The announcement that former Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson Lyle Shelton was joining Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives party — giving them the  benefits of the considerable persuasion he brought to the No campaign, presumably — was in many ways no surprise. They were allies in the marriage equality campaign, and their views that freedom of speech and religious freedom is under constant attack from political correctness (personified neatly by the expansion of the legal definition of marriage and the existence of Safe Schools) were more or less in perfect concert. Indeed, Shelton implied heavily in his first interview that an Australian Conservatives policy in the future might be to strip same sex marriages of their legal status.

But this is not the case across the board. Notably on asylum seekers, Bernardi’s tough guy rhetoric doesn’t match up with Shelton’s faintly more, well, Christian take on the issue.

Here’s where the two have come to loggerheads:

Lyle Shelton — ACL media statement, May 12, 2015

Some of the $500 million budget savings from closing immigration detention centres should be reallocated to increasing the refugee intake, according to the Australian Christian Lobby.

 

Managing Director Lyle Shelton said this was a big saving off the budget’s bottom line and the government should use it to help persecuted religious minorities fleeing Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Lyle Shelton — tweet, September 5, 2015

Cory Bernardi — address to the Senate in the aftermath of the drowning of Alan Kurdi, September 7, 2015

I find it a bit sanctimonious for [Greens leader Richard] Di Natale to bring in these emotive arguments, and particularly to characterise this as some sort of humanitarian mission by using the terrible image of that young boy who was picked up from the beach after having drowned at sea.

 

At this stage, I do not believe there is any need for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people to be ditching their identification and trying to get into Europe for reasons of safety. Many of these people have been very safely ensconced, working and housed in places like Turkey for many years. This seems to me to be becoming an opportunistic cycle which is masking the true humanitarian need that is the responsibility of all Western nations.

 

The facts remain that that terrible image was not brought about by recent events in Syria or Iraq. That boy and his family had lived in Turkey for three years. The money for that boy’s father to pay the people smugglers was sent from Canada.

Cory Bernardi — interview with ABC News 24, November 23, 2015

Terrorists could be among the 12,000 Syrian refugees Australia is set to resettle, and Cabinet should seriously consider cancelling the intake, according to government senator Cory Bernardi.

 

‘We have extremist elements at work in this country,’ Senator Bernardi said during an interview on ABC News 24’s Capital Hill.

 

‘Why would we risk bringing in more to add to their ranks, even potentially, and bear the financial and social burden that comes with that?’

Lyle Shelton — ACL media statement, May 18, 2016

While the one-off increase of 12,000 Syrians is welcome, we should not leave our annual humanitarian intake at its current level. People smuggling has been halted, now it is time to do more to help those who are languishing in camps and unable to be resettled because of persecution.

 

We encourage the Labor and Coalition to double the annual humanitarian intake to 27,400 as part of Australia’s efforts to shoulder more of the burden given that we are a wealthy country with the capacity to help people suffering from religious from persecution.

Cory Bernardi — Australian Conservatives Immigration & Citizenship policy, August 9, 2017

We will withdraw from the UN Refugee Convention to allow Australia to determine its refugee intake free from external constraints.

 

Australian Conservatives support our world-leading offshore processing and illegal boat arrival turn-back policies. However, all determinations of visa applications will take place within Australia.

Shelton has already told journalists, “I’ll leave that to the parliamentary wing of the party” when trying to deflect questions he cannot answer. It will be interesting to see if he’s forced to deploy it again on the issue of asylum seekers.

Peter Fray

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