This is a transcript of the video message from Meredith Doig. Watch the full video below or here on our YouTube channel.
Hello again from me, Meredith Doig. I’m president of the Rationalist Society of Australia.
I hope you’ve had a relaxing break and are looking forward to an energised, and energising, 2023 – get stuck into a new year.
And there is some hope on the horizon, with a more progressive government in Canberra, with Trump, hopefully seemingly on the skids, and with Boris Johnson replaced with, at least, what seems to be an adult in the room.
Here at the Rationalist Society, in the new year we’re going to be doubling our efforts to reclaim Australia as a genuinely secular country, and, hopefully, continue to roll back the years of accumulated privilege that’s been gained by institutionalised religion in this country.
We’ve just released the third in our landmark Religiosity in Australia series. This one focuses on religion and politics.
Most politicians seem to think that there’s some sort of ‘religious vote’ out there that they have to pander to. Well, this report shows that, in fact, they’re wrong and that what most people think of as a religious vote is, in fact, guess what, more of an economic vote – that is, voters responding to the age-old hip-pocket nerve.
In 2023, this year, we’ll be continuing to pressure changes to the National School Chaplaincy Program, which has, quite recently, been renamed the National School Wellbeing Program.
The Albanese government opened up the funding to non-religious people. Well, that sounds good. However, what they haven’t done is change the way that the states distribute that money, which is through third-party providers.
And, guess what, nearly all of those third-party providers are religious organisations – mostly Christian organisations.
And we’ve written to them – we’ve asked them, we’ve pressured them: ‘Will you employ non-religious people?’ Answer: no they won’t. So, in fact, things won’t change very much for schools on the ground, even if they do want to take advantage of the funding now available to non-religious people.
Another thing that we will be focusing on this year is a campaign for truth in political advertising.
With the campaign for an Indigenous Voice to parliament later this year, we do fear that there will be a huge increase in ‘FUD’ – fear, uncertainty and doubt – as well as deliberate misinformation and disinformation.
So we’ve already said that we’ll be supporting Zali Steggall’s proposed legislation, private member’s bill, for truth in political advertising. And I think this is going to be a real touchpoint for 2023.
In some good news, our campaign to replace prayers in parliaments and councils really heated up in the latter half of last year, and we’ll be continuing this year to push for a replacement of the antiquated and, frankly, quite offensive religious prayer rituals in parliaments and in councils – replace that with something which is more reflective of and respectful of the much more multicultural nature of Australia that we are now.
We’ve almost completed a project that we’ve been working on for the last couple of years with the Victorian Humanists. This is a project to write a curriculum for Years 9 and 10 on secular humanism.
Did you know that the Australian curriculum says, and I quote: “Australia is a secular nation with a culturally diverse, multi-faith society and a Christian heritage.”
Now, I probably wouldn’t argue with too much of that. But, of course, it doesn’t go far enough, because it’s not the whole truth. It fails to recognise the nearly 40 per cent of Australians who deliberately have identified as non-religious in the last Census.
And there’s very little in the Australian curriculum to teach kids about secular humanism as an alternative to religious worldviews. So we’ll be seeking to plug that gap.
And we’ll be pushing for better transparency in in the charities law for organisations called ‘basic religious charities’, who at the moment, and as a result of religious lobbying in the past, do not have to report any financial statement to the charities regulator at all.
And, finally, we’ll be also pushing to get blasphemy laws and the offence of blasphemy off the books in Australia. It’s remarkable that they still exist. But we’ve been writing to ministers to try to change that state of affairs.
Talking about charities, the next in our Religiosity in Australia series will be focusing on just that – religion and charities, charitable giving and volunteering.
A lot of people tend to think that religious people tend to donate more and tend to volunteer more. Certainly, Andrew Leigh, the charities minister, has said as much in consultations that he’s been doing recently around the country.
Our forthcoming report confirms that this is the case – that, indeed, religious people tend to donate more and tend to volunteer more. But – and this is a big but – who do they donate to? And who do they volunteer for?
The answer, as you’ll see in our forthcoming report, is: they tend to donate to their own religious denominations, and they tend to volunteer for their own religious denominations – not to other good causes, but, basically, they donate and volunteer to themselves.
Just by way of example, in the lead-up to Christmas the Australian Christian Lobby sent out emails once a week for five weeks, urging their followers to donate, citing a so-called funding gap of nearly two-and-a-half million dollars.
Over the weeks the gap reduced $2 million, then to $800,000, and then to $783,000. And, even two days before the end of the year, they were still sending emails asking their followers to close that gap of $783,000.
Extraordinary! No wonder then, as you’ll read in the next Religiosity in Australia series that focuses on religion and charities, that report finds that 54 per cent of religious donors feel coerced into donating.
It’s a very different situation for non-religious voters. Only about 10 per cent of non-religious voters report feeling pressured into donating.
But, look, coerced or not, the sheer amount of money that organisations seeking to “oppose ungodly legislation” and to “deliver God’s word to homes across Australia” – the sheer amount of money, the war chest that they have accumulated it’s in the millions of dollars. So please consider balancing up the ledger a bit.
Let me ask you directly to do two things for us in the early part of this year. Please speak about the Rationalist Society to friends, urge them to subscribe for free. Or if they’re so inclined to join us as a paid-up member, that would be fantastic.
Or consider supporting us with just a small monthly donation – $10, $15, $25. If you can do that, at least we will perhaps balance up the ledger a bit with our opponents.
And I can assure you that all that money goes directly to our campaigns. Those of us who are on the board, we’re all volunteers. We’re not paid. We do this for free.
So, with that, can I wish you all the very best for 2023. And in particular for those people in the rest of the world who are facing terrible violence, particularly those in Ukraine, let’s hope that this year is, increasingly, a year of peace.
That’s all from me for now. And I look forward to hearing from you during the year. Thanks very much. Bye for now.