MAXINE McKEW: Earlier this week the Treasurer, Peter Costello, attended a religious gathering of more than 16,000 people, underscoring Government support for an increasingly important part of the electorate – the Hills District of Sydney.
The Treasurer clapped and sang with a stadium full of Pentecostal Christians and when he got up to speak it was to great fanfare.
As Stephen McDonell reports, all the political parties are aware of the growing evangelist Christian vote – especially on the fringes of cities and in the regions – many areas that are also happen, of course, to have marginal seats.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: 16,500 Christians packed Sydney’s Superdome for the opening night of the Hillsong Annual Conference on Monday night.
There was singing, clapping, jumping.
And Peter Costello.
The Federal Treasurer was guest of honour and he stepped up to speak to rapturous applause.
(CROWD CHEER ENTHUSIASTICALLY) PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: What is it that makes a society strong?
(CROWD SHOUT: JESUS!) PETER COSTELLO: It’s the faith and the values of the people that comprise it.
Where do we find that faith and that values and how can we renew it in this modern age?
We need a return to faith and the values which have made our country strong.
ROD CAMERON, ANOP POLLSTER: Well, he’s being a very skilful politician.
This is an important constituency, big both in numbers and in potential appeal and the promulgation of a philosophy which will be very useful for the Liberals.
BRUCE BAIRD LIBERAL MP: The new charismatic Pentecostal churches are huge in number, in the number of people who go, and so, therefore, it’s significant that you attend from time to time and let them know who you are, take an interest in their interests and certainly have a dialogue with the leaders.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: Hillsong Convention is put on by Sydney’s Hillsong Church, a high energy Pentecostal church and marketing empire based in the Sydney’s Hills District.
15,000 people attend the huge church every Sunday to hear straightforward messages about Jesus and how he wants you to make money.
Senior pastor Brian Houston even wrote a book called You Need More Money.
REVEREND TIM COSTELLO, WORLD VISION: Some of the quotes in that book I felt were very troubling because the American televangelists who also preach a prosperity gospel, have bred the greatest cynicism that you might have towards authentic Christian faith by turning it into that get-rich formula.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: Reverend Tim Costello has spoken to Brian Houston about his concerns and he says the Hillsong preacher has now stopped publishing You Need More Money.
But he doesn’t have any concerns about his brother, Peter, speaking to the Hillsong Church.
REVEREND TIM COSTELLO: Look, I think any politician asked to speak to 20,000 people recognises the potential and I think Peter did that.
Peter would also justifiably point out that he has Christian convictions and any group that invites him to speak, particularly if it’s a strong group of Christians, he would go along to.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: The Liberal Party has preselected a prominent member of the Hillsong Church for the seat of Greenway, which Labor holds by 3 per cent.
Liberal candidate Louise Markus manages the church’s drug and alcohol outreach services, based in the area.
ROD CAMERON: I would be looking to my back if I was the Labor candidate.
The Liberals will run Labor close in this seat, I think, and it will be largely because of the influence of these Pentecostal churches, which are spreading in part of the Greenway area.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: Louise Markus was unavailable for interview and she’s rejected similar requests from other media outlets.
Churches like Hillsong are popping up all over the country, often in places that matter to politicians.
ROD CAMERON: You tend to find these churches also in the outer suburban areas and in regional Australia and that’s where the marginal seats are – central coast of NSW, regional Queensland – big on these sorts of revivalist churches and that’s where John Howard will think that he can do very well.
PETER COSTELLO: The editorial writers may not understand it but I want to say to you all more lives have been transformed by faith in Christ than have been transformed by the editorial writers.
STEPHEN McDONELL: One thing that can be said about cohesive, fundamentalist congregations is that they have discipline, a discipline that can be marshalled to deliver votes.
Stephen McDonell, Lateline.