1-Above-The-Line is dangerous because dishonest or foolish parties can betray their voters by arranging preference deals that backfire and help elect a candidate with values anathema to their policies. It happens regularly. Family First and The Australian Democrats (opposite ends of the moral spectrum) effectively swapped preferences resulting in the election of Senator Steve Fielding. That betrayed Democrat voters. Had it gone the other way, (had Australian Democrats taken the seat) that would have been a betrayal of Family First voters.

    It’s always best to do your homework and vote below the line (there are web sites that help you do this). In the meantime keep lobbying politicians until they ban Voting-1 Above The Line and allow voting for Parties above the lines.

  21. Michael I tend to agree with what you have said. I would add that it not only requires morality, as it is too easily manipulated by unscrupulous people, but it also requires a thinking electorate. I’m not entirely sure which side of the debate I fall on when it comes to compulsory/voluntary voting but what I do know is that much of the electorate does not think too much about what they are voting for or what their MPs stand for, and I’d venture to say that most wouldn’t know what the majority of party policies are.

    As Churchill said “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

    He also said “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

    I think that lobbyists and donations (particularly in the US) can make for a dangerous mix which skews much of political endeavour and can attract the wrong sort of people to the position. But no matter what the system there are always going to be people who will try to re-arrange it to suit their interests.

    But certainly, at the root of all human endeavour is a basic moral code and when that has been eroded it affects all aspects and levels of a governance. I think it is very true that, in general, the people get the leaders they deserve. Isa 3:6-9 is a chilling reminder of this.

  22. Phillip you are probably right that a 1 vote will return the same result, whether above the line or below the line. I do remember reading something from CDP quite a while ago about this point regarding electoral funds but I’ll take your word for it.

    However, for me, it has not been a concern once I started voting CDP as their stated preferences been aligned with my intentions anyway and I have been able to trust them to stick to their stated intentions – either way, it is wise to research the preferences beforehand to ensure that your vote goes where you want it, whether voting above the line or below.

    As stated, I do agree with you that voting below the line is the best way to ensure your preferences go where you want them – assuming you know where you want them to go.

    One reason that parties like their voters to vote 1 above the line is to avoid the possibility of an informal vote (a vote which is discarded – the instance of that is still about 4% though a lot of those may be intentional). That can come about from not numbering all the boxes below the line or duplicating numbers or too many corrections making it unreadable (best to return your ballot paper for a replacement) or writing your name on the ballot. But as long as you ensure that you fill out every single box in subsequent numbers in order of priority and being clear with any corrections (the number can be beside the box or the name as long as it’s clear) then below the line will ensure your preferences.

    An interesting point regarding this was made by Antony Green in his how to vote guide about putting 1 above the line to ensure that your vote is counted even in the event of a mistake after you’ve filled out your below the line preferences.

    His comment on this is as such:
    “All votes with numbers below the line are sent to a central data entry centre where the preferences on the ballot papers are typed into a computer system. That includes any numbers above the line. At a later stage, the computer checks the formality of the preferences before releasing the cpmputer ballot paper to the countinging system. Any ballot paper informal below the line but with a formal above the line vote reverts to the above the line ticket. A few hundred votes are saved by this method at each election. Less than 5% of ballot papers are data entered, the rest being single ‘1’ above the line votes.”


  23. Garth: The confusion in your mind concerning above or below the line voting is that you are dealing with the NSW system which is somewhat different to the Victorian (the setting of Bill Muehlenberg’s article) & the Federal voting systems.
    Peter Newland’s response above is entirely correct for the Victorian & Federal systems.
    Spero Katos (Secretary, Australian Christians, Victoria).

  24. Thank Speros, that explains a lot. I must admit to ignorance in regards to voting differences between states. No longer being in NSW or VIC, I will need to keep that in mind when it comes to voting in my local elections.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *