The Christian Democratic Party has a lot of work to do if it’s to be the go-to party for Christian voters, with many having never heard of it, according to a new study.
The 2015 study by McCrindle Research found that 49% of the state’s Christians – ranging from regular churchgoers to nominal Anglicans and Catholics – either haven’t heard of the Christian Democratic Party or know little about it.
And the younger the voter, the more unaware they are of the CDP’s existence.
The research, commissioned by the CDP itself, has rung alarm bells for the party and and fired it into action on seeking new ways to reach Gen X and Y.
“We’re all very aware that times have changed,” said the party’s NSW director Greg Bondar – who is currently doing a course on how to better understand and connect with Muslims.
“We need to engage with the young generation and [ask ourselves] how do we be the party of the changing world?”
While that challenge is ahead of them, one thing the party is already getting right – according to the McCrindle study – is its bread-and-butter legislation work.
Voters who identify as Christians want action on practical, everyday issues – like hospitals, education, security and infrastructure.
And although the CDP is best known for its stance on moral issues – at times controversially – it’s also been quietly and successfully working behind the scenes on practical “mum-and-dad”-style legislation for years.
The CDP Achievements You Don’t Hear About
The CDP is proud of holding the “balance of power” in a legislative council that’s split quite evenly between left- and right-leaning members.
With its one or two seats in the NSW Senate over many years, the Christian Democrats have often had the final say on various pieces of legislation.
When Mike Baird’s power sell-off came before the senate last year, Rev Nile demanded a five-year-ban on the sacking of electricity workers before he would vote in its favour.
“We could have shut down the NSW economy; we had the final vote.” ~ Paul Green, MLC
And in 2013, the party cast the deciding vote to approve the 99-year-leasing of Port Botany and Port Kembla – a move that wiped out the state’s $5 billion debt.
“We played a major role in this happening,” said Paul Green, CDP member of the legislative council alongside Rev Nile. “We could have shut down the NSW economy; we had the final vote. NSW took off from there. We’ve been going from strength to strength from that moment.”
When it came to the Premier’s plan to merge local councils, Paul Green chaired a senate enquiry into the plan, to at least give the councils a say.
Policies That Show Care For Humanity
They’ve also had numerous wins when it comes to caring for human needs.
The CDP influenced the government to introduce $4 million worth of Bravehearts kits into schools, to educate and protect children from sexual abuse.
They headed up an enquiry into housing and homelessness, resulting in a lot of housing being handed over to NGOs such as Christian care agencies, that are now doing a fine job at helping those in need.
Passed at 5am, the amendment ensured sex abuse victims weren’t forced into a 10-year-time limit on compensation claims.
And when the controversial Victims Rights and Support Bill of 2013 was being pushed through the senate, the CDP refused to give their green light unless they could get a crucial amendment approved.
That amendment, the only one passed at 5am one Thursday morning, ensured that sex abuse victims weren’t forced into a 10-year-time limit on claiming for compensation.
“We bring the compassion and care that often wouldn’t be there otherwise,” Fred Nile said, of his party’s Christ-centred approach to legislation.
“We throw out bad legislation, make good legislation better, and sometimes have an opportunity to bring in new legislation,” Paul Green added.
But Not Popular On All Fronts
These achievements stand in a face-off with the more controversial proposals Rev Nile has made through the years, that a lot of media outlets love to lambast.
These include his oft-repeated wish to ban the burqa in NSW, and his opposition last year to handing bravery awards to all Lindt Café Seige survivors.
The party’s stance on homosexuality and LGBT issues, particularly its opposition to gay marriage, is relentlessly decried in secular media and isn’t embraced by all of the Christian community, either.
And its anti-abortion stance, as ever, divides both believers and the secular community.
Still Hard At Work On Moral Issues
But that doesn’t stop the party from forging ahead with what it believes to be its God-given mandate, bringing Bible-based values to social issues.
Its “One Law For All” policy (opposing the adoption of Sharia law) proved to be the most popular among the more than 1000 voters responding to the McCrindle survey, even among those less familiar with the party.
And the much-debated Safe Schools Policy is currently high on the CDP agenda, as is the campaign to keep chaplains and scripture programs in NSW public schools.
“We’re trying to get the government to see now more than ever kids need chaplains,” Paul Green said. “They have 24 hour cyber exposure and peer pressure; why would you want to remove chaplaincy? We are mind, body, soul and spirit. Why leave one part of their care out?”
Meanwhile, Fred Nile’s just come back from Nowra where he’s been working on a Parliamentary Enquiry into the Stolen Generation, while Paul Green is deputy-chairing an enquiry into Elder Abuse, an issue he believes is “as big a problem as child abuse”.
A Vision For The Future
There are commentators who believe the CDP has “lost all relevance”, and sectors of the community that hope Fred Nile, now 81, will soon bow out of politics – along with his party.
But the CDP’s not planning on going anywhere, with a strong plan for the future titled “Vision 2020”.
It’s aiming to shore up more Christian awareness and support by resourcing and collaborating with church leaders.
It wants more than 90 branches in NSW by 2020. And the party has its sights set firmly on Federal Parliament, too, with potential candidates being interviewed in every state and territory.
Watch this space.