Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? .
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 20 June 1785
The word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time. In George Holyoake's coining of the term, he noted that secularism wasn't an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it. "Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."
It is not, as commonly assumed, anti-religious, rather it is non-religious. A secular position is to have 'no comment' to make on religion. In terms of the state, a secular position argues for a clear separation of church and state. Religious people, particularly those who are respectful of other faiths, and wish to avoid state-sanctioned bigotry, can also be secular in this manner. Thus one can indeed be a secular Christian, a secular Buddhist, a secular Muslim etc.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is open to all people who support our principles:
1. To promote the principle of the separation of Church and State and equality for all institutions under the law.
2. To resource and promote secular principles to journalists, politicians, and other contributors to public opinion.
3. To encourage co-ordination with like-minded groups to influence public policy.
4. To encourage persons to take up membership and engage in activities that promote secular principles and the Victorian Secular Lobby.
5. To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.
Our policies are also available for review.
News reports on this site compiled from the Proxima Thule Press Extracts Service. The Victorian Secular Lobby is a member of the Secular Coalition of Australia.
The Victorian Secular Lobby's contact details are:
public AT victoriansecular DOT org
The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A
Religious groups will ramp up cam-paigns against a Labor proposal that will make it harder for faith-based organisations, including schools, to discriminate against employees because of their faith or sexuality.
The Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia, and the Catholic Education Office have hit out at Labor’s move to rewrite the state’s equal opportunity laws, which would require religious or-ganisations to justify how their need to discriminate was relevant to the requirements of a job.
Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O’Doherty said the changes were an “ideological attack on religion” and the organisation would lobby upper house MPs to block the legislation.
“The changes are not warranted, there was no case made for them,” Mr O’Doherty said.
ACL Victorian director Dan Flynn said the group would encourage thousands of its members to write to government MPs.
“One of the concerns of this le-gislation is that it could have the affect that Christian schools could be required to hire people who are fundamentally opposed to the schools’ objectives.”
Equality Minister Martin Foley said the changes were vital, and he knew of librarians and administrative staff in Victorian religious schools who had been discriminated against because of their sexuality. He said faith-based communities, including the Catholic Church, had previously indicated support for Labor’s reforms, which were enacted in 2010 before the Coalition won government and abolished them in 2011.
“In 2014 how are these changes anything other than treating people with decency? How is the gender identity or sexual identity of a gardener a matter which should determine whether that person is employable?”
Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said current laws struck a fair balance, between the right to equality, freedom of association and religious belief. He threw his support behind a statement released by religious leaders, including Melbourne Cath-olic Archbishop Denis Hart, ahead of the state election which urged Labor to abandon the proposal.
Under Labor’s changes, religious organisations would be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of faith, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status and gender identity if hiring the person would hurt the religion’s sensitivities.
But an “inherent requirements test” would make it harder for schools to discriminate against a gay gardener or an atheist administrative assistant, whose job was removed from teaching religion.
Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Jennifer Huppert said she was committed to the principle of equal opportunities in employment and other areas where it does not affect religious doctrine. She said the proposed laws could lead to some concerns about the role of the courts in determining the “inherent requirements” of a religion.
Taxpayers would subsidise the training of priests and other religious workers at private colleges for the first time, under the Abbott government's proposed higher education reforms.
As well as deregulating university fees and cutting university funding by 20 per cent, the government's proposed higher education package extends federal funding to students at private universities and TAFEs and studying associate degree programs.
Religious teaching, training and vocational institutes would be eligible for a share of $820 million in new Commonwealth funding over three years.
Labor and the Greens attacked the policy, saying it breached the separation of church and state. Earlier this year the government controversially announced it would provide $244 million for a new school chaplaincy scheme and would remove the option for schools to hire secular welfare workers.
In correspondence with voters, Family First senator Bob Day has singled out funding for faith-based training institutes to explain his support for the government's reforms.
Eleven theological colleges are accredited by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency to provide courses preparing students to enter religious ministries.
Institutes such as the Sydney College of Divinity, Brisbane's Christian Heritage College and the Perth Bible College, which currently charge students full fees, would be eligible for an estimated $4214 funding a year for each student under the changes.
