Abbott trashes Rudd criticism of "un-Christian" coalition

John Howard has never used faith as a sales pitch, Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday, challenging assertions by Kevin Rudd that the Coalition Government was "dogwhistling" the Christian vote.

Responding to a call by Labor frontbencher Kevin Rudd for the churches to play a bigger role in political debate, Mr Abbott described Mr Rudd's claim the churches should do more to hold the Federal Government to account on social justice "no more than an intellectual veneer over a highly partisan attack", the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Mr Abbott, who was speaking at a Catholic bookshop launch of the Heart of James McAuley in Canberra last night, added that Mr Rudd had argued John Howard had manipulated Christians into supporting a profoundly un-Christian Government when there was no evidence to support this.

"To the extent that Howard has attracted a Christian vote, it's almost certainly his character as much as his politics," Mr Abbott said.

"It's precisely because Howard has never used faith as a sales pitch that people with faith often find him reassuring and trustworthy, even if they don't entirely agree with him."

Mr Abbott said policies such as helping religious schools, banning gay marriage, overturning euthanasia in the Northern Territory and stopping the ACT's heroin trials had contributed.

"Presumably Rudd thinks that this was the dog whistling for the Christian vote. The possibility that the Government actually thought that these measures were right in principle never seems to have occurred to him."

Decisions to allow conscience votes on the abortion pill and stem cell research "could hardly be sneaky ways to make the Government look good in the eyes of Christians", Mr Abbott said.

Acknowledging that the separation of church and state was important, Mr Abbott also said it was necessary "to acknowledge the Christian derivation of our most important political values".

"There is no necessary gulf between Christians and others in politics because Christian social teaching is based on reason not revelation. Still, a religion of love should deepen the humanity with which decision-makers approach difficult choices," Mr Abbott said.

"Every political party would benefit from more members with a stronger sense of obligation to their fellow citizens and a well-developed code of personal values.

"It's a pity that Rudd's argument is unlikely to persuade more people of faith to join the Labor Party because Labor, as well as the wider polity, could certainly benefit from the cultural depth and human decency they mostly bring," Mr Abbott concluded.

Mr Abbott also said there was a role for religious influence in politics and he labelled those - including Coalition members - who supported stem cell research and the abortion pill RU486 as "generally hostile to religious influence on public life".

Abbott takes issue with Rudd on religion (The Age, 31/10/06)
Speech notes for Canberra launch of Heart of James McAuley

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Tony Abbott website
Kevin Rudd website
The Monthly
Peter Coleman, The Heart of James McAuley

Canberra Archbishop praises Rudd's Christian essay (CathNews, 3/10/06)
Imagine politics without Christians: Abbott tells critics (CathNews, 29/8/06)
Parliamentarians to debate Christian contribution (CathNews, 4/8/06)
Rudd says Church must influence politics (CathNews, 29/8/05)
Coleridge plans to "stir up some energy" in Canberra (CathNews, 27/6/06)

31 Oct 2006