New South Wales’ multiculturalism minister has asserted that all citizens have opportunities to participate in all aspects of public life, but has been unable to detail how the Perrottet government would provide non-religious groups with equal access to policy-making as religious organisations.
In response to concerns raised by the Rationalist Society of Australia about the new Religious Communities Advisory Council and the potential for further marginalising of non-religious voices, multiculturalism minister Mark Coure (pictured) said the government had “a range of mechanisms to engage and consult” different communities.
While the 15-member Religious Communities Advisory Council would provide faith communities with “stronger engagement” with the Liberal government, Mr Coure did not address the question of how non-religious groups could enjoy equal recognition.
According to a state government website, the advisory council’s work would be guided by the ‘Multicultural Principles’ set out in the state’s Multiculturalism Act (2000). However, as we noted in a letter to Mr Coure and Premier Dominic Perrottet in early February, the principles in the Act emphasise the inclusion of all people.
In her letter, RSA president Dr Doig raised concerns about the further privileging of the already influential religious voices in policy-making compared to non-religious citizens who now make up 33.2 per cent of the state’s population. She urged the government to expand the advisory council to include representation from non-religious groups, such as atheists, humanists and rationalists.
In his letter in reply (see below), Mr Coure said his agency, Multicultural NSW, existed to serve all citizens of New South Wales.
“The NSW Government provides and promotes opportunities for all individuals in New South Wales to contribute and participate in all aspects of public life and NSW Government activities and programs,” he wrote.
He said the other mechanisms providing opportunity for all citizens to participate in public life included the Multicultural NSW Advisory Board and the Regional Engagement Program (REP). However, neither this advisory board nor the program appear to offer permanent opportunities for groups to provide specifically non-religious viewpoints to the government on issues of concern to their communities.
The RSA has not received a reply from the Labor opposition, which has promised faith leaders it would deliver an even better faith advisory body which, according to leader Chris Minns, would give them “a strong advocate within a Minns Labor Government and our decision making process”.
Image: Mark Coure MP (Facebook)
Letter from New South Wales multiculturalism minister Mark Coure
Dear Dr Doig,
Thank you for your correspondence of 2 February 2023 regarding the recently established NSW Religious Communities Advisory Council.
The NSW Government provides and promotes opportunities for all individuals in New South Wales to contribute and participate in all aspects of public life and NSW Government activities and programs.
The Multicultural NSW Act 2000 recognises that the people of New South Wales are of different cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds, and my agency supports a range of mechanisms to engage and consult communities on this basis.
As one of those mechanisms, the NSW Religious Communities Advisory Council is established as a formal consultative body to the NSW Government on issues of interest and concern to the religious communities of New South Wales. Other mechanisms, such as the Multicultural NSW Advisory Board and the recently launched state-wide Regional Engagement Program (REP) aim to provide opportunities for all communities to engage with Multicultural NSW and the NSW Government.
Multicultural NSW exists for all the people of New South Wales and I welcome anyone with an interest in promoting cultural diversity and community harmony getting involved with the agency.
Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to the Government’s attention.
The Hon. Mark Coure MP
Minister for Multiculturalism
Minister for Seniors