So, we’ve seen various shades of Christian Right, a couple of flavours of patriotism ranging from the mildly xenophobic to the outright racist, some libertarians, and, of course, our good friends over in the world of legalised drugs. Now for something completely different, we have the Secular Party.
I have to admit, this lot make me uncomfortable, which is interesting, because so do all the Christian parties. The right wing Christians make me wince because they seem to be at their loudest when promoting the most un-loving and un-compassionate policies they have, and I want to keep saying, look, we aren’t all like that. But the secularists also make me uncomfortable, because while I absolutely do think that religion has no place in government, I find it frustrating when people assume that I must be either stupid or complicit in my own oppression. (I’m actually not particularly oppressed by my religion, thank you.) It’s possible that I have been spending too much time reading the words of internet atheists, who seem to be an entirely different breed to the totally lovely atheists I know in real life.
So I suppose that was my little declaration of conflict of interest. Let’s start with the Secular Party website, which goes the John Lennon route, with its front page statement:
Imagine no religion… in government
We want all Australians to enjoy freedom of and from religion in a liberal secular democracy.
You can’t sing those words to the Lennon song, though. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I did just try to. Anyway, of all the mission statements I have seen so far in my trawl through the Senate Ballot paper, this is actually the most appealing. A liberal secular democracy sounds like an excellent plan, and I agree that we should have one. So far, so good. Let’s see who they are preferencing, and where that leaves us…
First preference on the Secular Party Group Voting ticket goes to the Australian Democrats, which makes me happy, because they are my secret favourites based on last time, and also based on the lovely emails they used to send me. (I’m not, in fact, a member of the Democrats, but if you write enough emails to politicians, they start replying, and for a while there I was on the mailing list of everyone from the Greens to Family First.) We then move on to the Sex Party, the Wikileaks Party, the Pirate Party (which I am looking forward to more and more, I must say), the Republican Party Australia (we have one?), and eventually to the Greens. We then run past a selection of other vaguely lefty parties before reaching Labor, where we are likely to stop. The bottom of their ticket is taken, unsurprisingly, by the four Christian parties, with the Australian Christians at the bottom. Weirdly, Rise Up Australia is actually ranked higher than the DLP and Family First – I personally find them much scarier, but there may be an element of strategic voting here.
Policies. They have so many policies, and this makes me sad, because I am a virus-ridden Catherine and I just want to go to bed, but onward! They do have a nice overview, which I shall now share with you:
The Secular Party of Australia stands for true separation of church from state, ensuring freedom of and from religion, and a liberal, secular democracy.
Our policies promote:
- Freedom of thought and expression.
- A high-quality education system that is universal, secular and free.
- Equality and non-discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religiosity and sexuality, including marriage equality and LGBTI rights.
- The right of Australians to control their own destiny, such as voluntary euthanasia.
- The abolition of government subsidies and tax breaks for religious organisations.
- The use of science for human welfare, such as stem cell research.
- The use of Australia’s seat on the UN Security Council to promote secular democracy, the reduction of poverty, and the urgent prioritisation of international policies on climate change.
All our policies are based on evidence, and our platform is both socially and economically liberal. Please see below for further details.
This all sounds very promising. Perhaps I have been over-reacting because of the scary internet atheists? I hope so. It would be *really nice* to finally write about a political party that doesn’t make me feel sad to be Australian.
The Secular Party’s Education policy is very much about improving the standards of public schools and keeping schools secular:
“To qualify for government funding a school must teach a secular curriculum, admit students and employ staff regardless of faith, and all religious activity promoted by the school must be voluntary and conducted outside school hours.”
Goodbye, Catholic school system, I’m thinking…
They also want to replace religious instruction in schools with studies of comparative religion and ethics. I’m in favour of this. But I can’t help pointing out that actually, at the Christian schools I went to, that’s what we did learn. People I know who went to public schools seem to have actually received a much more sectarian religious education than I did.
They also want to replace the school chaplains program with qualified counsellors. Honestly, this should have happened already.
They seem to have got rid of the bit about religious education in schools being a form of child abuse, so thank you for that.
The Secular Party is, unsurprisingly, in favour of marriage equality, and add that “Same-sex couples should enjoy the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples, in inheritance, and for all ceremonial, financial, legal and medical purposes.” And so they should. In addition, their policy is “that all those authorised to solemnise marriages do so with reference to the fact that ‘marriage is a voluntary union entered into for life by two people to the exclusion of all others'”, a clear reference to the current annoying bit that civil celebrants – but not ministers of religion – have to use about marriage being between one man and one woman. Quite. Incidentally, I know of several people who chose to get married in a church or by a minister because that was the only way to avoid that wording. I do wonder, though, whether this phrasing does start becoming an intrusion into the liturgy that should be the business of members of that religion only.
They are also, unsurprisingly, pro-choice and in favour of decriminalising abortion and legalising euthanasia, with safeguards to prevent abuse:
Our policies on issues of high moral content, such as abortion and voluntary euthanasia, favour freedom of choice, and are based on rational assessment of the relevant issues.
… did you just imply that people who disagree with you are irrational? I mean, I do actually agree with you, but do you have to do that?
It is the policy of the Secular Party that all hospitals in receipt of government funding offer a full suite of services such as would be expected in any public hospital. In any situation where the life of the woman is at risk, all medical staff must be willing to carry out or assist with termination procedures.
