Hillsong Church, Family First, Industrial Relations Reform – Interview with Tony Jones, Lateline

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Hillsong Church, Family First, Industrial Relations Reform – Interview with Tony Jones, Lateline

Interview with Tony Jones


Monday, 4 July 2005

SUBJECTS: Hillsong Church, Family First, Industrial Relations Reform


I spoke with Treasurer Peter Costello a short time ago just outside the Sydney

Superdome, after his address to the congregation. Peter Costello, thanks for

joining us. A big reaction again. Do you feel a bit like Billy Graham when you’re

out in front of a crowd like that?


Well, look, it’s a big crowd. It’s a joyous crowd. It’s a group predominantly

of young people who meet together. They sing and they hear a preacher preach,

a very long sermon, but a good one and an enthusiastic one, and I think if you

saw the crowd tonight, you’d come away thinking that Australia’s future is in

good hands, that…


Tell me, though: does the spirit move you when you’re there or is this just,

for you, another political speech in front of an admittedly very enthusiastic



No, I find it very uplifting personally to join in the service, the music and

the message. It lifts me. I said that tonight – it lifts me, and I hope it lifts

everybody else in the auditorium and, judging from their reaction, it does.

You’ve got to bear in mind that people were actually queuing to get into the

Superdome tonight, and I would say predominantly young people enjoying music

and hearing a preacher preaching mainly from the Bible. That’s a good thing

in my book.


And a politician preaching as well?


I wouldn’t put myself at the same high level. My job was to bring a greeting

and to welcome the crowd on behalf of the Australian Government. You know, we

think events like this are important, frankly, to see young people, without

any drugs, partaking in music, hearing great biblical truths I think is a good

thing actually. I think it strengthens our society and it builds on values which

are important for our society.


What about the philosophy of this particular church? Do you think this brand

of Christianity is actually more suited to conservative politics than to Labor



Well, certainly there’s an emphasis on individual responsibility, on taking

responsibility for your own life. I think they’re important values. But I just

think that this is really the same Christian faith that you meet in the older

churches in subdued ways; particularly for young people, in much more vibrant

ways with rock music and more punch and I think young people are attracted to

vibrancy in anything. They find it here in the church and in the conference.

You’ve got to bear in mind, this is not just one church, although it’s sponsored

by the Hillsong Church; people come from churches all over Australia to this

convention, and there might be hundreds of churches that are engaged over the

course of this week.


Alright. These Hillsong people, though, who are in a sense the hosts, I suppose,

of this occasion, they’re all about combining a belief in Jesus with personal

prosperity. Does that work for you?


It hasn’t worked in my case, no!


What I’m getting at here – well, who knows, maybe in the future! But what they’re

calling this is a prosperity gospel. Now, what do you think personally of the

idea of seeking prosperity through Jesus?


Well, look, I know that’s often said. I’ve been to last year’s conference and

I’ve been to this year’s conference. Personally I didn’t hear anybody say that.

I know a lot of people who are at this conference who would believe (inaudible).

Personally, I don’t believe that there’s any necessary connection, so I’ve got

to say to you that I think sometimes the critics try and get a steer on something

that is very, very successful. That’s one of the criticisms they make. In my

experience, it’s pretty unfounded.


Well, fair enough. But Brian Houston – he’s the brains behind Hillsong – he

actually wrote a book titled You Need More Money: Discovering God’s Amazing

Financial Plan For Your Life. I mean, do you find that comforting or do

you find it a bit disturbing?


Well, I think he said himself that it was a provocative title, and it sure

is. It’s sure captured people’s imagination. Personally, I haven’t read the

book so I’m not qualified to talk about it, but I’ve got to say to you, I’ve

never heard any insistence on personal enrichment or wealth out of these meetings.

In fact, the guy that was talking tonight was talking about just the opposite.

He was talking about leaders being servants, which to me is pretty orthodox

Christian faith.


Now, Brian Houston’s belief – and Hillsong is his church – he says he’s fundamentalist

on this issue – he doesn’t believe in evolution. In other words, he believes

that Darwin got it wrong and that God created the world in six days, etc, etc.

I mean, doesn’t it worry you when someone like that has sway over a lot of impressionable



Well, you know, I think young people make up their views themselves, to be

frank. People get information from all sources. It might be from watching television,

it might be from listening to the radio, it might be from reading the media,

and it might be from going to church, and actually I think sometimes the church

will be a balance to all of those other sources of information. At the end of

the day, they’ll make up their own minds. I don’t think it’s fair to say, just

because they go to a particular church, that they can’t think for themselves.

