Atheist leader calls for transparency over work of NSW Faith Affairs Council

Si Gladman / 15 February 2024

The atheist community leader blocked from a position on the New South Wales Faith Affairs Council is calling for transparency of the body’s deliberations and recommendations to the government.

In an interview for the latest episode of The Secular Agenda podcast, Steve Marton (pictured), president of Sydney Atheists, said the government should provide full transparency of the Faith Affairs Council’s work.

“I’d like to see government being honest and respectful enough of the community to allow the community to see what this group of 19 people are talking about, what they’re deciding how they’re deciding it, rather than it being a close-door event,” he said.

Listen to the podcast episode here on our website.

“It should be transparent, shouldn’t it. Their deliberations should be transparent, and I suspect they won’t be because I suspect the conversations will be awkward.

“But there should be transparency. It’s a government appointed body. They’re making recommendations to government; they’ve got the ear of government. Everybody should know what’s going on.”

The Rationalist Society of Australia has not yet received a response from the Faith Affairs Council on whether it will call on the government to expand the advisory body to create a position for Mr Marton.

In December, the RSA wrote to each member of the Faith Affairs Council, asking them to help overturn the religious-based discrimination in the government’s decision to block non-religious and ex-religious representation.

In the podcast episode, Mr Marton said he was not holding out hope for an invitation to the body.

“Every member had an opportunity to reply to you, and yet they have not. And their defence could be, ‘Oh, we’d like to respond as a group.’ But I suspect that’s not the way it’s going to go. I suspect that their silence has spoken very loudly,” he said.

In parliament last week, the government responded to a question about concerns over the suitability of Islamic representative Imam Shadi Alsuleiman, who, according to The Australian, has preached inflammatory views on homosexuality.

In the Legislative Council, Mark Buttigieg said multiculturalism minister Steve Kamper has “every confidence in the ability of Imam Shadi Alsuleiman to carry out these functions on behalf of his community.”

He also said the Faith Affairs Council would allow different religions “to debate each other on a wide range of issues and provide the Government with a single voice”.

“Although we don’t agree with everything that members of the NSW Faith Affairs Council say and have said, the point is whether they carry out their duties effectively and thoroughly by the remit of the council,” he said.

The government has provided the Faith Affairs Council with direct access to government ministers and has promised that it could advise on additional state funding for chaplaincy programs and matters including “objections to euthanasia/voluntary assisted dying”, and religious discrimination laws.

Follow our campaigns on discrimination and human rights, including relating to the New South Wales Faith Affairs Council, here on our website.

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Si Gladman is the Campaigns & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

All the more reason.