As regular as clockwork, New South Wales upper house MP Fred Nile makes an outrageous public statement in the lead-up to a state election to create headlines, controversy and notoriety for himself. It is a public signal that Nile has come to the end of another eight-year term and he is standing yet again.
Nile has not let down his tiny band of ageing supporters this year. With a state election on March 28, the 80-year-old Nile, leader of the Christian Democrats, has told Fairfax’s 2UE that male hostages who fled the Lindt Cafe siege in Martin Place in December should not receive bravery awards. He also broadcast his remarks on the Team Nile Twitter account: “So every Sydney siege hostage will get a bravery award? Even the men who fled leaving women behind? Don’t shame, but don’t reward.”
As intended, his comments have drawn coverage all over the media — an op-ed piece by Nile in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, an appearance on Channel Seven’s Sunrise and excitable coverage in The Daily Telegraph.
Nile is NSW Parliament’s longest-serving MP with 33 years under his belt. Over the decades, he has become the wiliest of campaigners. At previous elections he has made deeply homophobic remarks or attacked Muslim women for wearing headscarves. When those ugly diversions were taken over by elements in John Howard’s and then Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party, Nile moved on.
He is attempting the old magic again by dumping on the male hostages who survived the siege in mid-December. It is desperate stuff, and it is likely to offend more voters than it appeases.
Nile and his fellow MP Paul Green are from one of the minor parties that hold the balance of power in the upper house. In the past it was Fred and his wife Elaine, who died in 2011, who held governments to ransom.
It is stating the obvious that both Labor and the Coalition would like to see the Christian Democrats wiped out. But Nile’s CDP (along with the Shooters and Fishers Party) provide a counter-balance to the six Greens MPs. This means that election time provides a unique example of parliamentary democracy at work when sworn enemies from the major parties swap preferences with minor parties. In the process they agree to support each other’s legislation, with an occasional overseas trip thrown in for good measure. Perfectly above board — it’s the way the place works.
Over the years, Nile’s parliamentary salary has been inflated, first by his promotion to “Assistant Deputy-President” of the upper house and then to “Assistant-President”. In addition, as chairman of the general purposes standing committee, he receives further remuneration for his attendance at sittings.
It would be foolish to write off Nile’s re-election chances, but there is a sense that his reactionary and divisive message has reached its use-by date.
In December, 2013, he controversially remarried a fellow evangelical Christian, Silvana Nero, 55, attracting wedding guests such as (now Premier) Mike Baird, Liberal MLC David Clarke and Labor’s inseparable twins, Luke Foley, now the Opposition Leader, and Walt Secord, MLC. A protester outside the North Sydney church shouted through a loudhailer:
“Divorce the church from the state
Love is equal, don’t preach hate.”
More worrying for Nile is his party’s declining vote. When he was first elected to the upper house in 1981 he receiving a whopping 9.1% of the vote, including 248,425 primary votes. He rode into Parliament on a “law and order” backlash against the Wran government’s libertarian and civil liberties agenda, after receiving encouragement from UK and US morals campaigners — Mary Whitehouse and Billy Graham, respectively.
But when he was re-elected in 2007 for his current eight-year term, Nile received only 168,545 votes, or 0.97% of the vote, and squeaked back with the distribution of preferences from other parties.
Now he’s back on the campaign trail.
Recent issues of the monthly publication Family World News have featured front-page pictures of Nile, the Editor-in-Chief, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Mike Baird, plus inside pictures of NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, Pastor Brian Houston (Hillsong), federal Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop, Sydney University vice chancellor Michael Spence and NSW MP Marie Ficarra.
Among articles, “Jesus Christ Greater than Mohammad” and “Muslim radicalisation is a form of child abuse”, the newsletter has printed prayers calling on “Almighty God” to assist the election of CDP candidates at the end of March. Nile, and his number-two candidate the Reverend Ross Clifford, will need all the prayers they can muster to win the seats.