RSA Webinars

We hold monthly RSA Webinars with guest speakers exploring important topical issues from a rationalist perspective.

This year, we’re holding webinars on the fourth Wednesday of each month via Zoom. Registration is essential. Each webinar begins at 7.30pm and goes for one hour. Audience members have a chance to raise questions as part of a Q&A section following the guest speaker’s presentation.

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Coming up next:

Census: The rise of ‘no religion’ and the campaign for more accurate data

The release of the 2021 Census results by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed the continued rapid rise in people identifying as not religious.

In this webinar, Michael Dove and Neil Francis will present on what the latest figures say about religious affiliation and the rise of ‘no religion’.

Mr Dove, the spokesperson for the ‘Census21 – Not Religious?’ campaign, will speak about what the campaign will do next, including advocating for more accurate data and lobbying for a fairer go for non-religious people.

Mr Francis, an RSA Fellow and author of the ‘Religiosity in Australia’ series, will speak on why the latest census results are still misleading. He will also discuss implications for policy and funding, and how the trend away from religious affiliation relates to the decline of religious conservative parties. 

When: Wed 24 Aug 2022 7:30pm
Where: Watch via Zoom
Duration: 1 hour

Previous webinars

Wed 27 Jul 2022 7:30pm
Making our public schools secular

Across the country, state governments continue to allow religious missionaries to take over the classrooms of public schools and disrupt valuable teaching and learning time under the guise of religious instruction programs – or ‘scripture’. 

In this webinar, Jack Galvin Waight, Regional Organiser for the New South Wales Teachers Federation, will present on the ongoing influence of and interference by religious interests in the public education system, especially regarding Special Religious Education (SRE) in New South Wales.

He will also discuss more broadly the history and politics of religion in public schools, including the issue of taxpayer-funded religious chaplaincy, and the implications for secular education in Australia.

Mr Galvin Waight is the author of the new report, Teaching not preaching: Making our public schools secular. The NSW Teachers Federation believes that public education should always be free and secular.

Wed 22 Jun 2022 7:30pm
The need for a new model of wellbeing support in Defence

Demographics are shifting rapidly in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The majority of service personnel now identify as not religious. Yet the frontline wellbeing support provided for Navy, Army and Air Force personnel remains religious-based chaplaincy.

The former head of Navy chaplaincy, Collin Acton OAM, is leading the push for reform. Shortly before retiring, the ex-Christian, who became a humanist during his time in the military, successfully spearheaded the introduction of a non-religious welfare officer position in Navy’s Chaplaincy Branch.

It was a small but necessary step toward Navy providing better support for its people. But, with Army and Air Force so far failing to follow suit, retired Principal Chaplain Acton believes the continued dominance of religious-based chaplaincy risks becoming increasingly divisive and irrelevant.

In this RSA webinar, retired Principal Chaplain Acton will outline the need for reform and share his vision for a new secular wellbeing support capability.

Also joining the webinar will be Phillip Hoglin CSC, a former Colonel in the Australian Army and Defence statistician, who will share his insights into the changing demographics of the ADF.

Wed 11 May 2022 7:30pm
The momentum for truth in political advertising laws

In most elections in Australia, political candidates and parties can deploy deliberately deceptive and misleading advertising without facing legal penalties.

While this has troubling consequences for democracy in what has increasingly become a ‘post-truth’ era, policymakers have multiple options available to them to increase truthfulness in election campaigns.

For this RSA Webinar, Bill Browne will present on how momentum is gathering pace in many jurisdictions for political advertising reforms and what may happen at the federal level in the next term of parliament.

Mr Browne is Senior Researcher in the Democracy and Accountability Program at The Australia Institute. He authored the 2019 report We can handle the truth: Opportunities for truth in political advertising.

He will also share his insights on the current laws operating in the ACT and South Australia, and discuss the challenges of legislating for truth in political advertising.

Wed 23 Mar 2022 7:30pm
Misinformation and the rise of new extremes in Australia

Amidst an ‘infodemic’ of false or misleading information in the online domain, Australia has witnessed in recent years a rise in far-right politics, conspiracy thinking and movements such as QAnon and militant wellness.

Dr Vivian Gerrand shared insights from her research into these forms of radicalisation, providing an understanding of the grievances underpinning them, the scale of the challenge that they pose to society, and what can be done to counter them.

Dr Gerrand is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University. She was a chief investigator on the Horizon 2020 Building Resilience to Violent Extremism and Polarisation (2019-21) Project.

