So Gladys is gone, NSW has a new leader and I refuse to believe he’s not two old-timey children standing on top of each other in an oversized suit. But despite being the state’s youngest ever Premier, he’s allegedly the most conservative and religious since the 1940s.
I’m trying to be generous of spirit in allowing him time to make me hate him rather than hating him on spec, but his political track record and my desire to control what does and doesn’t reside in my uterus aren’t helping matters.
A devout Catholic from the NSW Liberals’ hard right, Dominic Perrottet is a Trump-celebrating, pronoun-hating, climate-change-denying millennial anomaly who has made no secret of the importance of his faith. And it’s already giving him tsuris. That’s Jewish for troubles.
From the minute he was announced as the likely successor to the Berejiklian-warmed throne, the new Premier’s piety has been a hot topic. Now, to be clear, politicians are allowed to be religious, that’s theirs and anyone else’s right. But in a country apparently committed to the principle of the separation of church and state, a commitment that’s been tested by the federal leader more than once recently, the public has a right to answers. From The Monthly:
“Questions quickly turned to his Catholic faith, with reporters asking how Perrottet’s deeply conservative views (he has opposed same-sex marriage, the decriminalisation of abortion and laws forcing priests to disclose child abuse, to name but a few) would affect how he runs the state. ‘Diversity should be celebrated, it shouldn’t be criticised,’ said the man who has been known to attack the ‘pronoun police’, adding that he was incredibly proud of his faith – as if the issue is with his private religious practice, not with how it might influence his leadership.”
And thus began the media shit-fight sure to be with us for some time, with the right accusing the left of attacking the Premier’s faith rather than his politics, and the left pointing out all the times he’s appeared to conflate the two himself.
Last year, he decried a Victorian law compelling priests to disclose known instances of child sexual abuse, even if it necessitates breaking the confessional seal. In what I have come to see as a pattern or perhaps strategy of Perrottet’s, he begins controversial opinions by painting himself as Joe Secular, man of reason:
“Now I understand the motivation and the rationale for this legislation, as I’m sure everyone here does. As a Catholic, I find sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups that have gone on in the church, a crushing betrayal, not only of the victims but of believers too. We all share in the responsibility to combat the plague of sexual abuse of children and minors and make sure it never happens again.’’
Cool, sounds good, Joe. Carry on.
“At the same time though…”
“…we need to be clear about what this kind of law does, it compels at the threat of imprisonment, ministers of religion to violate their conscience, in a way that is so grave that will result in their summary expulsion from the church. That isn’t just a matter of preference. It’s a matter of deep theological conviction that the confessional seal is sacrosanct, for every priest in every penitent, no matter who, no matter what sins are confessed.”
First of all, just no. No no no. Also, I’ve heard some lame justifications in my time but opposing a law that will serve to protect children from potentially prolific paedophiles because offenders will be kicked out of a religious order is some next level apologist bullshit. But nope, no co-mingling of church and state here folks.
Moving on to reproductive rights, cause I know how to have a good time, another effect of Perrottet’s likely leadership was the sudden menstrual syncing of millions of New South Women. Group chats lit up immediately and every woman I know entered a sort of preemptive fight or flight mode as if a uterus-shaped bat signal had been cast across the skies.
Why? Because of this from a 2019 NSW parliamentary debate:
“While late-term abortions may be rare, that doesn’t necessarily make them right. This bill removes the requirement that late-term abortions are only to be performed to preserve the health and wellbeing of the mother. Instead, it allows late-term abortions right up to birth without any real restrictions.”
The bill in question sought to decriminalise abortion in NSW and at the time, the then treasurer, while not explicitly linking his opposition to his religious beliefs, accused its supporters of being on “the wrong side of history”. Again with the fake-out tactic, Perrottet started out sounding worldly, empathetic:
“Every day there are women out there who fall pregnant in difficult and sometimes impossible conditions of poverty, abuse, neglect and violence. I can understand why many of them in that situation would want to consider ending their pregnancies.”
All hail Joe Secular, friend to women.
“… our first response as a community should be to help, not to harm, and to comfort, value and support both mother and child.”
Sure, he never directly brought his faith into the debate, but this “help not harm” rhetoric is frequently employed by the Christian right to make them look like heroes fighting the evil abortion rights advocates who just want to kill babies. The fact that carrying pregnancies to term will harm many women is completely subverted.
“Thanks to this bill,” he said. “Our law will now stand completely silent while the lives of unborn children up to five months are ended on demand.”
Much to his chagrin, and my delight, the bill passed, but its reforms are still rolling out across the state’s health system and there are fears Perrottet will somehow halt their progress or try to roll them back. He did state in an interview with 2GB on his first day that he has “no intention of changing the laws in that space,” but I’ve heard politicians sometimes lie, and after what’s just happened in Texas, I’m holding my exhale.
Premier Perrottet’s promise (say that three times) to be the “family Premier” also feels rooted in his sanctitude, and if his record regarding people’s life choices and social units is anything to go by, the family Premier rules for one type of family only.
In 2017, he opposed marriage equality on the very Christian grounds that “marriage is about every child’s fundamental right to grow up with their own mum and dad”. In 2013, he called for Australia to stop “throwing money” at the welfare system, claiming money paid to aged pensioners and single parents was contributing to declining fertility rates and – heaven forbid – encouraging divorce. Here was I thinking people being arseholes or simply no longer wanting to be married was encouraging divorce but I’m a single, childless, non-practising Jew so what the holy fuck do I know?
In the coming months, the NSW parliament is set to debate several bills that may test Catholicism’s influence on the Premier’s politics. There’s a bill proposing changes to sex and consent education in NSW public schools and another advocating exemptions from discrimination laws for faith-based organisations. First up though, is the voluntary assisted dying bill, for which Perrottet has already agreed to allow a conscience vote.
Dominic Perrottet has come into the job asking for the same tolerance and respect of his beliefs that he has pledged to show others and declaring his commitment to listening to diverse opinions and ideas. “People should judge people on who they are and what they say,’ he told reporters. ‘Not based on some religious element, and I am very proud of the fact that I have a strong Christian faith. Does that in any way take away my capacity to serve as Premier? Well, I do not think so.”
I’m not here to tell him he can’t have faith, but if his religion gets mixed in with his politics – and by extension our lives – as it has in the past, that’s on him. Amen.