An investigation into the rhetoric of proponents of the "No" campaign reveals the erosion of the fragile constitutional foundation of the "separation of church and state" in Australia.
*This article is an IA Writing Competition Most Compelling Article category.
High-profile Aboriginal businessman, Warren Mundine, and Federal Senator for the Northern Territory, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, are two of the most prominent speakers to emerge as advocates for the "No" campaign in the upcoming Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.
Mundine converted to conservative politics after his resignation from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 2012, despite 20 years of membership and his role as National ALP President from 2006 to 2007.
Educated at a Catholic secondary college in Western Sydney, Mundine is open about being a devout Catholic who “prayed every night”.
In 2019, the Liberal "Pentecostalist PM", Scott Morrison, parachuted Mundine into the most marginal Federal seat of Gilmore on the NSW south coast as the Liberal candidate, despite protests from the local Liberal branch who had pre-selected their candidate eight months earlier.
Mundine was unsuccessful in his 2019 election bid, losing Gilmore to local Labor candidate, Fiona Phillips.
Mundine and conservative activists
In 2022, Mundine became Chairman of the board of the Conservative Political Action Conference Australia (CPAC). He was one of 40 keynote speakers at the 2022 conference. Other speakers included Jacinta Price, Tony Abbott, Nigel Farage and Alan Jones.
CPAC began in 1974 as an annual political conference hosted by the American Conservative Union. It is attended by 'conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States and beyond'.
CPAC Australia claims:
'CPAC is a values-based nonprofit organisation that espouses the best of Howard, Reagan and Thatcher while exploring new ideas and themes for coming generations.'
Mundine and Price were also keynote speakers at CPAC Australia 2023, speaking on the topic, 'Say "No" to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament', claiming:
'Labor’s plan to hold a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is set to undermine Australia’s democratic process.'
Wilson’s biographical notes declare:
'The most important thing Heather can leave behind in this world, is a legacy of a life defined not by the work she did, but by the work Jesus did through her.'
GiveSendGo is a Christian crowdfunding website founded in response to perceptions that GoFundMe was anti-Christian. GoFundMe had removed campaigns associated with the alt-right and white supremacists that operated against GoFundMe’s "Terms of Service".
The Rise of Jacinta Price
Jacinta Price was born in Darwin and grew up in Alice Springs. Her father is of Anglo-Celtic descent and her mother, who served in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, is a Warlpiri woman.
While accompanying PM Scott Morrison on the 2022 Federal Election campaign trail, Price controversially described Morrison as “an elder of our country”.
In Federal Parliament, Price sits in the National Party room and was seen as highly influential in the National Party’s early decision to oppose the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
As her media profile grew with the "No" campaign, Price was appointed Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians in the Dutton shadow ministry on 18 April 2023.
Price claims the Voice “is a movement of academics, activists and elites who think they know better".
And yet, Price is a second-generation career politician, part of the political elite that she fails to mention in her list of those “who think they know better”.
Price also claims racial politics from the United States, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have begun to filter into Australia and “it doesn't belong here”.
While claiming racial politics from the USA doesn’t belong in Australia, Price was a “headline attraction” at CPAC Australia 2022 and 2023, the organisation imported from the United States and linked to American third parties such as GiveSendGo whose clients include alt-right and white supremacist movements.
Unlike Mundine, Price has not been transparent about her educational background or affiliations with a religion or faith.
However, in 2019 while campaigning as a Country-Liberal candidate for the NT Legislative Assembly seat of Lingiari, Price came under heavy criticism for anti-Islamic content on her social media posts.
Church & State ministries
In 2023, Price was the featured speaker at a fundraising dinner for Church & State, an off-shoot Pentecostalist Christian organisation. The funds raised were to ‘assist in the costs of hosting the Church and State Summit 2024’.
Founded in 2017, Church & State Ministries is a member of the Australian Christian Churches (ACC), formerly Assemblies of God in Australia.
On Church and State’s website, under the heading ‘Arming Christians’, the following statements appear:
Church & State’s vision is to raise up Christians in every electorate to intentionally influence culture as Jesus would in our place – without blind loyalty to any politician or party but guided by a firm foundation on God’s Word.
