New South Wales Premier Chris Minns and senior members of his government have thrown their support behind the establishment of a new religious lobby that has evolved out of an existing group whose work focused on entrenching scripture classes in public schools.
Earlier this month, the Premier and cabinet colleagues including Jihad Dib and Steve Kamper spoke at the launch of ‘Faith NSW’, described online as a new peak body to advocate the “common interests” of the state’s faith groups.
Several reports on niche news websites and religious sites describe Faith NSW as being “also known as Better Balanced Futures”. Faith NSW’s new Chief Executive Officer is Murray Norman, who is also the head of Better Balanced Futures.
According to its website, Better Balanced Futures is “committed to engaging with and educating families, parents, communities and carers about the provision and access to Special Religious Education (SRE) in our public schools”.
The development comes at a time when public opposition to SRE is growing, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting recently that a number of education sector stakeholders are calling for an independent review of SRE as the program is forcing thousands of students across the state to miss out on crucial learning time.
Earlier this year, the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) revealed that Christian missionaries were teaching creationism in SRE classes and that Muslim groups were teaching children about “hellfire” and warning them to not “compromise or change your identity”.
More than 200 faith leaders attended a launch and gala dinner for Faith NSW on 3 October, where Mr Minns reportedly told the audience that New South Wales was “enriched by our vibrant multi-faith communities”.
It is not clear how Faith NSW will work in conjunction with the Minns government’s new Faith Affairs Council – the membership of which is yet to be publicly announced.
As the RSA reported last month, Sydney Atheists’ Steve Marton has nominated himself for a position on the new Faith Affairs Council. The RSA and a Christian minister endorsed Mr Marton’s application.
Despite having promised earlier this year that a “diversity of viewpoints” would be represented on the advisory body, the Minns government has instead required that nominees meet a number of religious requirements.
The RSA has not been able to confirm whether the event attended by faith leaders was used to launch the government’s new Faith Affairs Council. Cameron Murphy, a Labor politician who attended the event, later, in a speech to parliament, said he had been “fortunate to attend an important event, the NSW Faith Affairs Council dinner and launch”.
Si Gladman is Campaign & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.
Image: Chris Minns (Facebook)