February 14, 2009
The Canberra Times

First fire, now brimstone

Okay, Jack Waterford. So you don’t like tears on TV. Nor do I. But that so-called “money shot” – the zoom-in on contorted faces stricken with grief, as tears roll and exhausted bodies roll with emotion – well, it gets me every time.

I can’t watch those waves of shock and loss without being moved. If children are involved, I look away. I’ll pick up my pen and shuffle scripts: anything to break the spell of connection. Anything to halt the hurt. Tears are so damn messy on TV.

In all the heartache of the past week – the wrenching stories of loss, bewilderment and escape, the tributes to the dead and prayers for the dying – in all of it, I haven’t heard one bushfire victim utter the words “Why me?” or “Why us? Why our family?”

Phrases like “What can I do?” and “How can I help” have reverberated across the nation. But no one is asking out loud, “Why me?”

Except one man. And he claims to have the answer.

Pastor Danny Nalliah is a confounded pest, with friends in high places including the former treasurer. This week he’s kept the media on the run, and turned Peter Costello’s pale complexion a furious red – first with embarrassment, then with anger.

Nalliah leads a Bible-belting, God-fearing, Christian sect with the snappy tittle of Catch The Fire Ministries Inc. Now, in an odd quirk of opportunistic marketing, that’s exactly what Nalliah and his band of supporters intends to do – minister to those who were caught by the fire.

Just when the shell-shocked people of Victoria have had enough, Nalliah is about to ride into the fire-ravaged towns with a truckload of donations, and a single message: You got what was coming to you!

Roadblocks to stop the looters are important, but what about roadblocks to stop the lunatics?

Nalliah put out a press release on Tuesday saying the tragedy that has befallen Victoria is a direct result of that state’s abortion laws. He’s blunt when asked to explain: “These people have chosen to walk outside God’s protection.” In short – they got what they deserved.

After the Victorian Parliament passed legislation to officially decriminalise abortion last year, Nalliah reckons he had a dream in which God showed him a map with Victoria on fire. When he awoke, God told him he was removing his “conditional protection” over Australia “in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb”. Apparently, all Victorians are now fodder for the devil.

When I suggest to Pastor Danny Nalliah that his thinking is a bit simple, he gleefully agrees. “If we are walking under my umbrella, Virginia, and you then step out, what happens to you? You get wet.”

It’s a bewildering analogy. But it’s suppose to explain why those who were burnt beyond recognition, and those whose lives have been devastated, were fair game – in God’s eyes. None of this would grab media attention, or the headlines that follow, if it weren’t for the fact that Nalliah is a well-known preacher with a large flock, and an aspiring politician with the might and influence of family First behind him.

In 2004 he ran on the Senate ticket as No 2 behind Steve Fielding. Back then, as the upfront and honest Barnaby Joyce railed against his own party, the Nationals, for doing a preference deal with the “lunatic right”. Joyce reminded the public that, when it comes to idiotic agitation, Pastor Danny Nalliah has form.

Before running for Parliament, Nalliah courted media fame with his 2002 pamphlet in which he urged Christians to help pull down “Satan’s strongholds” such as brothels, bottle shops, gambling places, mosques and temples belonging to Buddhists, Hindus and Freemasons.

Despite all the nasty calls for death and destruction to be wreaked upon his fellow man, and their establishments, Nalliah still manages to maintain his direct line to God.

In another of those psychedelic-sounding dreams to which he’s prone, Nalliah was warned by the Almighty that Australian would introduce a new law that “could take over the world to ban evangelism”. That piece of prophecy turned out to be the racial vilification legislation that was passed in Victoria in 2002. Two years later, Nalliah and a fellow pastor from Catch The Fire Ministries were found guilty of vilifying Muslims. They appealed to the Supreme Court, and eventually that appeal was upheld. Further proof, according to Nalliah, that he has God on his side.

So why is the bloke with God’s personal mobile number driving into fire-ravaged Victoria this weekend? To gloat? To say, “I told you so”?

No. Nalliah is too modest. He says he’s going to rescue the lost souls.

Now there’s a zoom-in shot I’d like to see, when he’s eye to eye with a weeping mother, who’s lost her daughter and all her grandchildren. I’d like to see the steel in her gaze as God’s preacher says, “You had it coming.”

That’s a TV shot that might just move us all.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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