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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.

To be the first to be notified of upcoming webinars, subscribe to the RSA Daily or become a member of the RSA.

Coming up next:

Secularism in the UK: Cutting ties with the state church

As Christianity continues its decline in the United Kingdom and fewer people fill the pews, the case to disestablish the Church of England and remove its privileges as the state religion is gathering momentum.

At the RSA Webinar, Stephen Evans, the chief executive of the UK’s National Secular Society, will present on the entanglement of church and state in his country, and recent developments in the campaign for disestablishment.

He will speak on why it is time to cut symbolic and institutional ties with the church, such as by ending the bishops’ automatic right to seats in the legislature, removing laws requiring Christian worship in schools, and doing away with the head of state’s title of ‘Defender of the Faith’.

Stephen is a regular media commentator on religion’s role in public life.

When: Wed 28 Feb 2024 7:30pm
Where: Watch via Zoom
Duration: 1 hour

Previous webinars

Wed 25 Oct 2023 7:30pm
Referendum roadblock: How to modernise our ‘frozen’ Constitution

In 1967, Professor Geoffrey Sawer described Australia’s Constitution as ‘frozen’. With the failure of the Voice referendum, only eight proposals from 45 attempts have been successful. Given there have been no changes at all in half a century, is the current mechanism for making changes fit for purpose?

At this RSA Webinar, Dr Benjamin T. Jones, of Central Queensland University, will present on the historic difficulties passing a referendum and explore common issues from the defeats. He will also discuss how the process could be modernised to make changes to the Constitution possible in the future.

He is Senior Lecturer in History, specialising in Australian political history. He is the author of a number of publications, including Australia on the World Stage (2022), History in a Post-Truth World: Theory and Praxis (2020), and This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future (2018).

He is a life member of the Australian Republic Movement and is currently a member of its National Committee.

Wed 27 Sep 2023 7:30pm
Media responses to Australia’s increasing non-religiosity

The release of 2021 Census figures showing the continued surge in Australians identifying as not religious sparked much mainstream media discussion about the trend and what it meant for the future of the country. 

At this RSA Webinar, Dr Rebecca Banham, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Tasmania, will share insights into her research on the media’s responses to non-religion in Australia, especially against the backdrop of increasing challenge to historical Christian privilege. 

Dr Banham will explore various assumptions and misconceptions underpinning views about non-religious Australia.

It will be a timely discussion, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics having recently proposed changing the religion question for the 2026 Census to remove the bias that has overstated the religion result. Regardless of changes to the question, ‘No Religion’ is expected to overtake Christianity for the first time at the next Census.

Wed 23 Aug 2023 7:30pm
How understanding audiences can counter science denialism

Countering misinformation and the rejection of science has proven to be a serious challenge for policymakers on issues such as climate change and COVID-19. But new research that provides insights into how people perceive and respond to such topics could open the way for science to be communicated more effectively.

At this RSA Webinar, Dr Lucy Richardson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, will share insights from her research into audience acceptance and rejection of the science regarding climate and vaccines, including findings of cross-issue differences in science skepticism.

Dr Richardson will also present on the implications of this research for designing effective messaging to address misinformation and encourage societal action. Her research was co-published with Jagadish Thaker and David C. Holmes in the science journal Nature here.

Wed 28 Jun 2023 7:30pm
Basic Religious Charities: The case for more transparency

Ensuring public transparency was a fundamental principle underpinning the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) when it was established in 2012. The new agency was charged with enhancing “public trust and confidence” in the not-for-profit sector. Yet, at the eleventh hour, the legislation that established the ACNC included a special carveout for ‘Basic Religious Charities’ (BRCs), exempting them from the standard financial reporting and governance expectations.

At this RSA Webinar, Dr Philip Saj, Visiting Scholar at The Business School at the University of Adelaide, will share insights from his comprehensive research into BRCs – registered charities that qualify for charitable status for the purpose of ‘advancing religion’.

Dr Saj will present highlights from his working paper, which goes into the number of BRCs, their sizes and the range of their activities. He will also speak about the origin of the concept of BRCs and address the arguments put forward by their proponents.