Yes. I feel for people who are compelled to act against their conscience, but the right to receive emergency medical assistance when one’s life is at risk has to trump this. And I have to say, I’d be a little worried about anyone whose conscience would otherwise cause them not to help…
The Secular Party also promotes equality between genders and therefore wants to ban the burqa, as well as forbidding the wearing of any religious attire by children in schools. This is the part which makes me want to bang my head against the wall, because if a woman is, in fact, being forced to wear the burqa by her family, then banning it in public is only going to make her situation worse, by preventing her from leaving the house at all. And the schools thing bothers me too, because when France banned the veil in schools, there were many cases of children being kept home from school – or indeed, choosing to stay home because of their beliefs. To my mind, this is much more likely to foster an extreme mindset than letting a child wear her veil to school and mix with other children who are of other religions or of no religion, so that they all learn to see each other as equally human.
The Secular Party believes that the religious indoctrination of children in schools violates the rights of the child. The requirement, whether by parents or schools, that children wear religious attire, is a form of indoctrination. The Secular Party therefore opposes this practice. It is the policy of the Secular Party that all forms of religious attire be prohibited in all schools.
The thing which I don’t think the Secular Party really takes into account – or perhaps they view it as a bad thing that does not deserve to be taken into account – is that one can have quite sincerely-held and independently formed religious beliefs even as a child, and especially once one reaches the teenage years.
The Secular Party is against censorship, and particularly against blasphemy laws (I had no idea we still had some, but apparently we do!). They are also against internet filters.
I actually really like their IP policy, and will quote it in full:
The Secular Party recognises that intellectual property rights protect the interests of creators and provide incentives for innovation; however, property rights should not be derived from non-creative findings. Indigenous communities should maintain ownership of innovations derived from their custodial knowledge, and patents derived from the human genome – the custodial property of us all – should be limited.
Recognising that such rights are a reciprocal arrangement, and the need for ideas to return to the public domain, our policy is that copyright not be extended to more than 50 years after the author’s or creator’s death (as compared to the current 70 years).
Intellectual property rights should not subvert long-held understandings about what “ownership” means – they should not limit an owner’s freedom to use and copy purchased items on a continued, private and non-commercial basis.
The Free Trade Agreement with the USA is noted to have damaged an equitable property rights approach; we therefore support the renegotiation of the Free Trade Agreement and limitation of its inequitable consequences.
Good stuff all round, I think.
They recognise climate change, and are in favor of the Carbon Tax, as well as an international Coal Tax, with revenue to be distributed to assist in restructuring our energy industry to more renewable energy sources.
Whatever the eventual details may be, it is obvious that some measures of this kind are required. They will be expensive and initially unpopular. However, in terms of future global climatic catastrophe, the costs of doing nothing may be far higher. In offering reasoned and rational policies, the imperatives of human survival can provide persuasive arguments.
I think they are spot-on with this one. They also feel that nuclear energy is likely to be the only way to go to supply all our energy needs, and favour a resource rent tax that sounds a lot like a mining tax.
In terms of health, the Secular Party would expand the public system to include dental care, and would regulate complementary therapies. They would require hospitals with religious foundations not to exhibit religious bias, and they support medical research, including stem cell research – though not the use of animals in developing cosmetics.
They believe that religious organisations should not be automatically tax exempt unless they are actually doing something useful that isn’t solely about religion.
The Secular Party is concerned about global overpopulation and would abolish the baby bonus. However:
We support continuation of an immigration program that is both economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable, and which provides sufficient allowance for sustainable humanitarian obligations. The Secular Party deplores xenophobic attempts to demonise asylum seekers. We support review of the current refugee system which gives special priority to those asylum seekers who manage to reach Australia.
We note that migrants to Australia must agree to respect certain values, including the equality of men and women, as part of the Australian Values Statement in the immigration application form. It is the policy of the Secular Party to gain a commitment from prospective migrants that they will be required to respect these values and to comply with Australian law before any religious law. Evidence of compliance with the Australian Values Statement, such as witness statements, should be provided before permanent residence visas and citizenship are granted.
Not bad at all.
They want to change a number of oaths, public prayers, and similar to make them secular, which sounds entirely reasonable to me. I had no idea that we had so many of them, in fact. Their legal policies are pretty good, but I could wish they hadn’t gone all “we won’t have any Sharia law here”. Sigh. We don’t have Sharia law here. We have never had Sharia law here. We are unlikely ever to consider having Sharia law here. Stop pre-emptively banning it, people – doing so just makes you sound racist!
And finally, the Secular Party, being committed to equality, thinks that we need to become a republic. No more Queen for us, and no Royal Babies, either. Really, Secular Party – don’t you understand that the British Royal Family is a valuable national resource, allowing us to feel vaguely superior because *we* aren’t going all Royal Baby crazy? Not to mention the pretty dresses, and the immeasurable harm that would be done to womens’ magazines if they didn’t have royalty to write about! I am shocked at the economic short-sightedness of this plan.
(Really, I can accept all the rest, if I must, but this is simply too much! What about the Magna Carta, I ask you?!)
OK, I’m done being frivolous. In fact, I’m done entirely, because once again, I’m ducking the lengthy economic policies on the entirely valid grounds that I don’t really understand economics, and I’ve exposed my ignorance enough for one post, surely.
Next up, the Climate Change Sceptics. Prepare for sarcasm…