Our nation needs a Gospel-based moral and cultural revolution.
Seven Mountain mandate
Church and State have adopted the Seven Mountain mandate, a dominionist Christian movement. It originated in the United States and is driven by U.S. Pentecostal televangelist, Kenneth Copeland, who has a major presence in Australia.
The movement aims to influence seven key areas of society: education, religion, family, business, government/military, arts/entertainment, and media.
In a 2021 interview, Pastor Bob Cotton told correspondent, David Hardaker:
'Seven Mountains Mandate operates in some ways like a secret society. If you know the code then you’re in the know. And then you’re in.'
Having Pentecostal Scott Morrison in the Lodge made him 'the pin-up boy globally' of the mandate.
Church & State outline 'three easy steps praying Christians can take to powerfully promote God’s kind of justice and wisdom in government':
It’s not enough to find a good candidate and send them out to fight alone. They need an army behind them willing to back them if they are to have the courage to fight the big, important battles.
When you find the best candidate, you should also offer to donate what you can to their election campaign, as well as your front yard fence for their election sign.
If just 1,000 praying Christians in every electorate make this offer… every candidate will have:
- 1,000 new sign locations;
- 1,000 new campaign donors;
- 1,000 pre-polling or election day volunteers.
Add 10,000-20,000 votes to the chance of 1,000 signs, donors & volunteers, and that’s a lot of pressure [for a candidate] to do the right thing! 1,000.
Separation of church and state
The Constitution of Australia attempts to protect the secular qualities of the federal government:
'The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.'
Despite the wording of section 116 being similar to that of the United States Constitution, Australian courts have interpreted the provision narrowly, so a clear distinction between "church and state" has never been established.
While the Constitution seeks to protect religion from the interference of governments, it does a poor job of protecting governments from the interference of religion.
It wasn’t until 2010 that the speaker of the federal House of Representatives and president of the Senate began each daily sitting by acknowledging the traditional custodians on whose land Parliament House sits. The Acknowledgement of Country is followed by a recitation of "God’s Blessing" and the Lord’s Prayer.
Price has joined calls to scale back the use of Welcome to Country and Acknowledgment of Country ceremonies, saying 'Australians don't need to be welcomed to their own country' and labelling the practice 'divisive' and a 'reinvention of culture'.
Price also claims she “understands” why Pauline Hanson recently stormed out of the Senate during an Acknowledgment of Country.
Price seems less concerned about the continuing use of "God’s Blessing" and the Lord’s Prayer at the commencement of parliamentary sittings, despite the presence of numerous Muslim MPs; those from non-Christian religions and faiths; and those of no faith who sit in Parliament.
Infiltrating local and state governments
Baynes spoke openly about her lunch with Tate where she outlined the Seven Mountain mandate. She claims this was the moment that she 'instantly converted him to the 7M philosophy' and support for her plan to transform the Gold Coast 'to look like the Kingdom of God'.
Baynes 'provides informal counsel to Tate', explaining:
What I believe we need is more Christian thinking in government, more Christian mindsets in government, much more of a biblical worldview in government.
When you have an assignment from the king, that assignment might be covert or it might be overt. Other times God leads you to something that's quite covert — it's kind of under the radar, it's a little bit hidden, and for me that's been my story with Tom.
In June 2021, the South Australian Liberal Party terminated the membership of 150 Pentecostal Christians and asked 400 more recently signed-up members to show cause as to why they shouldn't be "turfed out as well". The move to infiltrate State Liberal branches was perceived as an attempt to sway Liberal policies in line with "faith doctrine".
Pentecostal influences on federal policies
John Wren’s insightful 2021 IA article reveals how Scott Morrison’s Pentecostal beliefs have affected Liberal party policies.
While Australians continue paying the price for Morrison’s undermining of the separation of church and state, many of Jacinta Price’s "No" campaign arguments closely align with Pentecostalist ideology:
Prosperity theology declares that the less well-off are lazy and lead immoral lives. Welfare is not needed if they pray and work harder (enter Robodebt).
Senator Price has said 'the Voice will constitutionally enshrine the idea that Aboriginal people are perpetual victims, forever in need of special measures'.
