It comes as the conservative senator behind the Liberal recruitment drive in largely Pentecostal church communities around South Australia says there is “extraordinary frustration out there in the community about the trajectory of State Parliament” and its “egregious agenda of social policy reform”.
But Premier Steven Marshall has welcomed the Pentecostal recruitment drive – revealed last week by InDaily – saying: “We want everybody to get involved in politics.”
InDaily reported on Friday that more than 400 new members had already been signed up to the SA Liberal Party this year under a ‘Believe In Blue’ campaign being spearheaded by prominent Right-faction figures, including Senator Alex Antic.
The push is causing widespread consternation among Liberal ranks, with concerns the burgeoning conservative ranks could seek to seize control of the party’s Women’s Council at this year’s AGM, bolstering the Right’s delegate numbers to the party’s state council.
Parishioners at one Adelaide Pentecostal church – Southland Church in Pasadena – held a service late last month attended by four senior Liberal MPs, including the local member Carolyn Power.
During the service, pastor Rob Norman told the congregation it was their “mission” to become party members to help block contentious ‘anti-Life’ legislation such as the recent abortion and voluntary euthanasia Bills.
“It’s really simple – if Christians joined political parties many of these Bills would not even make it into parliament,” Norman told the gathering.
Later the same day, an AGM was held for Power’s Elder State Electorate Conference, at which her branch president Russell Hanna was challenged and defeated by Belinda Crawford-Marshall, an executive pastor with the Maylands-based Field Of Dreams Pentecostal church.
Sources have told InDaily Crawford-Marshall is a recent recruit to the party under the Believe In Blue banner, but she declined to confirm when she joined or by whom she was recruited.
“My only comment is that I joined the Liberal Party because I wholeheartedly believe that it is the strongest and best party to lead us into the future,” she told InDaily.
Her online bio describes her as an “Apostolic” who “loves equipping the body to walk in the fullness of what God has for them”.
“She also delights in partnering with the Holy Spirit to see the captives set free and broken hearts healed,” it says.
Power said today she attended the AGM but did not offer comment about the election result.
“When we have AGMs with lots of community groups and volunteer groups, there’s often elections – that’s a normal thing for all volunteer organisations… and our party is a party of volunteers,” she told reporters.
She was asked about the Southland service she attended, at which her colleague, Environment Minister David Speirs, told the congregation: “This idea of the separation of church and state – forget it [or] we are on a sad and slippery slope to a very dangerous place.”
Power said today: “I strongly think it’s important to have a separation between government and church.”
“I was invited to attend that service in my local electorate, and as a good local MP I go to pretty much all events I’m invited to,” she said.
“For me, that was just another event that I attended – it wasn’t necessarily as I expected but that’s often the case when you go to events.”
She said her priority as a local MP was “representing my community and doing that with integrity and being accessible and inclusive”.
“For me, it’s irrelevant what people’s faith might be – I’m here to represent them and serve them,” she said.
Hanna told InDaily via email he was now serving as vice-president of the Elder SEC, but declined to comment about whether the branch had been bolstered by the Right-driven recruitment drive.
“I’ve been the President of Elder SEC and been fortunate enough to support Carolyn Power and see her elected to represent the community of Elder in the state parliament,” he said.
“At the recent AGM, Belinda was duly elected President and I as the Vice-President of the Elder SEC.
“It is the focus, and commitment of the SEC to work for the re-election of Carolyn, our very good and hard-working Member, to continue to represent the community of Elder in the Marshall government.
“For other questions regarding individual membership you would need to speak to the Liberal Party.”
None in the party’s state executive has yet commented on the issue, but one Right-aligned source told InDaily the party had no-one to blame but itself for the influx of Christian conservatives, referring to recent private members Bills on abortion and voluntary euthanasia backed by prominent moderates.
It’s a correction… you can’t keep kicking people in the head and expect them to not do anything
The source accused Government figures of “drafting and passing legislation with the Greens and essentially breaking the conventions of the parliament and party-room by giving it government time to ram it through quickly”.
