The decriminalisation of abortion comes into effect in South Australia on the 7th of July1. There was a brawl within the Liberal Party, between the moderates and the conservatives, to remove abortion from the South Australian criminal code and deal with it in healthcare legislation. The fact that this legislation passed in March 2021 when the Liberal Party were in government2, demonstrated that religious nutters were not in the ascendancy in the South Australian Liberal Party. Although the legislation passed many months ago, the fact that it will only come into effect this month is extraordinary2. There were numerous delays and one could be forgiven for believing that this was a tactic from the religious to delay the inevitable. At the time the legislation was passed, the religious, most notably pentecostals, were being urged to join the party3.
Liberal Party state president Legh Davis was sent an email by a parishioner from an Adelaide pentecostal church, complaining that a senior Liberal has been “using my church to take over your party”. This comes just days after a service at Southland Church in the suburb of Pasadena which was attended by four senior Liberal parliamentarians: then State Environment Minister David Speirs, state MPs Carolyn Power and Steve Murray and Senator Alex Antic. At this service, the pastor, Rob Norman, told the congregation it was their “mission” to become party members to help block contentious legislation such as the recent abortion and voluntary euthanasia bills. Speirs also spoke at the service and told the gathering to “forget” the concept of the separation of church and state. It seems that Antic and others from the religious right of the party have been actively recruiting party members from various pentecostal churches, with more than 400 new members being signed up by the middle of last year4.
The Liberal Party lost heavily in the South Australian state election in March 2022, and former premier, Steven Marshall, a moderate, resigned the leadership of the Liberal Party5. There were several obvious contenders for Marshall’s replacement6; however, David Speirs was elected easily to replace Marshall7. This is the same David Speirs who suggested that pentecostals, if they join the Liberal Party, as advocated by his colleagues, should “forget’ about the separation of church and state. He was also one of a handful of Liberal and Labor MPs who voted against decriminalising abortion.
Like so many leaders before him, he has said he will lead a united team, which would be challenging for a party which has been characterised by divisions within, even under the relative stability of Marshall’s leadership. Early on in the Marshall government, the old divisions still played out, with backbenchers crossing the floor, while others backgrounded media on their frustration with decisions made by the two moderates leading the government (Vickie Chapman was deputy leader)8. It seems that the disunity is still a factor in the Liberal Party. Because, soon after the leadership ballot, Chapman, the former deputy leader, told colleagues she was intending to resign from parliament at the end of May. The by-election for her seat of Bragg, which she had held for 20 years, is set for the 2nd of July9.
While Speirs wishes for unity in his party, it may not be the sort of unity that will help him. The reason is, just days before new abortion laws come into force in South Australia, parliamentarians are set to “mentor” young people at an Enid Lyons List anti-abortion event. Speirs, along with three others from his shadow ministry, the Labor minister Clare Scriven and other political leaders, will feature in a training day aimed at activating “a new generation to rise up and fight for the human rights of the unborn”. As Greens MLC Tammy Franks said this showed women could never take abortion rights for granted and that it was “chilling for anyone who believes in bodily autonomy”10.
If you go to the Enid Lyons List website, and click on ‘home’, one of the first things to come up is a picture of three young women with the header ‘For Australian Women’ with one subheading ‘Events & training’ under which is “We provide training, connection, and education to empower you to speak boldly for the rights of the unborn. Events are live in-person and online.” The other subheading ‘Coalition of women against abortion’ under which there is “Together we can save the lives of women and children harmed by abortion”11.
Their inaugural reception was held at the end of March in Adelaide and was attended by Clare Scriven, Labor Minister for Primary Industries; Andrea Michaels Labor Minister for Small and Family Business; and Nicola Centofanti and Heidi Girolamo, both Liberal members of the Legislative Council. Although it is fairly clear from the tenor of the blurbs, nowhere, that I could see, do they clearly indicate that this is backed by Christian churches12.
Given that the last few censuses as well as several surveys, have clearly shown that the proportion of the Australian population who are religious is fairly rapidly declining13,14, I suspect that having Australia regress to an era of back alleys and coathangers and women dying is not something most Australians want. While many of the religious believe they know what is best and that they have a right to impose their beliefs on everyone, even those of other religions, they will do anything to try to achieve that aim. Their strategy of effectively taking over the Liberal Party has brought them no closer to this aim, but has seemingly damaged the electoral prospects of the Liberal Party. If it continues, the Liberal Party will become unelectable.