FOR GOD AND COUNTRY

Love this article by Andrew Burrell about the Liberal member for Canning W.A., Andrew Hastie from The Weekend Australian Magazine, September 23rd, 2017. It is about a 15 min read.

“He’s been pilloried for his ‘natural law’ argument against gay marriage. But Andrew Hastie isn’t a man to be messed with.” says, Andrew Burrell.

“One of the things that is happening at the moment is that we are transitioning from a society that’s always had a Judaeo-Christian world view anchoring the social and moral consensus … to a society which has a progressive world view defined by little more than individual freedom,” he says.

Testimonies are powerful. It is interesting that Andrew’s father a Presbyterian Minister was a Creationist, believing in the Bible’s six day creation account. I agree, it is impossible to believe in evolution with death and suffering before Adam, and the Bible’s account of creation with a perfect creation prior to Adam and Eve’s SIN of disobeying God. However, Hastie has had to adopt a “cunning as serpents, innocent as doves” approach to the subject of Creation v Evolution.

“Andrew Hastie’s whole body was wracked with pain and his brain was addled. For three weeks, the young army officer had endured extreme physical agony and mental torture, with little food and no more than four hours of restless sleep a night. When he called his wife at the end of the ordeal, he couldn’t hold back the tears. “I was broken, I remember calling Ruth and just crying,” he recalls. “I had no emotional resources left.”

Andrew Hastie in Afghanistan. Pic: Conan Daley

Hastie — now a rising star of the Liberal Party and a conservative pin-up boy at the centre of an ideological firestorm over same-sex marriage — is recalling the brutal selection course he endured to gain entry into the Special Air Service Regiment, the Australian Army’s toughest fighting force. The SAS course, held in the remote West Australian bush in the middle of winter, is regarded as the most physically and psychologically challenging of its kind in the world. If you survive it, you can survive just about anything.

Of the 130 superbly fit men who began that course in July 2010, only 30 made it through. Another 15 dropped out during the subsequent 18-month reinforcement cycle — a boys’ own adventure-style program that included parachuting, climbing, diving, boating, combat shooting, high-speed driving and jungle training.

Hastie went on to become an SAS ground force commander, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and conducting anti-terrorism operations in the Middle East. The seeds of his ambition to serve were planted as a boy when his grandfather, Flight Lieutenant Norman Hastie, showed him the bullet wounds he received while rescuing two downed Australian airmen in the Pacific during World War II. Yet by 2015, at the age of 32, Hastie had had enough of the military. “I realised the limitations of nation-building at gunpoint,” he says of his experiences in Afghanistan, where he survived several roadside bombings. “I remember thinking, ‘This is crazy.’ I had real doubts about how much we could actually achieve there.”

Hastie, right, aged 13, with his family. Pic: Andrew Hastie

During those long deployments, something else had taken hold in the soldier’s mind: a greater appreciation of the conditions that led to the flourishing of Australian society and a desire to help preserve his own country’s institutions and cultural heritage. Hastie, who joined the Liberal Party in 2013, had long harboured ambitions for a political career and held little fear of the vicissitudes. “I’ve often said that warrior politics are much fiercer than federal politics,” he says. When Don Randall, the long-serving Liberal MP for the federal seat of Canning, died suddenly in July 2015, Hastie grasped his opportunity. He resigned from the Perth-based SAS, giving up his protected identity status, and won preselection — with the backing of West Australian Liberal powerbroker Mathias Cormann — for the poll in Canning, a largely working-class electorate south of Perth. Yet this was no ordinary by-election. In Canberra, it was seen as the contest that would decide the fate of Tony Abbott, who was under mounting threat of a leadership spill from Malcolm Turnbull.

Sniffing blood, the national media swarmed into Canning to get a glimpse of the hitherto unknown Hastie. And it became ­obvious that the Liberals had unearthed a unique candidate. Here was the conservative politician from central casting: a churchgoing, squeaky-clean ex-soldier who spoke about protecting Australian values and Western liberal democratic traditions. He also had a fearlessness uncommon in a political newbie.

