While much of the headlines around gender and sexuality have revolved around Scott Morrison’s captain’s pick, Catherine Deves, to run in the federal election for the seat of Warringah1.
Deves he has little chance of winning, ever since the voters in Warringah realised the independent Zali Steggall was not a halfwit like the previous Liberal incumbent, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and as any suggested Liberal replacement was likely to be. Deves’ repugnant remarks regarding transgender people have probably made it certain that she will lose by a substantial margin, given that Warringah is a progressive electorate. However, Ronni Salt has suggested that the Liberal Party have already written Warringah off and that Deves was selected because of, rather than despite her repugnant views. It is Morrison’s way of appealing to the religious bigots in other seats the Coalition hope to retain or win. It has also been suggested that Deves’ selection is another Morrison dead cat to take attention away from other, more damaging stories. Whichever it is, it doesn’t seem to have been of benefit to Morrison, and it has driven a rather large wedge between factions in the New South Wales Liberal Party.
However, there is another item which has just hit the headlines, mostly because it was on the television show The Project on April 19. It is about the Esther Foundation which has received millions of dollars from the government2.
While this may have now reached television, it was reported by Crikey a couple of months ago. What is the Esther Foundation? It is an organisation with deep Pentecostal ties which offers counselling and rehabilitation services. At the organisation, young women and girls were expected to read the Bible every day; staff were “constantly pushing people to convert”; there was a lack of staff with professional qualifications; residents were told they risked going to hell if they left and did not follow God’s will; at one point, residents were attending five religious meetings a week, commonly for four to five hours at a time, and involved such things as running up and down the room with imaginary swords for up to an hour to beat the spirit of addiction. In addition, residents were told that any same-sex attraction was a lie from the devil, and was sin. Anyone who was LGBTIQ was forced to undergo a form of gay conversion. If a resident was known to have feelings towards another woman, the two were not allowed to talk to each other and would be forced to repent of their thoughts and feelings for each other, often publicly. Other allegations include that treatment for addiction and trauma was based on the faith healing methods of Smith Wigglesworth, a prominent figure in the history of Australian Pentecostalism3.
The Esther Foundation is in the seat of Hasluck, in Western Australia, held by cabinet minister Ken Wyatt on a rather small margin of about 2%. On March 7th, 2019, Morrison announced the grant of $4 million during an in person visit to the foundation. On May 18th Wyatt was returned at the federal election. On June 11, the federal government’s grants portal announced the grant had been approved3.
The grant was made under the Community Health and Hospitals Program (CHHP). This was announced by Morrison, with $1.25 billion in funding, to be solely at the federal government’s discretion, the ideal system for pork barrelling. The fact that Morrison announced it weeks before it was approved by the CHHP makes it clear that he decided the cash should go to them, and any guidelines were superfluous to requirements.