The idea of a judgemental God dictates the disabled, physically or mentally ill are not leading moral lives and being punished or tested by God. The government should not fund medical care or the NDIS, as the provision of medical care could be interfering in “God’s will”.
Senator Price has said 'the Voice will act only in the interests of its clients… I reject the idea of "white privilege" in Australia'.
The notion of "sainted lives" entails that the wealthy are rich because they lead sainted lives. Minister Stuart Robert, a Pentecostalist, stripped funds from the NDIS to underwrite “other causes” (such as franking credits).
Senator Price has said 'if we keep telling Aboriginal people they are victims, we are effectively removing their agency and giving them the expectation that someone else is responsible for their life'.
Pentecostalism is weak on social equity and social justice. They do not usually hold progressive views because they believe in the Bible as the unerring word of God in matters of ethics, science and history, representing a form of pietism.
Senator Price has said 'colonisation has had a positive impact, absolutely… No, there is (sic) no ongoing negative impacts of colonisation… Some Indigenous bodies seek to demonise colonial settlement in its entirety and nurture a national self-loathing about the foundations of modern Australian achievement'.
The ideas of miracles and of divine providence assert that all of history and the future are in the control of God… this will lead to the second coming of Christ, the end of the world and the final judgement.
Senator Price has said 'an Indigenous Voice to Parliament would imply that Aboriginal people are a separate entity to the rest of Australia and will permanently divide Australians, in law and spirit'.
On 18 September 2023, over 1,000 people attended a rally at the Adelaide Convention Centre in the referendum “must-win state” of South Australia to listen to leading ‘No’ campaigners, including Senator Price.
In an emotional speech, Price broke down in tears while speaking of her role as a “vessel for Indigenous people who had been ignored by mainstream politics and media”.
Price’s use of the term “vessel” is a curious choice. In the Christian biblical sense:
‘A human vessel is someone who is willing to be used by God for whatever purpose God has in mind.'
In Pentecostal ideology, a "Baptism with the Holy Spirit" is where ‘Christ is the agent and the Holy Spirit the medium that grants power for spiritual warfare where the Christian struggle against spiritual enemies requires spiritual power.’
On her website, Price declares:
'I’ve been turning the tables on the left for years.'
Was Price’s "breaking down in tears" and her use of the term “vessel” scripted and highly stage-managed or a "definitive experience" where the "Holy Spirit comes upon a believer to anoint and empower them for special service"?
Price’s behaviour could be interpreted as a sign to Christian right audiences that Christ was speaking through her and therefore, they should follow her instruction to vote "No" in the referendum.
In light of the demise of the “7 Mountain Mandate pin-up boy”, Scott Morrison, was Price demonstrating her willingness to become the ‘7MM pin-up girl’?
Price’s direct affiliations with religious groups and ideologies continue to be quite covert, kind of under the radar, a little bit hidden.
However, Price may simply be driven by political ambition and pragmaticism in recognising the benefits of securing “10,000-20,000 votes and the chance of 1,000 signs, donors and Church & State volunteers” throughout NT electorates, thus ensuring her place in Federal Parliament for years to come.
After all, Price is a political elite, second-generation career politician.
The Price and Mundine “No” campaigns appear to many Australians as having little to do with finding ways to improve educational, housing, employment, cultural, safety and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Not so apparent, until now, is their attempt to ensure a "No" result in the Voice referendum as a means to gain greater media focus and influence over future government policies in alignment with ideologies imported from the United States including Church & State Ministries; Seven Mountain mandate; Pentecostal "prosperity theology"; CPAC and their third-party U.S. allies, GiveSendGo and their "clients".
Price and Mundine claim 'Labor’s plan to hold a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is set to undermine Australia’s democratic process'.
In fact, the concept of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament advisory group is an integral part of the democratic process and democratic government where 'power and civic responsibility are exercised by all adult citizens directly or through their freely elected representatives'.
Price and Mundine are contributing to the further erosion of the already fragile constitutional foundation of the "separation of church and state" in Australia.
Dr Steven Gration is a freelance actor, theatre director, researcher, writer and teacher.
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