Hastie didn’t impress everyone, of course. Where some saw a man of conviction, others typecast him as a Bible-bashing young fogey with antiquated views on topics such as homosexuality. He was ripe for ridicule on social media, where he was also depicted as a warmonger or a brainless beefcake. “The first tweet I ever looked at about myself said, ‘Gee, Hastie looks as dumb as batshit’,” he smiles. He did, however, prove he had substance, quoting chunks of Edmund Burke and ­William Shakespeare to journalists, some of whom were taken aback at the thought that a military man might also be a deep thinker. He looked good on television, too, quickly earning the sobriquet “Tasty Hastie” and being nominated for the Crikey website’s 2015 sexiest politician of the year. “It’s like a committee of gay men were asked to design a parody of a straight man — muscled, wavy hair, nice eyes, dimpled smile, family man, army uniform, son of a preacher man,” wrote one reader in endorsing Hastie for the title. “Is it wrong that the Christian fundie thing just makes him even hotter to me?”

This curiosity about Hastie only intensified after Fairfax newspapers ran front-page stories during the ­by-election campaign about a soldier under his tactical command in Afghanistan who’d cut the hands off dead Taliban soldiers in the heat of battle in order that they might later be identified through biometric screening. The headline in The Sydney Morning Herald read: “Star Abbott recruit probed for chopping off hands of dead Taliban”. Hastie, who remains vexed that he was accused of being a “war criminal”, had been cleared of any wrong­doing and was elsewhere on the battlefield when the incident took place in 2013. The soldier who cut off the hands was cleared this month after a two-year investigation by the Australian Federal Police.

The Fairfax story wasn’t the end of what Hastie regarded as unfair media treatment during the campaign. At a press conference a few days later he was grilled over revelations that his father, a Presbyterian pastor, was a Creationist who had dismissed evolutionary theory in his writings. When one reporter asked Hastie if he believed God made the world in six days, he could no longer contain himself: “You’re not hearing me, mate,” he responded, his eyes flashing. “People are sick of this crap. ­People are sick of trying to drag petty issues into public policy discussions.”

Two years later, Hastie remains touchy on the subject. He claims he has been depicted in the media as a “religious nut job” and he’d rather not discuss theology at length. “I don’t want to shy away from it, but in an era of identity politics and cultural Marxism people are looking for every reason to delegitimise someone. So every view I hold henceforth will be seen through the prism of, ‘Oh, he’s just whacking us with a Bible’.”

All he’ll say on Creationism is this: “There’s a range of different views about the origins of the Earth and my view is that God is the first mover. I believe God exists, and if He does exist, then why would it be beyond Him to be the creator?”

Andrew William Hastie was born in Wangaratta  in 1982, the second of four children. His mother Sue was a schoolteacher in the northeast Victorian city and father Peter was the local ­pastor. When he was five the family moved to Sydney and his dad became the minister at ­Ashfield ­Presbyterian Church. Hastie attended Scots College where he recalls happy years dominated by sport and strong results in English and history. After school he enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts course at the University of NSW, where he nurtured his interest in the world’s great thinkers. “The philosophy department at UNSW was very rigorous, and taught me how to think,” he says.

He made ends meet by working as a barista at Gloria Jean’s and selling treadmills at Rebel Sports. He recalls heavy drinking sessions with his mates on a Saturday night that were inevitably followed by a hangover in church the next morning — an anecdote he tells in response to questions about his wholesome reputation. He adds for effect: “Once, when I was 17, I was at Blueberries in North Sydney with a fake ID. I came out of the bar as an under-age and there were people from my father’s flock lining up to get in. That’s about as bad as I get. But I’m certainly not a teetotaller — it’s part of the Australian culture to have a beer.”

Hastie didn’t fit in at UNSW’s Kensington campus, where as a Liberal voter and a John Howard fan he encountered the political left for the first time. A crossroads came on the day after 9/11, when a horrified Hastie listened as students in his politics tutorial tried to pin the blame for the atrocity on the US. Almost immediately, he knew he had to serve his country. He transferred to the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, earning an honours degree in history, and later completed officer training at Duntroon before being posted to Darwin to serve in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.