Wed 23 Feb 2022 7:30pm
Providing better mental health support for schoolchildren

With children having to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis and the global pandemic, on top of relationship and bullying issues in the age of social media, policymakers are increasingly concerned about mental health in our younger generations.

Guest speaker educational psychologist Dr Marilyn Campbell from the Queensland University of Technology discussed the mental health challenges facing schoolchildren today.

She provided an update on how governments have responded to the challenges and shared her views on how Australia could do better at supporting children in schools, including through changes to the National School Chaplaincy Program.

Dr Campbell is also media spokesperson for Australian Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools.

Wed 24 Nov 2021 7:30pm
Advancing the right to die with dignity

Guest speakers Dr Nick Carr and Penny Hackett presented on the journey of reform since the Victorian parliament legalised voluntary assisted dying in 2017 and on the path ahead, with final hurdles remaining in New South Wales and the territories.

The webinar was held as a tribute to the late Dr Rodney Syme. It reflected on the significant reforms that have been achieved in Australia because of the activism of passionate people like Dr Syme.

Dr Carr is a Victorian GP and honorary clinical senior lecturer in the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne. He is actively involved with providing VAD care. He is a board member of Dying with Dignity Victoria.

Ms Hackett is president of Dying With Dignity New South Wales, which is one of the leading campaigners for the legalisation of VAD in the state. A finance lawyer by background, she has devoted much of the past four years to advocating for VAD in New South Wales and other states. 

Wed 27 Oct 2021 7:30pm
Unpacking the ‘religious freedom’ agenda

Guest speakers Rev. Dr Elenie Poulos and Professor Marion Maddox two of Australia’s leading researchers working at the intersection of religion and politics shared their insights into the people, groups and ideas driving this ‘religious freedom’ agenda in Australian politics.

Dr Poulos is an ordained minister in the Uniting Church. She recently published her PhD dissertation on The politics of belief: the rise of religious freedom in Australia.

Professor Maddox is an academic at Macquarie University. She is author of titles including God Under Howard: The Rise of The Religious Right in Australian Politics and Taking God to School: The End of Australia’s Egalitarian Education.

Wed 22 Sep 2021 7:30pm
The limits to freedom of speech during a time of crisis

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to implement measures to protect public health compromised many of the civil liberties that we would normally take for granted.

Margaret Simons, an award-winning journalist, author, political biographer and journalism academic, presented on the extent that civil liberties could or must be compromised during a crisis, while balancing the demands of the collective with the right to individual autonomy.

She also shared her views about the rights and responsibilities of the press and social media in the transformed media landscape now dominated by the tech giants.

Wed 25 Aug 2021 12:00am
How societal actors are stepping up to fight for a sustainable future

Brendan Liveris, a sustainability manager with expertise in industry, presented on the role of societal actors in stepping up their efforts to combat climate change.

Mr Liveris gave insights into some of the positive work that businesses, investors, governments and individuals were already doing – and could do more of – to help the planet avoid the worst-case climate predictions.

He is also Treasurer of the Rationalist Society of Australia.

Wed 28 Jul 2021 12:00am
The census and religion – Giving more Australians the freedom to choose

Michael Dove, leader of the ‘Census21 – Not Religious? Mark ‘No Religion’’ campaign, presented on the census religion question and new initiatives that would make it easier for people to exercise their freedom to choose their religion or to choose ‘no religion’ at the August 2021 census.

He also provided updates about the progress of the Census21 campaign and what it hoped to achieve.

Wed 30 Jun 2021 12:00am
The religious devouts and their political clout

RSA Fellow Neil Francis presented on the findings of his ‘Religiosity in Australia’ report.

He gave some great insights into Australians’ real relationship with religion and into the views of conservative religious clerics and lobbyists in comparison with the views of most religionists.

He also examined the widely held belief that a ‘religious vote’ played a key role in determining the 2019 federal election.

Wed 26 May 2021 12:00am
Lessons from Tasmania’s journey to legalising VAD

With the push for voluntary assisted dying (VAD)  heating up in several states in early 2021, Mike Gaffney, the Independent MLC for Mersey in Tasmania, presented on the lessons he learnt during the experience of legalising the end-of-life option in his home state.

Mr Gaffney’s End of Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020 successfully passed through the Tasmanian parliament in March 2021.

Wed 28 Apr 2021 12:00am
Challenging religious discrimination in government chaplaincy programs

Governments fund and operate a number of chaplaincy programs in Australia, including school chaplains, hospital chaplains and military chaplains.

Dr Luke Beck, a constitutional law expert at Monash University, presented on the unnecessary religious discrimination built into government chaplaincy programs.

Dr Beck is also Vice-President of the Rationalist Society of Australia.