The New South Wales government has pledged to ensure “a diversity of viewpoints” will be represented on its new Faith Advisory Council.
In a letter to the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) (see letter below), multiculturalism minister Steve Kamper has sought to allay concerns that the new body – which was an election commitment – could be dominated by clerics whose views differ from the public and even from the majority of their own congregations.
“The NSW Government will be making further announcements on how the NSW Faith Affairs Council will operate in due course. Certainly, ensuring a diversity of viewpoints will be a key consideration in terms of the composition of the Council’s membership,” said Mr Kamper (pictured).
The RSA has warned that the Faith Advisory 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.
She also asked how the government would ensure that a wide range of views were represented from within faith communities.
In her letter, Dr Doig also noted that, at a meeting of faith leaders in late February, Mr Minns said NSW was “proudly multicultural and proudly multifaith” and had argued that his party supported “egalitarianism in creating a society in which everyone has equal access to opportunity.”
In his response, Mr Kamper reaffirmed the commitment to inclusiveness, saying: “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.”
Dr Doig also raised concerns about the possibility of vocal clerical leaders dominating proceedings of the body.
Mr Kamper will oversee the development of the new Faith Advisory Council, which will replace an existing body of religious representatives that advised the former Perrottet government.
Late last year, Mr Kamper told Catholic media that the new body would provide a “solutions warehouse” and a direct link to government for religious organisations to 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”.
In March this year, then Opposition Leader Chris Minns told a gathering of faith leaders that Mr Kamper would “act as a single point of contact for the faith communities within the government” and represent the views of religious organisations “at the highest levels of decision making in the state”.
In an interview for Sydney Criminal Lawyers last month, Dr Doig said most citizens of New South Wales, including most religious people, would be deeply concerned if the Minns government gave a handful of religious clerics greater levels of influence over government policymaking.
“In the Religiosity in Australia research series, social researcher Neil Francis has shown that significant majorities of mainstream religious people support social reforms that are opposed by the faith leaders who claim to represent them. For example, the vast majority of Catholics in Australia support same-sex marriage, safe and legal access to abortion and voluntary assisted dying,” she said.
In his response, Mr Kamper also responded to the RSA’s call for the Minns government to replace Christian worship in parliament with secular and more inclusive practices – see our earlier report.
Image: Steve Kamper (Facebook)
Letter from Minister Steve Kamper, 19 May 2023
Dear Dr Doig,
Thank you for your correspondence of 12 April 2023 regarding the establishment of a NSW Faith Affairs 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 NSW Government will be making further announcements on how the NSW Faith Affairs Council will operate in due course. Certainly, ensuring a diversity of viewpoints will be a key consideration in terms of the composition of the Council’s membership.
Your question about the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the NSW Parliament is a matter for the Parliament. On a somewhat related matter, I was proud to be sworn in as Minister alongside Cabinet colleagues who are of diverse religious affiliations and no religious affiliation.
Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to the Government’s attention.
The Hon Steve Kamper MP
Minister for Small Business
Minister for Lands and Property
Minister for Multiculturalism
Minister for Sport