Of all the odd voting blocs cobbled together across Australia’s electoral system, only the “Guns n’ Moses” coalition in NSW’s Legislative Council can whisper into the ear of Premier Barry O’Farrell.
Consummated after last year’s state election, the marriage (traditional, we assume) of convenience brings together Reverend Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters and Fishers Party. Together, the four MPs hold the balance of power in the NSW’s 42-member upper house, meaning the premier (with 19 votes) has to keep them sweet if he doesn’t want to deal with the Greens or Labor.
“Fred Nile has very cleverly made himself indispensable to the O’Farrell government for the passage of legislation through the Legislative Council,” upper house Greens MP John Kaye tells The Power Index.
One debate where Nile has wielded his new-found influence has been the teaching of ethics in NSW schools. The classes, which were introduced by the former Labor government, are held as an alternative to religious classes. Before that, kids whose parents didn’t want them learning scripture would be left to watch videos or do homework in the library.
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Nile, an ordained minister with the Fellowship of Congregational Churches (he quit the Uniting Church due to its acceptance of gay ministers), is not a fan. The classes are based on the “dangerous” philosophy of secular humanism, he told the upper house last year, which is what gave rise to Nazism and Communism.
If Nile wanted support amongst his Christian brethren, he didn’t get it. Both the Anglican and Catholic churches said they didn’t have a problem with ethics classes. But O’Farrell was forced to listen, especially after Nile threatened to vote against the government’s legislation to cap the wages of public servants at 2.5%.
That arrangement ultimately led to a government inquiry, which recommended the classes continue in May this year. It looked like a setback for Nile, but simply getting his demands on the agenda was a sign of the new position he has found himself in.
John Kaye from the Greens says the inquiry was a sign of what the O’Farrell government will have to do in the future to get his support. The Shooters, not to be outdone, look set to win the right for hunters to be allowed in NSW national parks.
As to what else Nile might be planning: the son of a Kings Cross taxi driver looks set to continue his crusade to save us from our wicked ways. He wants the drinking age raised to 21 and is still trying to ban the burqa, injecting rooms and x-rated videos (he also wants a “vice squad” to patrol s-x shops and brothels). Despite this, the man himself doesn’t think he’s a moral crusader.
“I’m really against any kind of picture of Fred Nile blackmailing the government,” he told The Daily Telegraph last year in an interview headlined “The man in the power seat”. “My principle is if it’s good legislation I’ll vote for it; if it’s bad legislation I will oppose it, or amend it.”
After 30 years of trying, Nile has the power to ask for whatever he wants. And force people to listen.