Steve Barton, a friend who served alongside Hastie on his first deployment to Afghanistan, recalls a man who seemed destined for bigger things. “He struck me as thoughtful and intelligent, curious in the world around him,” says Barton, who went on to be a Liberal Party staffer. “I think of myself as reasonably well-read but he sometimes puts me to shame with the breadth and the diligence with which he reads.”

Hastie’s questioning of the mission in Afghanistan was thrown into sharp relief one cloudless day in Oruzgan province in February 2013. It’s etched in his memory: the snow on the nearby mountains, the smell of firewood in the crisp air. The then 30-year-old SAS commander had called in US Apache helicopters to take out two Taliban fighters who, according to intercepts, were planning to fire rockets at the Australians. But the Apaches fired at the wrong target, killing two local Afghan boys — Toor Jan, seven, and his brother Odood, six — who were gathering firewood across the valley. Hastie and his men were cleared of any blame but he can’t forget the sight of those two small, broken bodies. “I still think about them,” he says. “I had a nightmare last night about it, so it stays with me personally. But I’m at peace with it. I had an opportunity to apologise to their brother and their uncle, and that was part of the healing process for me. War is a degrading process. There is always moral injury; the taking of human life takes its toll on people.”

Hastie has spoken to psychologists about the incident, and says the nightmares — which in the early days left him “shrouded in a black cloud” for several hours after waking — have become less ­frequent. At the hint of a tear, though, he changes tack and moves the conversation on. “Our society, in a way, we are too open with things. I don’t want to be another sob story in the media.”

Hastie is much happier talking about his life with Ruth, who he met on a study trip to the US in 2007. A whirlwind romance ensued between the churchgoers and Hastie knew “within a week” of ­meeting her that he wanted to get married. Two months later, he proposed on the steps of Sydney Opera House. “We have very similar world views,” says Ruth, who packed up her life in the US and moved to Australia to become a soldier’s wife. By 2010, the couple had moved to Perth for Hastie to begin the physical training for the SAS selection course. Keen to start a family, they had trouble conceiving and began considering adoption. It took them a year to be formally approved, only for Ruth to fall pregnant a month later with baby Jonathan. Hastie found out while serving overseas in 2014 — via a text message from Ruth containing a photo she’d snapped of her ­positive pregnancy test. It had taken them six and a half years to conceive. “It was difficult, but as Christians we trusted God’s timing,” says Ruth, who also gave birth to a daughter, Beatrice, in August this year.

The big question being asked of Andrew Hastie is: How far can he go? Canberra insiders rate him as ministerial material. Friends reckon he could go to the very top. “I absolutely think he can be PM,” says Craig Clark, a Perth plumber who became firm friends with Hastie after meeting him at church. “Most of the people who know him would agree. He wants to raise the discourse; he’s as far away from being a politician as you can be.” Others with a close eye on federal politics say the backbencher will have to play smarter in the ­corridors of power. “He’s not a creature of the party so he doesn’t really get all the machinations,” says a senior Liberal source.

Hastie with Tony Abbott on the campaign trail in Canning, 2015. Pic: Matthew Poon
Hastie with Tony Abbott on the campaign trail in Canning, 2015. Pic: Matthew Poon

In February, Hastie was thrilled to get a phone call from Malcolm Turnbull inviting him to become chairman of the parliamentary joint ­committee on intelligence and security. It was the first tangible sign he is progressing up the food chain in Canberra. Yet while nobody doubts ­Hastie’s loyalty to the Turnbull Government, the fact is he also remains openly loyal to Tony Abbott, whom he first met on the Canning by-election campaign trail in 2015. The ideological warriors became friends. They are both monarchists and share similar views on big political issues such as climate change and asylum seekers — Hastie says he hates to see refugees in detention but it’s ­“necessary” to stop people smugglers and describes himself as a climate “realist” rather than a sceptic. He says he wants to protect the environment but believes people must always come first. “I approach the politics of climate change with this primary question: how do we secure reliable and affordable energy for all Australians?” he says. “Everything else is secondary to this duty of government.”

