Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

NSW Premier’s chief of staff: faith can play a part in politics


Do you think that personal faith should play a part in politics? It’s the kind of discussion you’d probably avoid at a friendly dinner party, but it was exactly what Bay Warburton spoke about to the Warrane boys on Wednesday 5 October 2016. And he should know all about it, considering that he’s a practicing Christian as well as Chief of Staff for NSW Premier, Mike Baird.

For Warburton, the answer is simple – faith defines all parts of his life. And as he pointed out, using the example of a book called In God They Trust? by Protestant author Roy Williams, a few years ago this may have been the consensus.

“In it [the book] he reflected that of the then 44 prime ministers of Australia, all but two of them had a faith in God,” said Warburton. “All but two of them had a clear faith in God of some form and that was, up until recently at least, a very normal and accepted part of Australian politics. But now however there seems to be a bit of a shift.”

Faith in politics – why it’s an issue these days

What has happened to turn people against the mixing of faith and politics? According to Warburton, the first reason is quite simple: that Australia is much less a Christian society than it ever was, if it ever was.

“If you think about the census in 1911…95% of the country identified themselves as Christian,” he said. “Jump forward to 1986, it’s down to 73%. And the last census in 2011 had only 60% of the country identify as Christian. So clearly the Christian dominance of Australia 100 years ago has changed remarkably. It’s obviously shaped the way people think about Christianity; it’s no longer the norm.”

While this is true, Warburton also cited a couple more reasons for the shift.

“If you scratch beneath the surface of people’s concerns, there is an unspoken belief – and I think an unreasonable belief – that Christians in power will try to force their views down your throat. And I think that’s totally unfounded…because we live in a democracy. Having one person bringing their faith to the table isn’t going to be enough to persuade everybody.”

He continued: “When you go into politics now, there is a large expectation that you leave your faith at the door; that it is unreasonable to bring your faith to work. And I think that’s an absolutely ridiculous statement. And that’s because everyone brings their values… Everyone brings what they believe, the person they are, into the forum they’re involved in, including the public square.”

“In a democracy, we value all those voices – whether they’re Christian, whether they’re atheist, whether they’re Hindu, whether they’re Islamic – we value all those voices. And the point of democracy is to work through that difference to find a common view. And so to say to people to leave their faith at the door, I think, is a ridiculous statement. And I’d go so far as to say that I believe as a Christian, part of my job is to be part of that public square and to engage in that public square and to contribute to that public square, because my voice deserves to be heard just as much as anybody else.”

Does God want Christians to bring their faith into politics?

So the premier’s chief of staff had his say on the matter– but what does God think? That’s what Warburton moved on to cover next: whether God actually instructed Christians to bring their faith into the political sphere.

“Does God’s word speak about how to do politics? Well funnily enough, as it does guide many parts of life, it does have some things to say…three principles in particular, when you look through the scriptures.”

Warburton showed how scripture says that God establishes all government, and therefore all Christian people should submit to whoever is in authority for them. He also pointed out that King David’s last words in the Bible said that government done God’s way is good government, which is how it should be – because Christians who bring their faith to the public sphere generally should do good there.

How Christianity affects your work

For Warburton, being a Christian has had a huge impact on his work life. He talked to the boys about how his beliefs affect his role.

“How does a Christian do politics?” he said. “The simple answer is that a Christian does politics in the same way that a Christian does everything. Two essential principles: I need to use my gifts that I’ve been given to serve others… The second one is that all parts of my work are to be done to God’s glory.”

“What does that mean for me?” Warburton continued. “I try to live in a way that shows that God is my king; that God is ruler of my life. In the way I treat people, in the way I do my job, in the consistency with which I apply myself. I need to do my job well, I need to do it honourably, I need to do it with integrity. I want to help the premier, the cabinet, the government make decisions that reflect God’s concerns as well – things like justice and mercy and humility. Those are the sorts of virtues that I try and bring to the table.”

“Does it always work? No, but that’s what I’m trying to do as the Premier’s chief of staff. I want to serve others, especially the vulnerable, the alien, the outcast. If there are opportunities to shape decisions, to mould decisions, I can bring my faith to that aspect. I want to love my neighbour. I want to treat every person I come in contact with as a valued member of God’s creation. And therefore we don’t privilege certain groups; we don’t privilege the rich and the powerful; we try and love everybody, both on a very societal level – we want to make society better for all NSW citizens – but also for the individuals that I meet on a day-to-day basis.”

The practical implications of being a Christian in politics

Warburton went on to explain to the boys how he brings his faith to the job in a more practical sense.

“My initial role was to help Mike be a really good treasurer; be wise in the way of the money NSW receives… I tried to help Mike really use the money well and invest in things that truly make life better… And of course when he became premier two years ago, I wanted to help him be a great premier. My job is to help him by providing good advice…and basically enable this government to be a good government, which we hope we are.”

He continued: “I did think, coming into the job, that all the big contentious stuff would be the big moral decisions of our time…same-sex plebiscite and those sorts of things. But really, 99% of our job – truly, 99% of it – is about being wise, faithful, solid, good government that delivers for citizens. We’ve just got to deliver better services, better infrastructure, safer communities – that’s what we want to do…That’s the job that we have to do. If people have faith in their governments then they can plan their lives; they can get on with their lives.”

What about Christians in other roles?

Warburton finished off by encouraging the boys to all get involved in politics, whether in a small or large way.

“If you’re a Christian and you’re not actively involved in politics like I am, I just wanted to encourage you to think about how you get involved in politics. Because I don’t think it’s an option for a Christian to be not involved.”

“Why do I say that?” he continued. “Well, 1 Timothy 2 urges all believers to pray for those in authority… We are called to do that because we are respecting the authority that’s been placed over us by God. As Christian people, we at the very least need to be aware what’s going on so we can pray for our leaders and pray for wisdom and integrity and that sort of thing. So at the very minimum, Christians can’t be indifferent, they need to be praying for those in authority.”

“The next option is you could be an advocate and involved – getting out into the process. And ultimately you can actually be deeply involved and get a job in it like I have done, and that’s the ultimate end of the involvement ‘spectrum’.

“But at the very least, if you have a Christian faith, then I call upon you to recognise what it is you need to be involved in – that you need to at least pray and therefore be informed about politics.”

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: details of other guest speakers are available here]