Brother Richard quoted in Australian Newspaper!

From Australia's National Times today:

Believers: $4.5m; atheists: nil
November 27, 2009

The denial of funding to the Atheists Convention is further proof of the Government's courting of the religious right. Photo: Andrew Dyson [Illustration shows cruxifix tied to mast of Australia's Parliament House]

You would think that in a country widely acknowledged as one of the world's most non-religious nations, politicians would be keen to parade their secular credentials. Curiously, this is not the case in Australia.

Having survived a decade of the Howard government's blatant exploitation of religion for votes, it is disappointing to find the Labor Government following suit. This seems rather counter-productive considering that 92 per cent of Australians are so disinterested in religion they can't be bothered going to church.

In fact, the Government is so busy knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door, they've missed the bleeding obvious. Most of Australia's churches are empty, the non-religious sector is growing twice as fast as Pentecostalism, Australia's religiously unaffiliated outnumber Pentecostals by 17-one, and more than half of Australia's "Gen Y" don't believe in God. Even the Pope has acknowledged that religion is moribund in Australia.

Meanwhile, the Government continues to alienate the majority of Australian voters by kowtowing to a noisy religious minority. In August, the Rudd Government substantially increased funding to non-government schools, ignoring an internal review, which warned of entrenched inequities in the system.

Last week, the ALP announced it will extend Howard's school chaplaincy program, adding $42.8 million to the $165 million already committed by taxpayers. If children in state schools need counselling, surely funding should go towards providing qualified counsellors, not those who bring only their religious bias to the table. What will be next? Will Medicare favour faith-healers, over doctors on the basis that they're "more economical" and "just as effective"? If not, why are our children any less deserving of unbiased, professionally accredited counsellors?

Bowing to pressure from the religious right, Rudd's Government continues to oppose laws that would grant equality to same-sex couples and ignores the 80 per cent of Australians who favour voluntary euthanasia.

Last week, the Prime Minister graced the Australian Christian Lobby Conference with his presence. He has ignored the Atheist Foundation's invitation for him to address the Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne next March.

Given Labor's ungainly lean towards the religious right, it was not altogether surprising when the Atheist Foundation was advised last week that the Brumby Labor Government has rejected the Atheist Convention's application for funding. The Rise of Atheism Convention will feature some of the world's most influential public intellectuals, including evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins and philosopher Peter Singer. It has attracted worldwide attention, has already sold about 1400 tickets and is on target to sell more than 2000, bringing a considerable amount of publicity and revenue to Victoria.

Despite this, it appears we "do not meet the criteria" for funding, (though we were recently led to believe that having reached ticket sales of 1000, funding was more or less assured). Indeed, we're rather puzzled that the State Government held on to an application that didn't meet its criteria for five months. It's also puzzling that the Parliament of the World's Religions, a similar gathering, in the same venue starting on December 3, involving a similar exchange of philosophical views qualifies for $4.5 million of government funds – more than 16 times the amount requested for the Global Atheist Convention.

The international atheist community is large and well-connected and news that Victoria doesn't welcome non-theists is already leaking out. Richard Haynes, executive director of the American-based Atheist Nexus represents 13,000 atheists worldwide. In an email to the Atheist Foundation Haynes says, "I seriously doubt the Victorian Government will uphold this injustice. We will reserve judgment for now, but if it stands, rest assured our community will inform the world of their bigotry."

So, for now, it's: Atheists, nil; theists, $4.5 million – unless the Brumby Government sees fit to change its mind and the Federal Government deigns to acknowledge that it represents secular as well as religious Australians.

Despite all indications to the contrary, the Atheist Foundation is still hopeful that the decision is no more than a bureaucratic bungle and that sanity – and secularity - will soon prevail.

David Nicholls is president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.

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Comment by Chrys Stevenson on November 30, 2009 at 2:43am
I am hoping Brother Richard will join us in Melbourne.
Comment by Little Name Atheist on November 30, 2009 at 2:36am
Heh. Thanks Kristy. Would that be the hot seat?

I'm probably going to Montreal next year, since it's more or less in my backyard, so if there are freebie tickets floating around, some deserving Aussie should get it.
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on November 30, 2009 at 2:25am
Grundgie, if I had the money, you're bum would be on a seat tout-suite. ;-)
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on November 30, 2009 at 2:25am
Stephen, I did think of that, but then I thought about the difficulties of adjudicating who should receive it ....
Comment by Little Name Atheist on November 30, 2009 at 2:21am
I'm a bum, I could have my bum's bum on a seat if someone would buy me a plane ticket and a convention ticket.

Oh, but first I need to renew my passport...
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on November 30, 2009 at 1:46am
Yeah, I think I'll make it the new icon for the Aussie, Kiwi group.
Comment by Paul Gee on November 29, 2009 at 11:49pm
Kristy, I love the illustration. :)
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on November 29, 2009 at 10:38pm
Hi Walter, that's very kind of you.

Tickets for the Convention, which cover entertainment, drinks, lunch and refreshments as well as conference sessions for Friday night, Saturday and Sunday are:

Full Weekend Pass AU$268 USD $247
Full Weekend Pass (Concession) AU$217 USD $200
Sunday-Only Pass (inc. Dawkins) AU$155 USD $143
Sunday-Only Pass (Concession) AU$114 USD $105
Saturday Night Dinner AU$104 USD $ 96

Although it's very generous of you to consider buying a ticket, even though you can't attend, I think the organizers would prefer to actually have 'bums on seats'. What will count more than anything is being able to show our government just how many people we can attract to such a convention. The aim is strength in numbers, rather than making a profit.
Comment by Rusty Gunn. on November 29, 2009 at 7:53pm
How much does a ticket cost ($US) and where can we buy one to support this group although we can't attend?
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on November 29, 2009 at 3:52pm
@Jared - and tickets sales for the Global Atheist Convention - don't forget that!



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