Secular reform of the military should be a top priority for the new parliament

Si Gladman / 31 May 2022

Our top priority for the new parliament is to secure for our Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel secular pastoral care and wellbeing support.

Today, we’re announcing our top priorities for secular change during the term of the new federal parliament, which is set to begin within weeks.

Our priority list is as follows:

  • Religion in the military: The ADF needs to make broad secular institutional reform and make a rapid transition to a modern wellbeing support capability. Find out more on our campaign page here.
  • School chaplaincy: If Labor insists in continuing with the program – as it says it will – it must remove outsourcing arrangements and the inherent religious-based discrimination in the program. Find out more on our campaign page here.
  • Taxation and religion: The government must reform the charity tax system so that tax-exempt status goes to institutions, religious or not, that perform charitable works benefiting the wider community. Find out more on our campaign page here.
  • Prayers in government: The parliament must replace the Christian prayer rituals that are part of its official proceedings with something more inclusive. Find out more on our campaign page here.

Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig said, of all the secular reforms needed in the new term of parliament, few were as pressing or would have as much effect on vulnerable people’s lives than secular reform of the ADF.

The military’s religious-based pastoral care and wellbeing support in Navy, Army and Air Force is failing service personnel.

“It’s simply not good enough,” said Dr Doig.

“When the health and wellbeing of our service personnel are at stake, as highlighted by the current Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, the Albanese government simply must address this issue.

“We will lobby the responsible minister and work hard to raise this issue with minor parties and the crossbench.”

Although 60 per cent of all ADF personnel and 80 per cent of new recruits are not religious, Army and Air Force maintain an exclusively religious-based model of frontline support for its personnel, while Navy has taken initial steps to offer secular support in addition to their religious support.

As heard in evidence to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal (DFRT) in 2020, many service personnel feel uncomfortable talking to religious chaplains about their problems. This places a barrier to these people getting the care they need.

The DFRT heard that the exclusively religious-based model of wellbeing support is failing to meet the needs of personnel and new forms of support should be designed to better match service personnel’s mostly non-religious worldview, particularly for new recruits.

The former head of Navy’s chaplaincy branch, retired principal chaplain Collin Acton, says maintaining the religious-based model of care risks becoming “increasingly divisive and irrelevant” to the majority of ADF personnel.

With the Albanese government having promised to push ahead with a revised version of the Religious Discrimination Bill, we will be having more to say about this issue in coming days. 

Find out more about all of our other campaign areas here.

If you want to support our work, please make a donation or become a member.

Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Photo:  Commonwealth of Australia / Department of Defence

All the more reason.