The Australian Sex Party has called for state and federal electoral commissions to stop using church properties for electoral purposes, after apparently running into problems with the putting up of posters.
Others are likely to join them, with the Greens also reportedly affected by what is seen as church bias in respect of state elections.
The confrontation kicked off last week when, according to reports in the Southern Courier, Catholic priest Father Bill Milsted of St Peter’s Catholic Church in Devonshire St, Surry Hills, allegedly ordered Sex Party volunteers to take down campaign posters from the polling booth, where they were displayed in accordance with electoral law.
A statement from the Sex Party alleges that he told volunteers: "This is a Catholic church, take these posters down right now." The volunteers complied, fearing an altercation.
Today the Sex Party issued a further statement, alleging that a second priest, Father Brian Rayner, ordered a Greens volunteer to remove himself along with the party’s posters from the polling booth in Gymea, on grounds of ideological differences. He is alleged to have said that he would not have allowed the Sex Party or the Communist party on the premises.
Sex Party president Fiona Patten reacted angrily to these incidents, stating that religious organisations were paid good money to use their tax-exempt premises for a public service and they had abused that relationship.
"These two examples of intimidation and favouritism being evinced by clergy at polling booths are clear indications of a breach of Section 151 of the NSW Electoral Act which expressly forbids this sort of behaviour under threat of 100 penalty points or three years' jail," she said.
"The fact that an alleged Electoral Commission official has even come out in the Southern Courier backing the priest’s actions and telling the Sex Party to 'Stop trying to blame the Catholic Church for all your woes', is highly irregular and shows bias on this issue."
According to the Sex Party, the Electoral Commission was very strict about what could be displayed on the perimeter of a polling place, and the Sex Party and the Greens had adhered to these conditions. "The NSW Electoral Commission must have a role to play to ensure that conditions are respected," said Patten.
"They need to clarify for the public whether these instances of interference are acceptable or not. If the priests had ordered Labor and Liberal posters taken down this would be under investigation now." ®