Mike Seccombe, the Sydney correspondent for The Saturday Paper, is one of Australia’s most prominent sneering secularists. Like many left-wing secularists, Seccombe’s sneering is invariably focused on Christian — and especially Catholic — believers. It’s not intellectually fashionable to sneer at Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims.
Last weekend, Seccombe’s page one lead was titled “Abbott and the Christian right”. It appeared under the large photo of Tony Abbott kissing the ring of a Maronite bishop, Antoine-Charbel Tarabay. Behind both men is a large crucifix.
Seccombe’s lead turned on the fact Andrew Hastie, the Liberal Party’s candidate in the Canning by-election on September 19, told the Liberal Party’s West Australian state council recently that he and his wife were regular church attendees. He also recounted that one of his happiest childhood experiences turned on travelling with his father, who started a church in the Victorian town of Wangaratta.
Having devoted the first three paragraphs of his article to discussing Hastie’s faith, Seccombe went on to run the cliched line: “There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course.” But, if so, why highlight the fact a Liberal Party candidate belongs to a church group?
Seccombe’s answer was as follows: “Ask yourself this: how many job applicants in Australia would feel the need to stress their piety in the interview?”
The sneering secularist in Seccombe does not understand that there is nothing pious in hanging out with a clerical father or going to church with your family. Nor is there anything unusual about being honest about your beliefs.
It was not long before The Saturday Paper’s Sydney correspondent turned his attention to the Catholic Church.
Seccombe alleged that Australia was “governed by probably the most obviously religious government the country has had” and stated that “Tony Abbott’s devout Catholicism and his background are well known”. There is nothing “obviously religious” about the Abbott government and no evidence was provided that the Prime Minister was “devout”.
There followed an assertion that Robert Menzies, the Liberal Party’s founder, would have been astounded that “almost half” of Abbott’s frontbench “are practising Catholics”. Menzies died close to four decades ago, so there is no knowing what his views might have been. But if it was once OK that a majority of cabinet members were Protestant, why is it wrong today that a significant proportion are Catholics?
Seccombe went on to name the names of Abbott government ministers whom he alleged, without evidence, were all “practising Catholics”. He cited Malcolm Turnbull, Christopher Pyne, George Brandis, Joe Hockey, “the extreme” Kevin Andrews, “the very devout” Barnaby Joyce, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann.
Yet, as even Seccombe conceded, the likes of Turnbull, Pyne and Brandis take a quite different view on same-sex marriage from the likes of Abbott, Andrews and Joyce. Not much of a Vatican conspiracy here.
Not content with naming Catholics, Seccombe turned his attention to Christians such as Eric Abetz and Scott Morrison. He then went on to quote a critical assessment of the contemporary Liberal Party by University of Melbourne historian Stuart Macintyre. The Saturday Paper did not mention that Macintyre, a long-time critic of the Menzies government, was not only a man of the Left but also a one-time member of the Communist Party.
More sneering and abuse followed. Seccombe referred to Abbott’s “friend and confessor George Pell”. No evidence was provided that the Prime Minister went to confession. If he does, it is unlikely to be with the Vatican-based Cardinal Pell.
Just for balance, it seems, The Saturday Paper quoted Monash University academic Nick Economou concerning the influence of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, which has several Catholic officials, in the Labor Party.
Seccombe referred to this highly successful union, for a long time led by the honest and hardworking Joe de Bruyn, as a “conservative Catholic rump”. Economou described people such as De Bruyn as “the crazies”. This is mere anti-Catholic sectarianism.
Seccombe soon switched the attack to John Howard, a self-declared Christian of the non-pious kind. The Saturday Paper alleged that, after the September 2011 terrorist attacks, the Howard government suggested “that Australia did not want immigrants, particularly self-selected ones, who did not share our ‘Judeo-Christian values’ ”.
This is mere verballing. Seccombe has failed to support this assertion with evidence.
Moreover, his evident hostility has blinded him to the fact tens of thousands of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims were settled in Australia during the time of the Howard government.
The problem with Howard-hating and Abbott-hating is that it leads to a distortion of reality. Take The Sydney Morning Herald’s senior writer Matt Wade, for example.
On August 24, he wrote an article titled “The Sydney schools becoming Anglo ghettos”. Wade cited research by University of Technology Sydney academic Christina Ho that some private schools on Sydney’s lower north shore were “becoming more segregated in terms of both class and ethnicity”.
Wade immediately threw the switch to Catholicism-obsession and referred to the fact Abbott and Joyce attended Catholic schools (St Ignatius College Riverview) as did Hockey (St Aloysius College).
Wade did not tell his readers that many of Labor’s parliamentary leaders also went to private schools.
The list includes Bill Shorten (Xavier College), Penny Wong (Scotch College, Adelaide), Stephen Conroy (Daramalan College, Canberra) and Anthony Albanese (St Mary’s Cathedral College, Sydney). All but Wong received a Catholic education.
The idea that such Sydney private schools as Riverview and the non-religious Queenwood are what Wade terms “Anglo-Australian ghettos” is a class-driven distortion. Many private schools in Australia (in particular, Riverview) provide scholarships to indigenous Australians and refugees alike.
Moreover, for generations, Christian organisations have been at the forefront of ministering to the poor, the sick and the dying.
Yet, to the likes of Seccombe, the Christian religion offers the opportunity for many a sneer.
He concluded his Saturday Paper article by commenting that “on September 19 we will see if the God-fearing Andrew Hastie wins in Canning. Prayers are surely being offered.”
Maybe they are, maybe not. Or maybe both sides are praying. Seccombe overlooked the fact Matthew Keogh, Labor’s candidate in Canning, attended St Francis Xavier Catholic School in Hilbert, Perth. Fancy that.