- Christian lobby groups given special access to PM and Attorney-General
- Preferential treatment continues for religious groups
The federal government is officially secular, yet behind closed doors it continues to favour Christianity and religious interest groups, the National Secular Lobby (NSL) says.
This special treatment is reflected throughout Australian society, from state funding of religious institutions via tax exemptions to billions of taxpayer dollars being directed to faith-based private schools.
There even appears to be backroom deals being done between government officials and Christian lobby groups over the Morrison government’s controversial religious freedom agenda.
Freedom for Faith, a self-described "Christian legal think tank", has been promoting its special access to the Prime Minister and Attorney-General Christian Porter as it seeks to influence the drafting of the Religious Discrimination Bill.
In a message to members, Freedom for Faith’s executive director Michael Kellahan revealed he and his team had been in Canberra "hard at work behind closed doors …giving feedback on the bill and offering some drafting solutions".
"We met with the Prime Minister. We met with the Attorney General,” Kellahan said.
"There have been many meetings and calls with the Attorney General’s staff. To their credit they have made themselves remarkably available and open to our feedback."
The Prime Minister has met with more than 20 religious leaders over the drafting of the Religious Discrimination Bill but appears to have taken minimal pro-secular input.
The NSL seeks to uphold the basic democratic principle of separation between Church and State.
"The NSL calls on Scott Morrison and Christian Porter to explain their cosy relationship 'behind closed doors' with groups such as Freedom for Faith and assure the public that faith-based groups are not getting any special treatment," Mr Monk says.
NSL Ambassador Jane Caro says, “it is outrageous that secular Australians and those with no religious faith have not been equally consulted by our PM about the proposed bill".
"These are the very people whose freedom is likely to be negatively affected if those with faith are given special and privileged protections under the law. If the PM governs for all of us, as he claims, then he needs to listen to all of us," Ms Caro says.
Julian Burnside QC, an NSL Ambassador, says Australia’s Constitutional system is based on separation of Church and State.
"The idea that an explicitly religious group (Freedom For Faith, the “Christian legal think tank”) has had special access to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter, in connection with the Religious Discrimination Bill, suggests that our system is not operating the way it was designed.
"Presumably even Morrison and Porter do not want to see Australia become a religious autocracy."
Mr Monk says the Religious Discrimination Bill is "simply faith-based legislation to appease religious conservatives still enraged by same-sex marriage".
"Yet the overwhelming majority of citizens want the separation of Church and State," Mr Monk says.
"This Bill purports to protect non-believers but it provides exemptions and privileges only for faith-based institutions. These are the very groups most likely to discriminate against those of other faiths, or no faith at all.
"This Bill is fundamentally wrong both socially and morally. Its drafting is a complete disaster."
A national Ipsos poll in 2016 showed 78% of people supported the survey question: "How important do you think it is to separate personal religious beliefs from the business of government?"
National Secular Lobby