In fact, I’d encourage them to think for themselves. I think it’s a big part

of exploring and learning your way towards faith.


I take it you do believe in evolution, then?


Oh, yes. Look, you know, you shouldn’t overstate the influence that kids are

under. I think they’re under a whole powerload of bad influences, frankly, that

come through the media, through some forms of rap music, and actually, a bit

of counterbalancing the other way may actually even the playing field a bit.


A bit of creationism can’t hurt; is that what you’re saying?


Well, look, they’ll make up their own minds. I think that they’ll principally

get their views on biology from their teachers at school, and they’ll principally

get their views on faith from their pastors, and the fact that different people

have different views, I don’t see as a dangerous thing. In an open society where

kids are encouraged to question and learn, hearing different views doesn’t do

them too much damage.


The influence of religious-based, particularly Christian-based politics is

already starting to have an impact on federal politics after the deal the Coalition

made with Family First. Now, how seriously are you as Treasurer going to take

the process of assessing each new piece of legislation through the prism of

a family impact statement?


Look, it will work in some cases, Tony. Let’s suppose we’re discussing changes

to the Family Law Act. Well, then you’d want to have a family impact statement

– very obvious area. But let’s suppose we’re making a decision on whether to

buy an air warfare destroyer. I can’t imagine that a family impact statement

would be very influential. So you don’t want to overstate these things. I think

in some areas it will be helpful; in other areas it won’t be appropriate. But

if you have this information in the front of the Cabinet, I don’t think it will

do much damage. You just got to make sure, I think, that the Cabinet ministers

are able to sift and assess the information and make decisions, as they always

will, on what’s in the national or the public interest.


Who’s going to write these family impact statements? Is it going to be public

servants or politicians? Is it going to be the Family First advisers coming

in to write them on your behalf?


I imagine it will be public servants. We already have a regional impact statement

which accompanies every Cabinet submission. We have a regulation impact statement

which accompanies every Cabinet submission. That’s produced by essentially people

who are answerable to the Treasury in the long term. So I imagine it will be

written probably by public servants in the Family and Community Services portfolio.


How’s the family impact statement on industrial relations legislation going?


Well, I haven’t seen one, Tony. This is something that the Cabinet signed off

on some months ago, and I’m not sure there was one. I’m not sure when the family

impact statements come into force.


You’re surely going to have one, though, because this has to go to the Senate

where Stephen Fielding is going to be at some point.


The family impact statements come to the Cabinet, they come with Cabinet submissions,

and they’ll be given due consideration in the Cabinet.


Peter Costello, the reaction to those industrial relations plans and to the

union campaign against them may be starting to bite. Tomorrow’s Age poll

has some bad news for you, with Labor streaking ahead in two-party-preferred

terms. Your reaction to that poll, those new results?


Well, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on any particular poll because some

of them are more accurate than others. But obviously, industrial relations is

going to be a big argument, and I wouldn’t underestimate the difficulties of

explaining this argument. It’s always easier to sell a negative than a positive,

and the union movement’s been out of the blocks fast with a negative, but what

we have to do is we have to explain to people that these changes are designed

to increase jobs and increase wages. If you have a better industrial relations

system, more profitable economy, there are more jobs and more wages, and that’s

the case that we’re taking to the Australian people. It’s going to be a long

argument and a long discussion. But I think when you think about it, and you

think about it maturely and soberly, you can see that a better industrial relations

system is in the long-term interests of Australian employees and their wages.


But your Industrial Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, is saying of the union

and Labor campaign it’s just a scare campaign. It does appear to be biting with

the electorate. Does that worry you?


Well, of course it’s a scare campaign. Everybody knows that it’s a scare campaign.

No legislation has actually been produced, and they got out of the blocks very

quickly. That’s because the ACTU needs a cause to keep it going. But as I said

earlier, it’s always easier to start off with a negative and harder to sell

a positive. But as time goes by and as people maturely think about this, I think

they’ll realise that a more flexible industrial relations system means a better

economy, more jobs and higher wages. That’s the message that we’ll be putting

to the Australian public.


Alright. Peter Costello, we appreciate it’s pretty cold out there. We thank

you for taking the time to come and talk to us nonetheless. Good to see you.


It’s great to be with you, Tony. Thank you very much.