Wed 26 Apr 2023 7:30pm
The deep roots to the re-emergence of extremism

In recent weeks, right-wing extremism has spilled onto the streets of Australian capitals, with neo-Nazis appearing on the steps of Victoria’s parliament and conservative Catholics intimidating citizens in Sydney’s suburbs.

In this RSA Webinar, Dr Josh Roose, author of The New Demagogues: Religion, Masculinity and the Populist Epoch, will present on the re-emergence of extremism and political populism in Australia and other Western countries.

He will explore the deep roots to the problem, including increasing economic dislocation, the rise of ‘ideological masculinity’, the return to textualism in Christianity and impact of social media, and what can be done in response.

Dr Roose is a political sociologist and Associate Professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University.

Wed 22 Mar 2023 7:30pm
How religious instruction undermines public education

Despite increasing controversy in recent years over the presence of religious instruction classes in state schools, some Australian states continue to allow missionaries into state school classrooms during school hours to deliver lessons in religious doctrine.

In this RSA Webinar, Dr Jennifer Bleazby will present on current Religious Instruction (RI)/Special Religious Education (SRE) laws and policies operating across the country.

She will also discuss how the methods of indoctrination used in the programs undermine fundamental education aims and raise problems for schools as they seek to help children to navigate disinformation, conspiratorial thinking and science denialism in a ‘post-truth’ world.

Dr Bleazby is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University. She is also a recipient of an RSA Research Grant.

The webinar will also provide updates on what the situation is with RI in Queensland and SRE in New South Wales.

Wed 22 Feb 2023 7:30pm
Growing inequality and segregation in our education system

The overfunding of private schools and the widening of the resource gap between private and public schools are driving large disparities between rich and poor, and increasing inequalities in educational outcomes in Australia.

At this RSA Webinar, Chris Bonnor, an established author on public education and schools funding, will share his insights into what changes can be made to the education system to improve student outcomes and reduce social segregation.

Bonnor will also discuss the lack of progress of Gonski reforms and vested interests that have stifled progress. In 2022, he published his latest book, ‘Waiting for Gonski: How Australia failed its schools’, with co-author Tom Greenwell.

In the book, the pair propose fully funding private schools and allowing them to maintain their religious ethos on conditions including that they do not charge fees and that they become open to all students – a model similar to that of New Zealand. The model has been controversial among some who advocate for a fully secular public education system and oppose government funding of private schools.

Wed 23 Nov 2022 7:30pm
The costs of cutting: Circumcision in modern Australia

The incorrect and fraudulent claiming of Medicare rebates for male circumcision performed for non-clinical reasons could be costing Australian taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

In this RSA Webinar, Jonathan Meddings, human rights advocate and author of the new book, ‘The Final Cut: The Truth about Circumcision’, discusses the prevalence of cosmetic circumcision in Australia and concerns about Medicare fraud enabling circumcision for social, cultural and religious reasons.

He also speaks about the harms of male circumcision and the many arguments – from health, social, aesthetic, legal, religious and moral perspectives – that continue to be used in support of the practice.

Jonathan is the Chair of The Darbon Institute, a charity working to protect and promote everyone’s right to bodily integrity and autonomy in Australia and New Zealand. He is also a former Vice President and board member of the Rationalist Society of Australia.

Wed 26 Oct 2022 7:30pm
Replacing prayer rituals: The push for more welcoming institutions

Across Australia, momentum is building for local councils and parliaments to replace exclusionary prayer rituals with practices that are more secular, inclusive and representative of the community’s religious and non-religious diversity.

In this webinar, two elected representatives – one from the New South Wales Parliament and another from a Victorian council – will discuss their ongoing efforts to replace Christian prayer rituals as part of the official proceedings of their respective government institutions.

Abigail Boyd MLC, a Greens member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, will speak about her push to replace prayers with a moment of silence for individual reflection or prayer.

Councillor Jodi Reynolds will speak about developments on the issue at the Mildura Rural City Council, where the council is in the process of drafting a more inclusive affirmation for council’s consideration.

Wed 24 Aug 2022 7:30pm
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. 

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.