November 19, 2014 – 5:00PM
By Andy Hazel
As a Pakistani migrant, Australian Christians Party (ACP) candidate for Brunswick Mr Babar Peters knows a lot about change. Change is what his party is pushing for, but unlike most agitators he and his fellow party members look to the Bible rather than focus groups to guide them.
Mr Peters tells UniPollWatch he ‘considered every single party when I was deciding who I would run for’, including the Greens.
‘You can’t be 100 per cent happy with any political party,’ he says. ‘You have to do a cost/benefit analysis and be happy with what you have.’
A champion of social integration, a friend of same-sex couples, sex workers and claiming to have a volunteer base that is 90 per cent Muslim, Mr Peters’ views seem, on the surface, to be more in keeping with those of a left wing party.
‘Oh no! I’m very different from the Greens on basic principles,’ he says laughing. ‘They wanted me to join them and I said no, because there are certain things you do not compromise on as a Christian.’
When asked what these points are, Mr Peters ignores the question.
‘One of the biggest problems I found with the Greens was if you’re with them, you have to be 100 per cent behind all of their policies.’
UniPollWatch contacted the Greens to verify these claims. They denied having met Mr Peters and pointed out the Greens’ policy on pre-selection requires party membership. They also stated that all Greens members have conscience votes so there is no rule regarding uniform policy support.
Asked again about the values on which he could not be flexible, and Mr Peters dodges again. .
‘Let’s just leave it at that!’ he says with an avuncular laugh. ‘That was a private discussion and I don’t want to disclose.’
The Australian Christian Party’s Victorian state director, Ms Vicki Jensen, says she has known Mr Peters through his work as head of the Australian Association of Pakistani Christians for many years. She tells UniPollWatch that it was she who selected him, and her choice of candidates is, like the party’s choice in preferences, driven by values.
‘We’ll be doing all we can to promote people whose values align with our own,’ she says of her party’s preference deals. ‘We don’t want to see a Labor government’.
Ms Jensen’s objections to Labor concern its commitment to repeal the religious exemptions from the Equal Opportunities Act, a shift that would prevent organisations from discriminating due to faith or sexual orientation.
Labor also support the repeal of Section 8 of the Abortion Law Reform Act, a change which would prevent health professionals from conscientiously objecting to performing abortions, which Ms Jensen opposes.
Though he agrees with some Australian Christian Party policies, Mr Peters sees others quite differently. He shrugs off these points of difference and says he’s glad to be part of the party ‘who were willing to put up with me!’
‘One has to be realistic, and one has to be open,’ says Mr Peters. ‘I will not get close to winning. But, we will make a difference because in the long run people will get to see that yes, it’s Australian Christians, but it’s not a religious party. It’s a political party.’
When it is pointed out that the name of the party may be a problem with that perception, he interrupts.
‘It is a huge problem! But 90 per cent of my volunteers are Muslim – no really, they are. Once people get to know you they ask you these questions and when you tell them about Judeo-Christian principles, they’re surprised how closely related they are to Islamic principles’.
One of those volunteers, Mr Ahmed Sheikh, agrees and tells me he’d help Mr Peters regardless of which party he ran for.
‘I don’t see any religious differences. He’s got his beliefs and I’ve got mine. I always see people for who they are not what religion they are,’ he says.
Most of his volunteers are people Mr Peters has helped professionally who have remained friends.
Coming to Australia because his Christian beliefs were increasingly problematic in Pakistan, Mr Peters has spent most of his life in Brunswick. He sees ethnic segregation as a root cause of crime in the community and is entering politics to address this. He cites the Broken Windows Theory – a social theory showing that major crimes occur in places were minor crimes are common – as a warning that Australia could fall into the same traps that currently plague the country of his birth.
‘I’m happy with equal rights, equal everybody,’ Mr Peters explains. ‘Having grown up as a minority in Pakistan, I can understand how a minority feels. But, I also understand my responsibilities as being a part of a minority. If I don’t integrate with you, how the hell are you going to understand my point of view?’
Mr Peters thanks his wide network of friends for showing him that withholding judgement and embracing differences can lead to increased understanding. He hopes that, should he be successful, he could mediate discussions between sex workers and other members of his party, whose policy expressly criminalises prostitution and opposes the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
‘As an ACP candidate, my very first discussion was with a friend who happened to be in a same-sex relationship’ says Mr Peters. ‘My faith says, “one should not practice [homosexuality]”. But my faith also tells me not to judge, and to love others. Both can live in harmony.’
Promoting harmonious living is something to which Mr Peters has devoted his professional life. A migrant agent and trainer, Mr Peters guides new arrivals through the visa process to becoming citizens.
‘I always tell my clients two things,’ he says ‘Try to stay away from your own community as much as you can, this helps you build your network with the locals and get a better job, and get involved politically. Which they never do!’
He insists his personal and professional experiences make him an ideal candidate to represent his youthful and multicultural electorate.
Conversely, ACP’s state director Ms Jensen says that decisions based on ‘feelings and experience’ rather than ‘rational academic integrity’ are the source of much of the social dysfunction her party wants to see repaired. She starts – as so many ACP policies do – with the family.
‘Young Australians look for what works for them experimentally rather than rationally. This is why we need a return to theology and education.
‘We are spiritual by nature,’ she continues, ‘and education that encourages people to be whole will make for better children, better parents, better neighbours and produce a better nation and a healthier economy and future for all. That should keep all the politicians happy!’
These views are likely to find resistance in overtly liberal and religiously eclectic Brunswick. Other policies, such as their promotion of cycle paths, alternative energy sources and reduced bureaucracy for small business owners may be an easier sell.
‘Yes it’s a Labor held seat and it’s never been lost by Labor,’ Mr Peters says shrugging, ‘but somebody has to be the first one. I’m not there just to make a number, I want to give it a good shake.’
As a local business owner familiar to recent migrants, Mr Peters will still have to ensure that his shaking includes a lot of unfamiliar hands if he is to make the changes he wants on November 29.
To connect with Mr Babar Peters
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne