Abbott lashes Catholic "fellow travellers"

In an address to university students, Federal Minister Tony Abbott has slammed "progressive" Catholics who he alleges are campaigning for the Labor Party and questioned whether criticism of WorkChoices by Parramatta Bishop Kevin Manning was based on moral or political grounds.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Australian Catholic Students Association, Mr Abbott said that a recent statement by the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations had been invoked "to attack the Government's policy in one of the country's most marginal seats".

According to Mr Abbott, who is Minister for Health and Ageing, "the targeted MP grumbled about the church taking Catholic politicians for granted on abortion and stem cells but undermining them on issues that might help to determine the election".

Mr Abbott also cited Bishop Manning who had said that the Government's workplace legislation was "spectacularly inadequate when tested against the principles of Catholic social teaching".

Bishop Manning in April also accused the Government of "putting the economy before people where wages are reduced and conditions reduced for the sake of the economy."

But the outspoken Catholic parliamentarian says that while the church is entitled to speak its mind and to disagree with government policies, the "key question is not: 'Do Catholics have a right to be heard?' - of course they do - but: 'Which views, on what topics, are entitled to be called Catholic?'"

He says as someone frequently labelled "too Catholic" on life issues, he thought it "galling" that he is considered "not Catholic enough" on workplace justice, "especially since the Government's aim was to drive unemployment down and wages up."

"Not that moral kudos was the Government's principal objective," he added. "Apart from any intrinsic virtue, success in this area usually helps governments to be re-elected.

"Clearly Manning had a political disagreement with the Government, but was it also a moral one?" Mr Abbott asked in the speech published in The Australian today.

"The accusation of breaching Catholic teaching, especially from a well-respected pastoral bishop, should be taken seriously and deserves a considered response."

Offering his response Mr Abbott outlined his views on the "basic moral tests for workplace relations law", namely whether the law boosts "overall employment and pay", protects individuals from harsh treatment and whether disadvantages are short term or permanent.

"As former British Labour prime minister (and Catholic convert) Tony Blair put it: 'Fairness in the workplace starts with the chance of a job'," Mr Abbott said.

"The challenge for Bishop Manning and his supporters is to explain why there's more justice in unemployment at 10.9 per cent (under Labor) than at 4.2 per cent."

Mr Abbott also attacked the Melbourne-based Catholic lobby group PolMin and accuses it of being the Australian equivalent of a communist front organisation in China.

"PolMin's co-ordinator insists that it's non-partisan but the letter announces that the group is 'campaigning in the (Coalition-held) marginal seats of Bass, Bonner, La Trobe and Page'," Mr Abbott said.

"PolMin's board comprises nuns and brothers with a strong social justice orientation along with a former Australian Democrats staff member and an organiser with the National Tertiary Education Union.

"In other words, it's a classic front organisation, a local version of the Chinese Patriotic Church," he complained.

"This is the acceptable face of religion: progressive, fellow-travelling, unthreatening, adding nothing but moral fervour to the Left's standard critique," Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott's criticisms come as results of an online poll yesterday show that the Government is struggling to retain the confidence of Catholic voters, with 65 per cent of Catholics saying they will vote for Labor at the next election.

Tony Abbott: Church takes wrong turn opposing Work Choices (The Australian, 12/7/07)
Canberra 6-8 July - Australian Catholic Students' Association 2007 Conference (AD 2000, July 2007)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Tony Abbott MP
Australian Catholic Students Association
Towards 2008
Australian Political Ministry Network
Catholic Diocese of Parramatta | Bishop Kevin Manning

Catholic voters turn to Rudd (CathNews, 11/7/07)
WorkChoices unbalanced, Catholic employment body says (CathNews, 2/7/07)
Govt "canonised" economy, Manning claims (CathNews, 27/4/07)
Abbott claims DLP heritage for Liberal Party (CathNews, 30/1/07)
Bishop Manning named a "Champion of the West" (CathNews, 6/4/06)

12 Jul 2007