“For people in SA who have waited 16 years for a centre-Right government to take it sitting down, that really got people’s backs up,” they said, saying many Liberal supporters felt “totally disenfranchised”.
“The disregard the Left have, in particular, for parliament rules really, really concerns people,” they said, adding the recruitment drive was “a correction, more than anything”.
“It’s just a correction, because you can’t keep kicking people in the head and expect them to not do anything.”
They said some local SECs “struggle to get a quorum sometimes – and a quorum is five people”, so an influx of new recruits can make a significant impact.
“This is not just a Christian Conservative issue… why do people work so hard if [the Government] just takes a sledgehammer to our base and keeps hitting them,” they said.
“People are pissed off across the board.”
Antic this morning broke his silence on the issue, after last week declining to comment to InDaily, which he called “fake news”.
In an interview with ABC Radio Adelaide, Antic said there was “an extraordinary frustration out there in the community about the trajectory of State Parliament and State Parliaments all across the country”.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a more egregious agenda of social policy reform [and] people feel as though their values and their beliefs are not being heard and not being listened to – that’s what I’m hearing in the community,” he said.
“When I’m asked a question, ‘what can we do? We tried everything, we marched, we wrote, we spoke’, I say to people: ‘Have you thought about joining a political party… have you thought about getting involved in the machine’, and obviously I would encourage people to join the Liberal Party [which] gives people an opportunity to cast their vote on policy matters inside the machine of the party, it gives them the opportunity to pre-select candidates that share our values and to speak to those parliamentarians directly on a regular basis at branch meetings and so on…
“That message has been heard.”
Ironically, Antic this week gave a keynote speech to the Waite state electorate conference AGM, at which he is understood to have strongly criticised the ABC.
He also held a forum last Friday night for new members in Balhannah, spruiked as “Demystifying membership of the Liberal Party”, in which he promised to detail for recent recruits how the party works, “its structures and what new members need to know”.
In today’s interview, Antic suggested the recruitment drive was spawned by state parliament passing Attorney-General Vickie Chapman’s abortion laws earlier this year, telling the ABC he spoke at a rally of 5000 people opposed to the legislation, and realised that “if their efforts were directed inside political parties then the results they were so frustrated by, of parliament not listening to their majority voices, they would have an opportunity to put their voice into the political machine”.
Asked by presenter David Bevan to confirm whether up to 500 new members had been signed up so far this year, he said: “I don’t know, I think there are many hundreds but I don’t know… I’m only speaking anecdotally [but] I’ve had lots of people contact me, frustrated with the system.”
Antic said Liberals had to “cast our mind back to the origins of the party” noting “Sir Robert Menzies was a Christian and he spoke about these issues routinely”.
“I think parliamentarians of all makes and models need to listen to the people,” he said.
“People are frustrated, they think the politics has become an area for political elites, staffers who go into politics, who do two terms [and] who go and become lobbyists.
“Politics is for people – it’s for those who show up, and there’s nothing wrong with people joining political parties to get their voice heard in parliament.”
Asked if Marshall and Chapman had “only themselves to blame” for the influx of conservatives into the state party, he said: “I think that’s a question for them.”
His comments prompted indirect retorts on Twitter from senior Liberals, including moderate faction leader and SA senator Simon Birmingham, who posted a quote from Menzies declaring the Liberal Party a “progressive” movement.
— Simon Birmingham (@Birmo) June 9, 2021
This was retweeted by Chapman – who had earlier declined to comment to InDaily – who added her own comment: “Menzies was clear: we march down the middle of the road.”
Menzies was clear: we march down the middle of the road https://t.co/ZT6a4WOcaa
— Vickie Chapman (@VickieChapmanMP) June 9, 2021
Asked by InDaily yesterday about Antic actively recruiting in Pentecostal Christian churches, Marshall said: “I just think we should be encouraging as many people to get involved in the political process as possible, so I have no problem with it whatsoever.”
“We want everybody to get involved in politics,” he said.
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