A tale of two Catholic politicians


The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and the leader of the Greens, Christine Milne, were shaped by the same Christian tradition. 

They were both raised as Catholics, went to Catholic schools and by the time they were at university in Sydney and Hobart respectively, they were both residing in Catholic university colleges.

Since then things have changed dramatically. The former is still firmly within that tradition while the latter, like so many others, has moved on. 

They now have very different relationships with the church that nurtured them. One is known as Captain Catholic while the other is now vehemently criticising the church.

At a time when Abbott has played down his positive relationship with Cardinal George Pell, Milne, following the example of former leader Bob Brown, has ramped up her disagreements with him into a public statement of her disappointment with her former church. 

She accuses it of undue concentration on defending Catholic education while neglecting the big social justice issues of the day. The subsequent headline was ''Church puts cash before conscience''. In return Pell repeated his earlier claims that the Greens were ''anti-Christian'' and had a bitter hostility to Catholic teaching and church schools.

There are plenty of once-Catholic women federal MPs with views not unlike those of Milne, a fact that I confirmed when I conducted a series of confidential interviews with Catholic backbenchers and cross-benchers a few years ago. 

This research was published in Australian Quarterly magazine under the title ''Catholics in Federal Parliament''. Other former federal MPs with a similar background, such as Labor's Susan Ryan, have reflected in their memoirs on these questions of gender, church and social justice.


A battle not worth winning (John Warhurst / Canberra Times)

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