A Press Release by our affiliate, the Atheist Foundation of Australia:
The NSW government has rejected the nomination of Sydney Atheists President, Steve Marton, to sit on its newly devised Faith Affairs Council. According to the most recent Census, one third of the NSW population is non-religious. But the views of this large contingent will not be sought on future policy development for issues such as religious discrimination, zoning for places of worship, funding for chaplaincy, euthanasia and voluntary assisted dying.
Mr Marton said “This is a very disappointing start to what should have been a useful and insightful consultative body for the NSW Government. This body will now lack credibility as it is devoid of representation from the largest single faith group in Australia – non-religious citizens.”
The Minns Government sought to set up a 16 member Faith Affairs Council to provide cross-faith advice to improve understanding and competency in relation to policies, programs and services that affect religious communities and people of faith in New South Wales. The Government has indicated it wishes to have the new body reflect the religious diversity that exists within NSW today. To that end, it has announced that 12 of the 16 councillors will reflect the diversity found in the most recent 2021 Census data.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia points out that with 33% of the NSW population, the largest single “religious” group in NSW, is actually those nominating “no-religion”. This dwarfs the next largest groups, Catholics at 22%, Anglicans at 12%, and Eastern Orthodox at 3%. By deliberately excluding the largest single faith group – in this case “no-religion” – the government appears to be subverting its own criteria for reflecting religious diversity. In doing so, it has undermined the ability of the Council to be seen to include a secular perspective, which in turn would have provided a sense of balance and democratic representation on a whole raft of social and ethical issues.
If the diversity requirement on the Faith Affairs Council reflected the actual population, then around 4 of the seats should, in fact, be filled by persons of no-religion. Sydney Atheist President, Steve Marton, said “I didn’t expect to achieve that, but I thought it only reasonable that there should be some non-religious representation to provide a modicum of equity, transparency, and democracy. Instead, this is an inappropriate form of religious discrimination in its own right. It is an unhelpful start to the Council and is a setback to achieving a more balanced discourse with the government over key social issues.”
The Atheist Foundation of Australia is disturbed by this unexpected religious discrimination by the Minns Government and will continue to press for change to include a secular voice on the Council.