The selection of Dominic Perrottett as leader of the NSW Liberal Party, and therefore Premier has raised lots of concern about his conservative religious views. But the only concrete instance raised so far is a dispute over whether the Catholic Church should get management rights over cemeteries.To see how little impact Perrottett is likely to have, consider that in the last eight years, we have had two Prime Ministers clearly aligned with the religious right, and one too weak to resist them. Despite this, the religious right has comprehensively lost the culture wars in Australia. Most of the issues that drive religious culture wars in the US have been resolved here, with hardly any fuss. Conservatives stalled on equal marriage as long as they could, but once the plebiscite went through, the issue was settled. Meanwhile state parliaments passed legislation formalising the long-standing situation on abortion rights, and setting out rules for voluntary assisted dying.
The big demand from the religious right after the equal marriage debate was a “religious freedom bill”. The motive was the spurious fear that it would be illegal to express opposition to equal marriage – in practice, this is a dead issue.
The Israel Folau case raised the separate question of whether employees could be sacked fro expressing their religious views. But far from advancing the cause of the religious right, the resulting debate has highlighted the indefensible exemption from anti-discrimination law that already exists for religious employers such as schools and hospitals, allowing them to sack gay (or non-believing) employees, exclude students and so on. Even if this exemption survives in law, it has become unsustainable in the light of adverse public opinion.
It’s much more reasonable to be worried about Perrottet’s rush to remove Covid restrictions. But that’s a subject for another post.