Many in the Turnbull camp still view Hastie with suspicion. “If Abbott was PM Hastie would be progressing up the ladder a lot faster,” says a senior Liberal. Hastie admits he was disappointed that Abbott was removed as prime minister a week before he won Canning in 2015 and he believes the electorate remains unhappy that a first-term prime minister was dumped by his own party. But he reveals that he has privately counselled Abbott to desist from making the sorts of public comments that are widely viewed as ­destabilising to Turnbull’s leadership. “It’s a sacred office, so creating mischief in the background to cause havoc for the elected leader of our country is against what I stand for. I’ve had conversations with [Abbott] and I’ve given fairly frank advice. We’ve had discussions where I’ve said, ‘You’ve overstepped the mark here.’ But I say that as a friend. He’s been a good friend of mine and that’s what you do.”

When asked about his own ambitions, Hastie is circumspect: “The best way to make a difference is as a minister. But the worst thing you can do is jump ahead of yourself. I always put myself in a position where I can be called upon to do a job. But I don’t wake up every morning, putting on my tie, thinking, ‘How am I going to be prime minister of this country?’”

In recent months, it’s been difficult to miss the backbencher in the media as he emerged as one of the most strident opponents of same-sex marriage. Hastie is regularly pilloried over his views on the subject. When he appeared on national television recently to argue that traditional marriage “is a meeting of body and mind, it begins with consent and is sealed by sexual intercourse”, he was met with a barrage of anger — some of it ­vulgar and intensely personal. “F..king hell, Andrew Hastie is legit the dumbest c..t I have ever come across,” wrote one Twitter user.

Hastie’s opponents say he’s seeking to impose his Christian moral code on society. But he insists he has never used religion to argue against same-sex marriage; his reasoning is based on “natural law” and his belief that marriage is linked to the welfare of children. “I ask the question: what is the character of marriage over time and across cultures?” he says. “It’s a union between a man and a woman — that’s the normative practice throughout history and culture. I make no mention of sexuality and no appeal to religious authority in making my arguments. Marriage has always been an institution that’s inherently ordered towards family life. Ruth and I struggled for six years with infertility before we had Jonathan, but just because a marriage doesn’t bear children doesn’t mean it’s any less of a marriage.” But surely same-sex couples can also be good parents? “I don’t for a second suggest they’d be bad parents,” Hastie says, adding that he and Labor frontbencher Penny Wong, who is gay, have shared photos of their children. “What I’m saying is that we all have a natural right to know our biological mother and father. And once we ­legislate ­marriage to make it genderless, we institutionalise motherlessness and fatherlessness.”’

At the centre of Hastie’s world view is the ­theological concept of Imago dei, which asserts that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. His belief in this doctrine led him to publicly attack cartoonist Larry Pickering over homophobic comments he made earlier this year. Hastie says gay people must be treated with respect, and he sees no inconsistency between this view and his stance on same-sex marriage.

As the voting process ramps up, Hastie finds himself at the cutting edge of the culture wars. He aims to tread carefully, hoping not to offend anyone — an impossible task in such a fraught debate. As the postal ballots were being sent out in mid-September he became involved in a war of words with gay rights advocate and writer Benjamin Law, who had tweeted: “Sometimes find myself wondering if I’d hate-f..k all the anti-gay MPs in parliament if it meant they got the homophobia out of their system.” One of Law’s followers responded: “Start with Hastie.” In retort, Hastie was quoted in The Australian: “Noting my skills acquired in my previous career, I’d like to see him try.”

Despite this, Hastie implores both sides of the debate to be respectful. “Everyone could benefit from working to understand where the other person is coming from,” he says. “A lot of people who are advocating for Yes, especially those who are gay themselves, feel like the No case is almost an attack on their identity, or a denial of their human rights — and I get that. I understand why there’s so much emotion involved.”

Hastie sees the marriage debate as tied up in the broader clash of “fundamental visions of the social order”. And he knows he may well be on the losing side of this particular battle.

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