The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, which offers course units including Theology and Practice of Natural Family Planning and Marriage in the Catholic Tradition, would also be eligible for federal support.
The institute says on its website its mission is to "promote marriage and the family for the good of the whole Church and the wider community".
The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne requires all trainee priests to receive theological training at Ridley College or the Trinity College Theological School, both of which would likely be eligible to offer Commonwealth-supported places under the government's changes.
Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr said: "This raises serious questions about relationship between church and state. The church has traditionally funded the training of its own personnel."
Mr Carr said there was a difference between federal funding for theoretically focused religious studies courses and courses designed to prepare graduates for the priesthood.
Greens higher education spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said: "[Education Minister Christopher Pyne] has gone one step further than robbing Peter to pay Paul - he is attempting to rob Australia's public and secular university system to pay private, religious colleges.
"Courses that Mr Pyne wants to extend funding to include those teaching prescriptive Christian ideology on sexuality and marriage - is this really the best use of the higher education budget?"
A spokesman for Mr Pyne said courses offered by private colleges would have to be approved by the independent regulator to gain access to federal funding.
"Consistent with current practice, the government will not distinguish between faith-based and secular higher education institutions for registration and funding purposes," the spokesman said.
Family First senator Bob Day said, in a letter to a member of the general public, that it is unfair that public universities receive federal funding but religious colleges and other private providers do not.
"The government's proposals . . . reduce the subsidies given to universities, while for the first time addressing inequity by providing significant subsidies for non-universities (but still less than universities)," he wrote. "Some of these non-universities that will receive funding for the first time - if this bill passes - are faith-based training, teaching, theological and vocational institutions."
The government's reforms were voted down by the Senate this week but will return to Parliament, with some amendments, next year.
Author: Matthew Knott
Publication: The Age
Paul Komesaroff and Stephen Charles
Does the voluntary euthanasia debate merely involve ethics and religion? Maybe a simple, practical, legal solution can be found, write Paul Komesaroff and Stephen Charles.
The long-running debate about whether voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide should be permitted by law continues to create division in the Australian community and arouse passionate views on both sides.
In the latest rounds of the debate, a Senate Committee has called for a conscience vote when the matter next gets to Parliament, the Australian Medical Board has suspended the medical registration of euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitzsche, and The Age has initiated a campaign of its own to influence public opinion. Sadly, despite the sound and fury, little progress is made: on the one side, the proponents of active voluntary euthanasia pursue the demand for enactment of "right to die" legislation, while on the other, their opponents continue to call for preservation of traditional values and practices.
The often strident and acrimonious tone of the debate obscures the facts that there is much agreement between the two sides and that there is a genuine problem in the current law that needs to be addressed. Recognition of this common ground might allow the social deadlock to be broken and for genuine progress to be made in the continuing controversy.
The agreement – which is demonstrated by all polls conducted on this subject – is that people suffering from terminal illnesses are entitled to adequate treatment of their symptoms and should be able to make key decisions about when and how they die. The problem with the law is that doctors who follow current best practice, by providing whatever care is needed to alleviate pain and suffering, cannot be confident that they will be protected from criminal prosecution for murder, manslaughter or aiding and abetting suicide arising from their active involvement in the death of their patient.
Of course, important areas of disagreement remain. Many members of the community find it hard to abide the prospect of institutionalised processes to promote killing in any setting, based either on their memories of the tragic history of the 20th century or on religious or philosophical convictions about the nature of death and ethical responsibility.
While the experiences from overseas jurisdictions – the US and Europe – are undoubtedly reassuring, it has to be accepted that these concerns are by no means frivolous. The possibility that the option of euthanasia might be seen by some as a device for addressing critical shortages in health budgets cannot be dismissed. Many doctors remain understandably nervous about the implications for their profession of what they see as a radical reversal of some of its most enduring precepts. The cases of people with chronic but not terminal illnesses remain difficult, and those of people without physical illness at all more difficult still.
We believe that a shift in the debate from the high-level – and inherently insoluble – abstractions about a "right to die" and the "sanctity of life" to a focus on practical issues that need urgent attention might allow the social deadlock to be broken and progress to be made at last in bringing about meaningful reform. To achieve this only modest changes in the existing law are needed.
