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Acting on Conscience

University of Queensland Press
RRP: $34.95

Over twenty years ago Fr Frank Brennan, advisor to the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, and I became good friends as we collaborated on efforts to obtain justice for the Indigenous people of Queensland. At the time I was the Director for Social Responsibility in the Queensland Synod of the Uniting Church.

Sadly, our friendship was sorely tested during the 1998 debate on the Wik amendments to the Native Title Act of 1993, which the Government, led by John Howard, was trying to pass through the Senate.

Frank was advising Senator Brian Harradine and I was the Australian Democrat’s spokesperson on Native Title. Brian Harradine held the “balance of power” in the Senate so, whatever he was able to negotiate with the Government, was destined to become law.

In the introduction to his book Frank explains why he advised Senator Harradine to move an amendment to the legislation which the Native Title Working Group and I regarded as weak. It is an interesting footnote to Australian political history, therefore, that two clergymen were so deeply involved in this debate in the Federal Parliament.

It is also why Frank’s important and latest book is such a useful contribution to the debate about law, religion and politics in Australia, which the subtitle to his book puts in the form of a question. His answer to those who think religion and politics should not mix is well-reasoned and carefully researched.

He argues cogently for the primacy of individual conscience and also for the need for an Australian bill of rights to balance the competing claims of individual liberty and community security.

Acting on Conscience is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rev John Woodley, a retired Uniting Church minister and a former Australian Democrats Senator