Former ABC political editor, Peter Kennedy, pays his respects to a departed minister of the crown.
The former Labor Deputy Prime Minister, Lionel Bowen, who died in Sydney earlier this month, was a great supporter of Catholics getting more involved in politics instead of complaining from the sidelines on issues such as state aid, abortion and family law.
Mr Bowen, who was 89, was a high profile Catholic in the Whitlam cabinet in the early 1970s, and deputy to Prime Minister Bob Hawke from 1983 until his retirement from politics in 1990.
He was widely respected on both sides of politics for his decency and commitment to basic issues during his public life, which included terms in both local government and the NSW Parliament, before being elected to federal politics.
Mr Bowen told the Sydney Catholic Weekly after his retirement that he had detected a change in the attitude of Catholics towards politics and public life.
“Sometimes I think Christians today, particularly Catholics, just don’t want to get their hands dirty for the sake of their faith anymore,” he said. “They reckon politics is a dirty game.
And good Christians don’t play dirty games. Then they whinge when they lose.
“The other side – the intellectuals, the extremists, the irreligious – they were delighted when we got out of the game. When all the Catholics in the ALP picked up their marbles and went and sat on the sidelines and said they weren’t going to play politics anymore because they reckoned good, God-fearing Christians shouldn’t mix with the godless … the intellectuals were absolutely delighted.”
He said there were only a few Catholics with any influence left in the Labor Party but most seemed to be involved in single issues.
On state aid, Mr Bowen said the teachers’ unions enjoyed a high profile because their members, as a deliberate policy of self-interest, had become involved in many ALP branches to press the union policy.
“How many Catholics are in ALP branches?” he asked. “Or how many Anglicans … or any Christian who wants Christian education, who wants state aid for Church schools? I don’t know any. Again, we’re on the sidelines screaming instead of kicking the ball around on the field.”
Mr Bowen estimated about 50 per cent of the population were Catholic or Anglican but this group had isolated itself and was not being heard. He said Catholics upset by Government decisions should take action.
“Join a political party,” he urged. “Stand up for what you believe in. Get out and work for what you believe in, in every aspect of life.”
Mr Bowen, the father of eight children, was surrounded by family members who were reciting the rosary when he died.