We propose that legislation be enacted to amend the relevant Commonwealth and State Crimes Acts to provide a defence to a charge of homicide or manslaughter if a doctor has prescribed or administered a drug that hastened or caused the death of a patient with a terminal disease if the doctor: (a) reasonably believed that it was necessary to prescribe or administer the drug to relieve the pain or suffering undergone by the patient; or (b) prescribed or administered the drug with the intention of relieving such pain or suffering.
A simple legislative change to this effect would ensure that people facing serious illness could be confident that their needs will always be able to be met, and that doctors following accepted best practice in providing for the needs of their patients will be able to do so free from the threat of a criminal conviction. The responsibility of doctors to be able to account for their actions will not be diminished and protection for elderly and vulnerable members of the community will remain intact. The locus of end-of-life decision-making will be returned to where it should be: in the dialogues between patients, families and their medical carers.
This minimalist solution should be widely acceptable to the community, including to those who remain disquieted by attempts to purify death of its untidiness, uncertainty and risk. The difficult cases in which patients with severe chronic illnesses but without terminal illnesses request assistance with dying will remain unsolved, but the public debate will be able to move ahead to address the complex issues associated with them.
It is time to move on from never-ending, unproductive, circular discussions about end-of-life decision-making to a more practical approach that will solve pressing social problems and refresh the public debates.
Professor Paul Komesaroff is Director of the Centre for Ethics in Medicine and Society and author of Riding a Crocodile: A Physician's Tale, and Stephen Charles QC is a barrister and former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal.
Conservative micro-parties have put senior government minister Mary Wooldridge near the bottom of their preference flows in the upper house because of her pro-choice stance on abortion.
Ms Wooldridge is the only Liberal MP to express a view on abortion in a survey ahead of the state election.
Despite being number one on the Liberal Party's list for the Eastern Metropolitan region, a handful of anti-abortion parties including Rise Up Australia, the Democratic Labour Party and Australian Christians have put Ms Wooldridge well below other Liberal candidates.
The three hard-right parties signed an agreement in August to help each other in the upper house, vowing to support candidates with shared values, including being opposed to abortion.
Australian Christians' eastern metropolitan candidate Vickie Janson, who is also the party's state director, said the parties discussed ways of influencing a "more pro-life vote".
"I don't personally know the woman [Ms Wooldridge] but I can't support her views," Ms Janson said.
"She doesn't support more humane laws and our laws are quite barbaric, most people don't realise that we have full term abortions."
The Democratic Labour Party, who have vowed to introduce a bill to wind back the state's abortion laws if they win a seat, put Ms Wooldridge number 30th on their list of preference flows, compared to ninth for Liberal MP Richard Dalla-Riva.
Family First also put Richard Dalla-Riva, who voted against decriminalising abortion, ahead of Ms Wooldridge.
However, Ms Wooldridge and Liberal MP Bruce Atkinson are set to be elected in the region on first preferences without needing any preference flows from micro-parties.
Fair Agenda, an organisation that focuses on fairness and equality for women, is asking lower house candidates to state their views on abortion in a survey ahead of the state election.
"It's disappointing that candidates aren't being upfront about where they stand," the group's executive director Renee Carr said.
"We know 85 per cent of voters support the legal right to choose, and that this issue would affect the voting intention of 48 per cent of voters. These people deserve to be able to make an informed vote."
She said Ms Wooldridge was the only Liberal MP to respond to the online survey, with the MP stating that she supported the current abortion laws.
Abortion flared as an election issue on Monday when Nationals candidate for Buninyong, Sonia Smith, threatened to not preference the Liberal candidate, Ben Taylor, for the seat because of his views on abortion.
Mr Taylor told an Australian Christian Lobby candidates event that he was opposed to abortions after 20 weeks and Victoria's laws had "gone a little bit too far".
"It's pretty horrific what can happen and when you start talking about nearly to birth where you're looking at abortion and termination, it's pretty frightening."
Premier Denis Napthine said he hadn't spoken to Mr Taylor about his views on abortion and wasn't planning to before the election.
