ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton
They stand to be first in line for funding for any “no” campaign on the expected plebiscite on the question of same-sex marriage, but who the Australian Christian Lobby is, and where it gets its money, remains somewhat of a mystery.
The Australian Christian Lobby was started in 1995 under the name of the Australian Christian Coalition, which was developed by two Network for Christian Values board members: former Townsville Bulletin editor John Gagliardi and Canberra-based Baptist minister John McNicoll.
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The lobby’s most public face for many years was Brigadier Jim Wallace, who became the organisation’s executive director in 1998 while serving in the Australian armed services. Wallace stepped down from a public-facing role in the organisation in 2013 after then-prime minister Julia Gillard pulled out of the Australian Christian Lobby’s annual conference due to Wallace’s comments comparing homosexuality to the hazards of smoking (a Crikey investigation proved his claim to be untrue). Wallace also once tweeted that the Anzacs hadn’t died for same-sex marriage or “Islamic”.
The lobby’s current front man, managing director Lyle Shelton, a former journalist, failed Queensland Nationals political candidate and staffer to former Nationals Senator Ron Boswell, has been much more careful with his words regarding gay rights, although under his leadership the group has said same-sex parenting would create another stolen generation.
The Australian Christian Lobby has been very careful to remain unaligned in a number of respects. The lobby group has no political affiliation and draws speakers from both Labor and the Coalition. It has held debates between candidates on Christian issues, and has hosted speakers including Bill Shorten, Kevin Rudd, John Howard and Tony Abbott. The organisation has already met with Attorney-General George Brandis about running a “no” campaign for the plebiscite.
It is not aligned to any particular church, has no statement of faith, and in a speech in 2004, the ACL’s Philip Clayton said that the group deliberately avoided religious language in its public statements. The organisation also attempts to take a “balanced position” on issues, like supporting some same-sex anti-discrimination reform and some forms of stem cell research while still opposing same-sex marriage and abortion, Clayton said:
“And its this balanced, defensible approach that has helped us to avoid being typecast in the media as right wing extremists, or homophobic conservatives, and to maintain our voice.”
According to the ACL’s most recent financial statements, the ACL has 11 full-time employees, five part-time employees, two casual employees and 20 unpaid volunteers. The lobby’s donations have increased over the past few years, from $2 million in 2013 to $2.7 million in 2015. Most funding goes to paying staffing costs. The amount of money spent on polling and election campaigns sits at an average of around $100,000 a year.
Shelton has said in the past that most of the organisation’s funding comes from individuals, but he has declined to reveal any of the organisation’s backers.
Some of the funding is publicly reported. Gloria Jean’s infamously faced a backlash in 2010 after it was revealed to have donated $30,000 to the Australian Christian Lobby. Before he sold the business several years ago, Gloria Jean’s was owned by Nabi Saleh, an elder in the Hillsong Church. The source of most of the ACL’s funding remains a mystery — but it does have some wealthy supporters and associates.
There are seven directors in the organisation, including Shelton. Wallace was recently promoted from deputy chairman to the chairman upon the retirement of the ACL’s long-running chairman, Tony McLellan. McLellan has been on the boards of many mining and resources companies for decades, including LJ Hooker, Barrick Gold, Norton Gold Fields, and Ord River Resources. He is also a director for the Menzies Research Centre. He continues to be chairman emeritus for the ACL.
The ACL’s board also boasts a PwC senior executive, Mark Allaby, and a former board member who resigned in 2014 was the former CEO and founder of Optus, Terry Winters.
Motivational speaker and financial planner Darren Laudenbach, who shares an office building with the Australian Christian Lobby in Canberra for his God’s Money Matters financial planning business, lists his support for the Australian Christian Lobby on his LinkedIn page.
The Australian Christian Lobby is currently asking for the government to both suspend anti-discrimination laws to allow them to speak freely during the plebiscite, and to ban the Safe Schools Coalition from providing educational material to schools to teach children against bullying LGBTI students.