The Labor preselection battle in the ACT seat of Fraser is warming up, with a prominent Left faction figure raising issues about an unaligned candidate’s views on abortion.
On Monday, former ACT minister and Left faction heavyweight Wayne Berry sent an email to unaligned candidate Michael Pilbrow questioning his religious views and warning he would be reporting them to the party secretary.
Thank you for your preselection material however I am disappointed that you have not mentioned that you are active as part of the Canberra Christian Life Centre which is creationist and anti abortion — and is affiliated, along with similar churches, with Hillsong in Sydney.
To be more transparent you could have also mentioned that your church is the landlord of the West Belconnen Health Co-op Ltd, the Board of which you chair.
These are facts that will not be well received by many in the ACT in an election contest and your pre selectors need to know these details before they make a decision on who they wish to represent Labor.
I intend to forward this note to the Party Secretary for his attention and I would like to hear how you intend to deal with these issues.
This is the second time Pilbrow has had his views on abortion questioned by the Left, and he has been repeatedly asked about it by Fraser preselectors. He responded to Berry and copied in all preselectors on Tuesday.
Dear Fraser preselectors
Yesterday I received an email from Wayne Berry about my candidacy for preselection for the seat of Fraser.
In the interests of transparency and avoiding misunderstanding, I have copied my response (immediately below) and Mr Berry’s original email (further below) to all Fraser preselectors.
MY REPLY TO WAYNE BERRY ON 13 APRIL 2010
Dear Mr Berry
Thank you for your email.
I am a Christian and with my family attend our local church, the Canberra Christian Life Centre. For a number of years my wife and I ran an activity program at the church for neighbourhood kids. Previously, I was an active member of the Anglican Church. I was not aware of other candidates including their religious beliefs or absence of belief in their material. Nor do I consider it necessary.
For the record, I accept the modern science of big bang cosmology and evolution, and I am pro-choice.
The selection of a wing of the Old Charnwood High School as the premises for the West Belconnen Health Cooperative was made by the then Committee following advice from an independent medical practice consultant, in the knowledge that the building was owned by the Canberra Christian Life Centre. This decision took into account space and cost issues to enable us to meet the community’s need for bulk-billing medical services, especially for the most disadvantaged people in West Belconnen. At the time of the decision, as you know, I declared my church attendance to the Committee, of which I was then Secretary/Treasurer.
My faith is part of who I am, but it is not something I seek to impose on others.Further, I support and respect the separation of church and state. I revel in the way that the Labor Party brings together people from a whole range of backgrounds to be united around the common cause of improving the quality of life for working people and the most disadvantaged in our society and overseas.
To avoid any further misunderstanding, I am copying your original email and this response to all Fraser preselectors.
Preselection candidate for Fraser
13 April 2010
That’s not the end of the story, though.
As a local assembly member in Canberra, Wayne Berry was a vociferous opponent of right-to-lifers. He led the fightback against reactionary ex-footballer Michael correction Paul Osborne’s deeply divisive attempt to impose anti-abortion legislation on Canberrans via the Carnell government in the 1990s. If anyone in ACT politics has earned the right to raise the issue of abortion, it’s Berry.
But the connection between the Canberra Christian Life Centre and the services provided by the West Belconnen Health Co-op has been raised before. Exactly that issue was raised in the ACT Labor Caucus in 2005 when the Stanhope government was considering funding the co-op, which has been established after years of effort by a small team headed by Pilbrow. Caucus members were concerned that the ownership of the building in which the co-op would be located (an old high school) was in the hands of the Canberra Christian Life Centre and the latter might try to prevent the provision of reproductive health services.
Crikey understands from senior ACT Labor sources that it was Berry who raised the issue in Caucus. After it was demonstrated that the Church, and even the co-op board itself, had no input into clinical decisions made at the co-op, including on abortion, Caucus was satisfied about ACT government funding.
This evidently didn’t prevent Berry from raising the issue again.
There’s some long-term history to all this. In 1997, the Left attempted to thwart the ACT Assembly candidacy of Jon Stanhope for the seat of Ginninderra, who like Pilbrow (and retiring Fraser MP Bob McMullan) was non-aligned. A Left faction figure claimed that Stanhope was a Catholic and a right-to-lifer.
Apart from within the right-wing rump affiliated with the SDA, the charge of being anti-abortion is highly damaging in ACT Labor, and the claim is frequently used by the Left faction to damage its opponents.
Stanhope, who was neither Catholic nor a right-to-lifer, survived the scare campaign and is now the longest-serving chief minister in the ACT’s short history of self-government.
It appears the Left is now trying to raise similar concerns about Pilbrow, knowing it will kill his candidacy if it sticks, regardless of whether it’s true. If nothing else, it suggests the Left is growing concerned about Pilbrow. “Regardless of what you think of the Left, they can count,” said one local Labor figure.
Wayne Berry declined to comment when contacted by Crikey this morning.