Mr Taylor did not take questions from reporters in Ballarat on Tuesday, evading television cameras and journalists as he drove off in his campaign car.
However Ms Smith's threats to not preference Mr Taylor over his views appear to have come too late for pre-poll.
Volunteers handed out Nationals how-to-vote cards in Ballarat on Tuesday which listed the Liberals second.
Jack de Groot
A dignified death is quite possible without resort to assisted suicide.
The hijacking of the term "dying with dignity" by today's supporters of euthanasia and assisted suicide is an insult to the dedicated doctors, nurses and pastoral carers who daily provide compassionate care, pain alleviation and spiritual comfort to the sick, the dying and their families.
Debates about euthanasia and assisted suicide are emotionally harrowing. All the more so when they occur during election campaigns. The timing and manner of the current debate exacerbates the fear of dying held by many in the community and diverts attention from the conversation about providing the dying with the innovative medical and healthcare they need, in homes, hospitals and aged-care facilities.
Funding for end-of-life palliative care by governments and private health insurers is inadequate and undervalued. The first step in public policy regarding death and dying is to guarantee that those who need palliative care services can get them. For people who are poor or vulnerable, who are mentally ill or incarcerated, who live in rural and remote communities, it is crucial that they can get the palliative care services to which we are all entitled.
Overseas experience shows that where euthanasia legislation has been enacted, pressure has been applied to the frail aged, disabled and mentally ill to follow the now "normal" path of physician-assisted death. That path has little to do with dignity.
Usually the most terrible stories of suffering are told to advance a change to law that will allow euthanasia and decriminalise assisted suicide. This is understandable, but hardly a credible and rigorous presentation of the realities of care for those who are dying.
Many thoughtful people in our society support the notion that we should be able to die with dignity, yet still oppose the proposed euthanasia legislation because it's bad law. We all accept that people should not have to suffer unnecessarily. The proponents of euthanasia law reform equate a refusal to support the legislation with forcing the dying into interminable suffering. But the risk is that a change to the legislation simply forces the suffering into the additional and equally interminable dilemma of choosing their moment of death. Making it possible for people to end their life legally is not about dying with dignity.
With developments in the provision of palliative care in the home, and innovations in pain management, there is the prospect of an ever-improving quality of life at the end stages. The evidence for it and experience of it is strong. A recent Grattan Institute study showed that most Australians want to die at home. There is a very understandable desire for each one of us to die in the places where we have loved and been loved. It also makes economic sense for those enacting public policy. It will mean less time in hospital, and that is a saving. It may also be a lot less expensive than seeking a new legal process of multiple safeguards for someone to either commit suicide or be euthanised.
For those who die in the care of a hospital there are positive and loving care options available that can be further expanded. St Vincent's and other healthcare providers will continue to provide such dignity-based care.
Dying with dignity is not a new thing that those promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide have discovered. At Caritas Christi and in our provision of high-quality, person-centred palliative care, it has been a daily experience for tens of thousands of families for more than 75 years. We accompany people and their loved ones each day as they go through their own processes of dying over months, weeks and days; as they die and as their loved ones grieve and mourn for their loss. It is more the norm than the exception that we hear and see the most beautiful expressions of love, human affection, reconciliation and alleviation of suffering. It is dignified.
It is on the back of inaction on funding and investment in palliative care and a lack of education of the community about dying and death – as well as some false premises that all death is undignified and that suffering must be avoided at all costs – that euthanasia and assisted suicide are proposed now as "rights".
Dying, death and dignity are worthy topics of our public conversation. But they should not be manipulated. The truly compassionate response to our dying family members is the highest quality, evidence-based palliative care. It needs to be well-funded and researched, valued by governments and insurers, and promoted so as to always be innovative to meet the needs of our community.
Jack de Groot is group mission leader of St Vincent's Health Australia.
Labor wants to clarify individuals' rights to make their wishes known in terms of future medical care.
Victorians will be able to tell their doctors not to give them life-prolonging treatment for future illnesses under a Labor plan to provide people with a greater say in how they die.
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews told The Sunday Age that if Labor was elected this month he would introduce new laws giving people clearer rights to set directives about the kind of medical care they would want in the event of future conditions such as cancer, brain damage or dementia.
