When voters went to the ballot box on Saturday, 24th November, it marked the end of an era of Australian political history, with the nation’s second longest serving Prime Minister forced to bow out. Labor’s decisive win over the Coalition will have a significant effect on the future of our nation. As would be expected, the result has sparked a great deal of election analysis. But what does the outcome signify from a Christian perspective? 

To begin with, it is important to congratulate Kevin Rudd and his ALP team on their election victory and to recognise that Labor’s decisive win has given the party a clear mandate to govern. The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) hopes that the injection of new talent that the election brings to all sides of politics will be good for the country. We are also thankful that a number of Christians have been elected or re-elected as new ALP MPs or senators.

"Civil government derives its authority from God. The outgoing government had its strengths and its weaknesses, and this will be true of the incoming government too. Governments of many different political persuasions can offer wise and Godly leadership to their citizens." 

It is also important to convey our best wishes and thanks to John Howard and the outgoing Coalition Government. Change was inevitable at some point, but under Mr Howard's leadership, the Coalition gave dedicated service to this country and were considerate of Christian concerns on many issues. Outgoing Treasurer Peter Costello deserves recognition for his economic management over the last decade, which has perhaps been taken for granted by the media and by many Australians. We are also appreciative of those Coalition MPs and Senators who have brought their Christian faith to bear on their political life but did not succeed in re-election. 

Secondly, it is worth remembering our own unchanging responsibility towards government. We are to pray for those who govern us, to take an active interest in them and their well-being and to involve ourselves thoughtfully and responsibly in the political process (1 Timothy 2:1-2, Romans 13: 1-5, 1 Peter 2:13-14, and Titus 3:1). Particular prayers we might offer at this time are for wisdom for Kevin Rudd and the incoming government, and consolation for those who have seen their hopes dashed and must now enter a new phase of public or private life.

Civil government derives its authority from God. The outgoing government had its strengths and its weaknesses, and this will be true of the incoming government too. Governments of many different political persuasions can offer wise and Godly leadership to their citizens.  This is one of the reasons that ACL has always maintained a non-party partisan stance. We have built good relationships with the ALP over the last few years and look forward to working with them during their period of office. 

Thirdly, there were many encouraging signs of positive values in this election. It was good to see Australians being less moved by the offer of tax cuts given by both sides than the need for community and national infrastructure, such as education, health and housing. Both John Howard and Kevin Rudd displayed a touching grace towards one another in their respective concession and victory speeches. During the election campaign it was also particularly encouraging to see both parties actively seeking the Christian vote. 

Fourthly, we can take encouragement from the likely Senate outcome. Whilst not definite yet, it seems that from 1st July there may be 32 Labor Senators, 37 Coalition, 5 Greens, and one Senate seat each for Family First and Nick Xenophon. As expected, the Democrats lost all four of their Senate seats and are now practically a spent force in Australian politics. The balance of power in the Senate may therefore be shared across Family First, Nick Xenophon and the Greens, which will make an interesting dynamic to say the least! 

So how did Christian voters behave in this election? Given the sizeable swing to Labor it would seem that many Christians who voted for the Coalition in 2004 voted for the ALP this time. In this election, many Christians perceived the ALP to have found a new voice on moral issues, and to offer more on social justice issues. 

"We hope that the new Government can see the strength of Christian values in the electorate and build on it to address our concerns for both justice and righteousness in government."

A sizeable number of Christians seem to have been genuinely concerned that the WorkChoices legislation would not be fair for employees, that economic imperatives would eclipse community considerations, and that family time, already hard to preserve, would become an even more widely tradeable commodity. This was doubtless a major consideration for a constituency that identified marriage and family as its top issue of concern during the 2006 National Church Life Survey (58 per cent of respondents chose it is as one of the four issues they felt most strongly about). Many Christians also found the ALP to be stronger on other social issues such as climate change, refugees, overseas aid and housing affordability and perceived the Coalition to be lacking in comparison in those policy areas

In addition, Kevin Rudd seemed successfully to neutralise the Coalition's traditional advantage as the protectors of marriage and the moral environment. He not only recommitted the ALP to preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman, but also pledged to work with Labor state and territory governments to ensure that marriage is not mimicked by civil unions or partnerships. 

It is clear from this election that the Australian Christian constituency is not like the US Religious Right.  Australian Christians want a government that will deliver not only strong policies on traditional moral issues such as marriage, but will also actively promote the social good, particularly in respect of the most vulnerable people in society. These issues are inter-related, but governments need to perform well across the spectrum of moral and social justice concerns in order to appeal to Australian Christians. 

Under Kevin Rudd, Labor has shown a renewed recognition of the importance of the Christian constituency and demonstrated a desire to engage with Christians on the issues that concern us. ACL expects to see this engagement strengthened now that the Party holds power. We hope that the new Government can see the strength of Christian values in the electorate and build on it to address our concerns for both justice and righteousness in government.

Jim Wallace, AM, is the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby.