Fred Nile announces retirement from NSW politics

The Reverend Fred Nile has announced his retirement. Photo: ABC Sydney/Facebook.

By PETER HACKNEY

Notorious anti-gay campaigner and conservative Christian, the Reverend Fred Nile, has announced his retirement from NSW politics.

In a statement released last night, the 86-year-old said he would stand down from parliament in November, bringing a 40-year political career to an end.

Nile, who founded the Christian Democratic Party more than 20 years ago – after already serving two terms in the NSW Upper House – named former Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton as his replacement.

Shelton will replace Nile for the balance of his term, which ends in March 2023.

Nile said he was “delighted to be recommending Lyle Shelton as my successor”.  

“The need for unashamedly Christian voices in public life has only increased in recent years and I can think of no one better than Mr Shelton to carry this forward,” he said. 

Shelton, who hails from Queensland, has a chequered political career, having unsuccessfully run in the 2006 Queensland state election for the National Party in the seat of Toowoomba North.

He was also a leader of the unsuccessful ‘no’ campaign in the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, which saw Australians overwhelmingly endorse marriage equality.

Shelton said he was “honoured” to succeed Reverend Nile “and lead the party into the future”.

“There has never been a greater need for Christian ethics and principles in our parliaments,” he said.

Lyle Shelton (far left), Fred Nile (centre) and Nile’s wife, Silvana Nero-Nile. Photo: Lyle Shelton/Facebook.

Nile’s retirement has been celebrated by Sydney’s LGBTQI communities, which regularly bore the brunt of his ‘fire and brimstone’ edicts on homosexuality.

Describing homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice”, he has called it a “mental disorder” that is “immoral, unnatural and abnormal”. He famously led annual public prayer sessions praying for rain during Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parades.

Sydney gay activist Gary Burns said Nile’s lifetime of campaigning against homosexuality had achieved very little. 

“What has he achieved? Where did it get him? Australians are decent and kind, and through the marriage equality plebiscite, they publicly rejected his stance on homosexuality and embraced LGBTQI Australians,” Burns told the Sentinel.

“He’s a man of the past. His use by date’s come around and there’s nothing useful he can say or do in relation to homosexuality,” he said.

Burns opined that Shelton’s views were “probably even worse” but predicted the Queenslander would be less successful than Nile, politically. 

“If anything, Shelton is even more out of touch with mainstream Australia than Nile – he’s very extreme,” said Burns.

“He’ll have a tough time getting anywhere because views are so archaic” he predicted.

Meanwhile, a social media statement by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby about Nile’s retirement was blunt and to the point.

“Good riddance,” it simply read.

Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich, a prominent campaigner for the successful ‘yes’ vote in 2017, said: “Letting a politically irrelevant blow-in fill your vacated shoes is a sad legacy to leave after 40 years of service.”

While Nile’s controversial comments about gay people grabbed the lion’s share of publicity surrounding the man, other groups were also targeted by the right-wing campaigner. In March 2007, he called for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to Australia. He has also targeted environmentalists, illicit drug users and neopagans. 

Nile’s retirement announcement comes after a tumultuous two years within the Christian Democrats. Last September, the NSW Electoral Commission warned it was considering deregistering the party for having fewer than 500 members.

Internal conflict within the party became apparent in the same month when then party treasurer Charles Knox launched legal action against Nile, his wife and others, accusing them of fraudulently claiming more than $100,000 in party funds for their own benefit.

Mediation in November saw a caretaker board installed, before a new board was elected in December. 

The affair saw Nile briefly locked out of his own offices by opposing factions within the party.