It just means people can be really clear about their medical conditions and the sort of care that they don't want administered, well in advance.
At present, people can make orders for the treatment they want for an existing medical condition, but the guidelines around future illnesses lack clarity.
"We will legislate to change that," Mr Andrews said. "It just means people can be really clear about their medical conditions and the sort of care that they don't want administered well in advance."
Mr Andrews' comments came as federal MPs from both sides of politics declared their support for voluntary euthanasia on Tuesday, following a Senate report that paves the way for a free vote on national right-to-die laws.
State Labor's policy would build on the work of the Austin Hospital's "Respecting Patient Choices" program, and would involve changes to the Medical Treatment Act.
However, the position does not extend to euthanasia – an issue that would most likely be subject to a conscience vote should it ever be raised again in the Victorian Parliament. A Greens' private members bill for voluntary euthanasia was defeated in 2008 when the Brumby government was in power.
In other developments on Labor's campaign trail, Mr Andrews:
Headed to the south-east suburb of Mentone on Saturday to announce a $100million package for sports clubs to upgrade their facilities.
Rejected calls from the Greens to form a power-sharing alliance should the minor party hold the balance-of-power in the lower house after the election, saying "no deal will be offered and no deal will be done."
Refused to say when he would provide Victorians with costings of Labor's election promises, other than to repeat that the details would be released "well before Victorians vote."
With the campaign hitting the half-way mark, early voting for the November 29 election begins tomorrow. Polls suggest Labor is still ahead, but Mr Andrews was forced to defend reports suggesting his staffers were leaking against him. According to News Corp, whistleblowers in Mr Andrews' office had raised concerns about the excessive influence on policy by lobbyist Andres Puig, a former Labor official and now a partner in the firm The Civic Group.
Premier Denis Napthine said Mr Andrews had "questions to answer" about the influence lobbyists had on policy development, and the management of his office.
Mr Andrews said the report was "just nonsense", inaccurate and "part of the colour and movement of a campaign". Mr Puig did not return calls by deadline on Saturday.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is running a public information campaign during the 2014 State Election. Do you support the separation of Church and State? Then please donate to our campaign! You can either use Paypal (above) or contact us for other methods at email@example.com.
We wish to highlight those issues that have come up the current and previous legislature that indicate the dedication of candidates in this coming election to ensure the principle of freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
This includes treating religious organisations the same as non-religious organisations and leaving self-regarding issues to the decision of the individual conscience.
We're a small organisation and as a result we have modest targets as follows.
$500. Production of 5000 DL campaign pamphlets.
$1000. Production of 5000 DL campaign pamphlets.
$3000. Extended social media campaign.
The level that you can donate will receive the following recognition. Distributors will receive an equivalent recognition of 250 leaflets for $25.
$1. A thank you email from the Victorian Secular Lobby.
$10. As above, plus recognition on our Victorian Election 2014 page (anonymous if desired).
$50 As above, but highlighted on the website.
$100. As above, Secular Justice Warrior! Framed certificate from the VSL for your contribution.
$500. As above, plus a “George Holyoake” trophy
We are also looking for volunteers to assist in the campaign; please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special Religious Instruction. Special religious instruction is defined as: "instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs". Access Ministries conduct 96% of classes. Is not taught by teachers (instructors can receive as little as one day's training), and does not teach general religious education, i.e., it is instruction, not education. It also is publically funded.
Equal Opportunity Act. The Act of 2010 provided a more limited level of special religious exceptions exemptions from equal opportunity, limiting it positions that were directly related to the conduct of the religious activity. Now religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person's religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, martial status, parental status or gender identity
where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion.
Abortion Reform Act. Following the Abortion Law Reform Act of 2008, the performance of an abortion by a qualified person was removed from the Crimes Act. Medical practitioners and nurses who have a conscientious objection to abortion must inform the patient with information about a medical practitioner who does not have any such objection. Medical practitioners and nurses have a duty to perform or assist in performing an emergency abortion if the pregnant woman's life is in danger. Some politicians have indicated that they wish to overturn these reproductive rights.
Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001. This seeks to promote racial and religious tolerance in a multicultural democracy by prohibiting
the vilification of persons on the basis of their 'race' or their religious belief and activity. However the intentions do not match the content. The legislation prohibits "conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons", regardless of their veracity. It would be better to extend defamation clauses to allow class actions against untrue statements, whilst removing the clauses that prohibit regardless of veracity.
Greens: Opposes public funding of special religious instruction, Supports Equal Opportunity Act and inherent requirements exemptions. Oppose veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Oppose conscientious objection to referrals and duty of care.
Labor: Introduced and supported special religious instruction, but policy committee is opposed, and State Conference supports public education system that is "free, compulsory and secular". Supports Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions, but subjected issue to a conscience vote. Supports and introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.
Liberals: Supports special religious instruction, Opposes Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions. Supports introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.
Nationals: Supports special religious instruction, Opposes Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions. Supports introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.
Conscience votes often can be assessed by the degree that a politician is prepared to impose their conscience (and religious beliefs) over the rest of society. It rarely is based on a postmetaphysical moral norm, or an evidence-based ethical position. The last parliament had four major conscience votes issues reach the Legislative Council (Abortion Law Reform, Assisted Reproductive Treatment, IVF Eggs and Research, Equal Opportunity Act).
The consistently worst MPs, who voted against all four (or five for MLC), initiatives and who are standing in the upcoming election are:
MLAs: Gary Blackwood (Lib), Neale Burgess (Lib), Robert Clark (Lib), Peter Crisp (Nat), Martin Dixon (Lib), Christine Fyffe (Lib), David Hodgett (Lib), Terence Mulder (Lib), Russell Northe (Nat), Michael O'Brien (Lib), and Peter Ryan (Nat).
MLCs: Richard DallaRiva (Lib), Damian Drum (Nat), Bernie Finn (Lib), Inga Peulich (Lib)
We have a collection of MP voting records on conscience issues from the 2006-2010 parliament, which covers the Abortion Law Reform Bill, 11 Sept 2008, ART-IVF & Surrogacy: Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill, Oct 9 2008,
IVF Eggs and research: Infertility Treatment Amendment Bill, 18 April 2007, Equal Opportunity Bill, 2010 and, in the Legislative Council, Euthanasia: Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill, 10 Sept 2008.
Special mention goes to Geoff Shaw, Ind., for arguing consistently holding antisecular positions and would certainly vote against all reforms above if given the opportunity. He has argued in favour of religious based discrimination, and has described the abortion law reform as among the worst in world, and gave rise to the mocking meme on "tummy eggs".
In his maiden speech to the Victorian parliament, he acknowledged "the original owner of the land on which we stand—God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible."
The Progressive Atheists ran a survey of all candidates over ten questions. Some key points; (a) the Liberals and National Party candidates did not respond (b) The ALP responses were split in favour and opposed to Special Religious Instruction, School Chaplains, Church Property Trusts, but strongly in favour of abortion rights legislation, voluntary euthanasia, and removal of religious exemptions from the anti-discrimination legislation.
The Rationalist Society also conducted a survey of candidates on the questions of abolition of Special Religious Instruction, to allow non-religious School Chaplains, the redirection of funding currently provided to Access Ministries, and the introduction of professional ethics and values classes. The results overwhelmingly indicated support for the abolition of such classes, the allowance for secular chaplains, redirection of funds provided to Access Ministries, and the provision of professional ethics and values classes.
Interestingly, the parties most against general religious education conducted by professional teachers were the Australian Christians and the Rise Up Australia Party.
What We Did
The Victorian Secular Lobby held a meeting on October 4th, identifying the major issues in the upcoming state election and reviewing the voting record of members of parliament on conscience votes and policy statements from the major parties. The major issues identified for the State election were Special Religious Instruction, the Equal Opportunity Act exemptions, the Abortion Reform Act, and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.
A campaign was decided that would target highlight these issues and target the worst MPs in terms of their voting record and public statements. Additional funds raised would be used for social media advertising. A staggered set of recognition, up to an including certificates for being "Secular Justice Warriors" and a "George Holyoake Trophy" were offered. This was expanded during the campaign to include assistance as well as financial donations.
