Stewards of the Upper House

 
SHARE
Young Liberal Josie Jakovac is studying Law/Commerce at Sydney University.

In an age where the place of Christianity in society is hotly debated, faith-based voters are seeking like-minded representatives. But for those who heed the call, what are their drives and motivations for working in public service? To find answers, I sought out the help of three Christians who represent three different parties with unique ideologies. Mitchell Strahan is a theology graduate who stood as a candidate for the Liberal Democrat party in the 2019 NSW state election. Desley Scott is the former Labor Member for the state electorate of Woodridge in Queensland, where she served for almost 14 years. And Josie Jakovac, who is in her second year of Law/Commerce at the University of Sydney, is a member of the NSW Young Liberal movement, electorate officer for Federal Member Julian Lesser (Berowra) and campaigned in both the recent NSW and Federal elections.

As I sat with Strahan, he thoughtfully recounted his journey of running for the Ku-ring-gai electorate in March this year. “I remember back when I was much younger I was following Australian politics,” he said. “When I was about 10 years old, I said I wanted to go to the UN one day.” While politics was always an area of interest, Strahan studied and completed a degree in theology in 2014 and has since been working while also studying a Masters in secondary teaching.

Scott joined me over the phone from Queensland, having retired as an MP in 2015. Her story begins far from the usual Labor hotbeds of university politics and trade unions. “I left [high] school after two years because not a lot of us went on to senior at that stage,” she said. “Apart from going along and voting on the particular person who was running and reading bits and pieces of them, politics wasn’t something I was really interested in . . .”

Wikimedia Commons

Listening to 19-year-old Jakovac, her burning passion makes it clear that she has ambitions to be a rising force in her sphere of influence. “I’ve always felt this deep conviction that this is the path that I’m supposed to take,” she said. “The night after I was offered a place at Sydney Law School, mum shared with me that when I was a toddler I used to sit next to her in the kitchen with a little meat hammer, smashing it on the benchtop, going ‘Order in the court!’… So, I really have always loved the law and politics.”

It was that drive that led her to an internship on Capitol Hill earlier this year, working for Senator Jim Inhofe—chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee—in Washington D.C.

These are three unique individuals with three very different upbringings. Strahan found that his desire to become politically involved came amid turmoil. “It was a really stressful time for me. There was the thought I should be getting a job, settling down, working, showing that I can provide,” he said. “I found myself re-assessing everything. I walked a fine line between holding onto God and letting go of God. . . . And part of that questioning was my politics.” After a lot of prayerful soul-searching, he made a decision to join the Liberal Democratic party in July 2018.

Patricia Jannides—Newspix

Scott’s story in politics began with a job as an electoral officer in her local Member’s office. Working in the administration team for 16 years—including taking care of up to 46 phone calls a day—prepared her for a phone call that would change everything. After the resignation of the incumbent Member, she got a phone call from then-Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. “He said ‘Desley, we want you to run for Woodridge.’ The election was only five weeks away. I said ‘Peter, there’s no way in the world I want to run for parliament. I’m too old.’ I was 52. I said, ‘I’m uneducated . . . I’m a Seventh-day Adventist, I go to church on a Saturday.’ Peter said, ‘Look, all I want for you is to keep looking after the people of Woodridge the way you’ve been doing.’” Despite much hesitation, Scott accepted the call the following morning, beginning what would be an incredible late-blooming career in Queensland’s Parliament.

For Jakovac, reflecting on her journey has highlighted God’s leading in her life. “I wanted to join the Liberal Party for a long time,” she said. “But I was focusing a lot on my studies. . . . University of Sydney (USYD) law is very competitive. You need that 99.5 [ATAR] otherwise it doesn’t happen directly. . . . For my high school certificate, I got in the 98’s, which I was proud of but it wasn’t high enough. . . . My prayer throughout Year 12 was always, ‘Heavenly Father, my school is small, but I am going to give these exams everything I have. If this is the path You want for me, You need to be the one who carries me over that line.’” It was only after being one of the last people allowed in to the Future Leaders Scheme that Jakovac’s dream of studying law at USYD was realised. “I was dux and school captain. So they [USYD] considered this all and offered me a place straight out of high school.” Not only that, but she reached out to a friend she happened to meet overseas three years earlier at the International Science and Engineering Fair, who travelled to her and helped sign her up to the NSW Young Liberals. “Every step I take in this direction, God reminds me He’s in control,” she said, seeming to glow with purpose.

In the same way that God works in mysterious ways, the call can come during times of difficulty or in unexpected moments, or it can be part of a destiny when viewed in hindsight.

But even holding to a shared faith can translate into contrasting political doctrines. Strahan attributes his belief in libertarianism—the emphasis of political freedom and a key view of his party—to his understanding of God. “He is a God of love and doesn’t force us to do things. . . . The party I’m a part of is all about individual choice, individual responsibility. And letting people make choices, as long as those choices don’t hurt others.” For Scott, in contrast, a core part of her politics is social justice. “I always say that if you look at my politics, I’m in the right of my party. But if you look at my church, I’m probably a little to the left of my church,” she said. “I guess the reason that I’m at home in the Labor Party [is that] we have that heightened sense of social justice.” Evident in these stories is that sharing a faith doesn’t necessarily translate into sharing political views. Valuing different issues leads to unique political views, in the same ways that the apostle Paul emphasised freedom of conscience in the Bible. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).

The Bible presents a unique set of beliefs to a secular world, and following the Christian faith can be challenging—there’s a constant awareness for a politically involved Christian that they’re not just accountable to their party or electorate, there’s also a divine Upper House they’re called to represent. Balancing this can be hard, but each of my interviewees has found that their peers respect them for their faith. For Scott, it was about holding strong to her religious principles. “Most times when I would be invited to something on the Sabbath, [I’d say] ‘Look, that’s my day at church. But I’d love to come to your organisation another time. . . . All of my colleagues knew my faith.”

Jakovac expressed a similar commitment. “I think it’s all about consistency. . . . People expect most politicians and lawyers to say one thing one day and do something else the next,” she said. “But having those really resolute things that your worldview is built [around], you know what you stand for. . . I’d never lose my faith. If anything it’s been sharpened, because I’ve had to defend it at times. I find most people really respect that about me.”

Mitchell Strahan

But what about freedom of speech? The dismissal of rugby player Israel Folau for voicing his religious views has kept the issue at the forefront of mainstream news for months. So how can Christian voices in parliament help in maintaining freedom of religion? Strahan believes that a separation of church and state is the key. “I believe the government should be secular and should work to represent the interests of every person, regardless of their beliefs,” he said. “We only need to look at the countries with state religions to see that that has led to a lot of hardship and suffering for minorities.”

Strahan, Jakovac and Scott all agree that churches as institutions should not be involved in politics—but religious people still need representation and protection. “Australia is growing more and more secular. But the majority of people in this country still have some sort of faith. That’s exactly why we need [Christians] in the legal and political spaces,” Jakovac said. “Because we need leaders who can be there to speak up for our churches. We need people willing and able to serve their communities, which includes protecting people of faith.”

Strahan summed up what it takes to make a difference as a Christian: “You have to be there. Once you’re there, regardless of whether you try with big things or small things, that’s when things start to happen. I do remember the words of Jesus when He said that ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much’” (Luke 16:10).

 

Daniel Kuberek describes himself as a political centrist. He is assistant editor of Signs of the Times.