The New South Wales Labor government appears to have excluded non-religious citizens on the grounds of belief from a new advisory body that will influence government policy on a wide range of matters.
Although multicultural minister Steve Kamper previously told the Rationalist Society of Australia that he would ensure that “a diversity of viewpoints” were represented on the new Faith Affairs Council, the government this month has placed a number of religious requirements for the nomination process.
In a media release published last week, Mr Kamper (pictured) said the 16-member body would consist of representatives who were from “both larger and smaller religious communities” and would “reflect the religious diversity of NSW”.
Nominations for membership are subject to a number of religious requirements, including “endorsement by their respective religious organisations” and endorsement by two other religious communities.
The measures appear designed to block members from the fastest section of the community – non-religious people, including atheists, humanists and ex-religionists – from participating.
The media release also said that the government had sent invitations to more than 260 religious community stakeholders.
A statement on the Multicultural NSW website said nominations must be submitted no later than 5pm on Friday 22 September 2023.
In opposition last year, the Minns Labor Party promised faith communities that it would establish an advisory body with privileged access policy makers and empowered to be a “solutions warehouse”.
Mr Kamper told Catholic media that the advisory body would advise on issues such as “objections to euthanasia/voluntary assisted dying, and religious discrimination”. He also said the body would “have a role in overseeing the success of any such initiatives”, including “additional funding for chaplaincy”.
Earlier this year, the RSA warned Labor that the proposed Faith Affairs Council could privilege the already powerful voices of religious clerics even further in policy making and marginalise the voices of non-religious citizens.
In a letter to Mr Kamper and Premier Chris Minns in April, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig asked how the state government would ensure equal access to representatives of all worldviews, whether they be religious, non-religious or ex-religious people.
In reply, Mr Kamper said the New South Wales government “provides and promotes opportunities for all individuals…to contribute and participate in all aspects of public life and NSW Government activities and programs.”
Since then, the One Nation Party has been pressuring the Minns government to deliver on its promise to faith communities.
Dr Doig said the exclusion of non-religious voices from such an important body was discriminatory and showed a disregard for the rights of non-religious citizens and their contribution to the community.
“Compared to non-religious citizens, religious organisations already have extraordinary levels of access to politicians and policymakers in New South Wales and in Australia more broadly,” she said.
“Mr Kamper and Premier Minns need to explain to non-religious people, ex-religionists and the many people who have suffered trauma and abuse at the hands of religious organisations why Labor thinks religious organisations need even more influence over government policy.
“Labor talks a lot about its support for multiculturalism, but it doesn’t seem to include non-religious people in that picture.”
At the 2021 Census, the percentage of people identifying as not religious in New South Wales surged to 33.2 percent – up from 25.5 per cent in 2016. That figure would likely be much higher if it were not for the biased nature of the Census question that assumed all respondents had a religion – a problem acknowledged by the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier this year.
Si Gladman is Campaign & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.
Image: Steve Kamper (Facebook)