A fundraising campaign was conducted in the last three weeks of the election from nine contributors which raised $1000. Ten thousand DL cardstock leaflets were produced, of which eight thousand five hundred were distributed by ten people in the last week of the campaign, and three days of Google Ads were run. They leaflets were distributed in the Frankston, Kew, Malvern, Preston, Essendon, Footscray, Prahran, and Richmond - especially after it was recognised that many of the main theocratic MPs were in safe and regional seats.
Several of the "worst" MPs were retiring. Of those that were not, all suffered swings against them and all except one suffered swings greater than the state average, and it seems that at least one (Geoff Shaw) is almost certain to be defeated whilst another (Russell Northe) maintains a thin lead. There is some evidence that the incoming Labor government may be better on secular issues than the outgoing Coalition government; it has not given strong commitments to Special Religious Instruction, will not be amending the decriminalisation of abortion, and will be providing greater steps towards voluntary euthanasia.
On the other side of the equation it seems possible that the Liberal opposition will be selecting on of the worst MPs as their leader. This will represent another significant lurch in a party which was prepared to preference fundamentalist religious political parties such as Rise Up over more secular parties such as the Greens.
Whilst counting continues, it seems that Rachel Carling-Jenkins of the DLP has taken a seat in the Legislative Council. She is notable for taking a very strong anti-abortion stance, and opposes the removal of exemptions for religious organisations in the Equal Opportunity Act. On the other hand, it seems likely that one, if not two, members of the Australian Sex Party have been elected to Council. This Party has shown strong support for the separation of religious laws from civil laws.
What We Did Right
Conducting the campaign was the right decision. Whilst it is difficult to determine what direct effect the campaign had, it was certainly part of an ongoing contribution to raising secular matters as important, and involved our members in practical, on-the-ground activity. Our fundraising reached its major target, and the overwhelming majority of our leaflets were distributed and were well received, especially by secular religious individuals.
Our campaign dovetailed very well with groups like the Progressive Atheists and the Rationalist Society who conducted surveys on candidates on issues of secular interest. Of interesting note was the least secular religious parties where the ones most opposed to general religious education.
What We Did Wrong
As our first major campaign it was inevitable that a few mistakes would be made. The most important was leaving the campaign too late; we should have started very shortly after the original meeting, that way we could have fundraised more and distributed more. We spent too much time seeking skilled graphical artists to assist in the leaflet when a plainer design proved just as effective. The expenditure of funds on Google Ads was not particularly cost-effective, illustrating that once again the best campaign is word-of-mouth and volunteered social media distribution.
What We Still Need To Do
Our awards and notifications still need to go out. A meeting highlighting a secular agenda programme for the new government and meeting with new MPs needs to be held.
All Election Campaign Material on this website is authorised by Lev Lafayette on behalf of the Victorian Secular Lobby Inc., 169 Wiltshire Drive, Kew, Victoria, 3101
MEDIA RELEASE April 4, 2014
Secular Call To Maintain the ACNC
The Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., has called upon the Federal government to abandon plans to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission, the body established as a one-stop shop helps charities meet their obligations, and investigate them when they do not.
The Lobby, formed by religious and non-religious secularists, considers that a charities watchdog a necessity to ensure better regulation of Australia's $43 billion charity sector. This view is supported by numerous inquiries, including the Productivity Commission, and by charities themselves, such the St Vincent de Paul Society, Anglicare and Save the Children.
"The ACNC was considered a helpful and efficient body in preference to a complex and opaque regulation regime shared by the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and the states", according to Lobby chairperson, Mr. Lev Lafayette.
When Pro Bono Australia surveyed some 1500 charity stakeholders in 2013, around eighty percent supported the ACNC. Its establishment followed five major inquiries in the preceding decade that supported the establishment of such a commission.
"However, a number of politicians have confirmed that the national Catholic Bishops Conference and the Sydney archdiocese lobbied both sides of politics hard for its abolition. One can only wonder why such groups wish to prevent less reputable activities carried out under the name of 'charity' and to prevent genuine charities from obtaining information that can lead to generous tax concessions."
"If the Federal government carries out its intention to abolish the ACNC, it is clear that existing charities will be subject to less oversight, and that new and emerging charities will face significant hurdles in establishing themselves. This decision will result in less transparency, less accountability, and greater impediments. It will result in an increase in administrative costs, rather than a reduction."
Another leading opponent of the ACNC were private companies that administer charitable trusts from deceased estates through the Financial Services Council (FSC). Scrutiny of administration of those charitable trusts had began to reveal the excessive fees charged by for-profit financial services companies.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is also opposed to the ability of groups to hold charitable status by "advancing religion" but providing no other charitable function.
"Secularism means that good governance is entirely neutral on religious matter, and neither aids nor hinders the free exercise of religion. The term 'religion' simply shouldn't appear in the statute books", Mr. Lafayette said.
For further information contact Nick Langdon, Secretary of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., email@example.com
Special religious instruction (SRI) in state schools has been in the news. The Age reported (17 February) that some principals had objected to volunteer instructors, mostly from Access Ministries (AM), coming into their schools. The poor education, quality of material used by AM and the
disruption to classes were cited as factors. The same paper also told of several parents who had wanted their children excluded from SRI, only to
discover later that “clerical error” had placed them in such classes.
Then came a report (Sunday Age, 23 February) that parents with children at Torquay College [Victoria] had objected to material handed out by Access Ministries which presented sexual stereotyping and anti-gay views.
Permitting volunteers to enter schools to give instruction in religion, mostly Christianity, has been allowed via a section of the Victorian Education Act. Since the 1970s HSV has had a policy of wanting this section of the Act removed and provision made for “comparative world views” to be taught within the school curriculum by trained teachers. Although the Russell Inquiry into religion in schools made this recommendation in 1974, the practice of permitting outsiders to give weekly classes in religion has continued in Victoria.
Frustrated with the lack of action on this matter, some years ago an HSV member, Harry Gardner, proposed a secular ethics course particularly for the children of parents who have chosen to exclude them from SRI. Harry had years of experience visiting schools to entertain and inform students with simple science experiments, through use of puppets and story-telling. Building on this earlier work Harry put together a week-by-week course on
practical ethics, intended as an alternative to SRI.
Although this course was not approved for school use it did cause several parents, who had opted their children out of SRI classes, to take a case to VCAT claiming discrimination. While this case was not upheld it led to the Education Department changing the way parents chose SRI from “opt
out’ to “opt in”. Since this change to “opt in” there has been a decline in children taking SRI by almost a third.
Not surprisingly, with numbers falling, Access Ministries has sought clarification, on what it claims are its right to teach its program in schools. Currently AM is the largest provider of SRI (81% of students) and the only religious grouping given government funding for this purpose. Several minority religions, e.g. Baha’i and Buddhism, teach SRI without government funding.
Following media coverage and agitation from Access Ministries, the [Victorian] Education Minister, Martin Dixon, plans to issue a directive aimed at clarifying any confusion. This directive, says the Minister, will be based on the relevant section of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
Parents Victoria had petitioned the government to remove religious instruction from schools hours without success. Their executive officer said
Parents Victoria “believe the teaching of a particular religion should be a family responsibility, not that of the school”.
Meanwhile the president of the Victorian Principal Association has said that with half a grade taking SRI and half not, there “can be a difficult logistical challenge”, as schools were not permitted to teach the regular curriculum while some students took part in religious instruction.
A further spin-off from the public discussion on this topic led the Wheeler Centre, in partnership with the St James Ethics Centre, to co-sponsor a debate, “Faith-based religious education has no place in public schools”. This was held in the Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday 26 February. The “for” side was led by Marion Maddox, author of God under Howard and Taking God to Schools, “against” was led by journalist Nick Cater.
Although the two sides differed on the value of faith-based SRI, both sides supported a professionally taught course in comparative religion,
showing considerable common ground by all speakers.
In summary, with increasing number of parents opting their children out of SRI, Parents Victoria requesting the removal of SRI from school hours, many principal wanting to exclude SRI, and a growing agitation for professionally taught “comparative religion/ beliefs” within the curriculum, the Minister’s directive will be awaited with great interest.
Editorial from the Victorian Humanist (Melbourne), 53 (2), March 2014.