Federal Election 2019: Meet the Secular Party of Australia

Summary

Website: https://www.secular.org.au/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SecularPartyAustralia/
Slogans:
Imagine no religion… in government!
Challenging religious privilege
Themes: Separation of church and state.  Religion is a bit silly and wrecks everything.  A bit funny about Muslims.
Electorate:
Upper House: Victoria
Preferences: They are agnostic about who you should vote for, apparently.
Previous reviews

Policies & Commentary

The Secular Party believes in the separation of church and state, and I feel like between the recent conviction of Cardinal Pell and the even more recent general embarrassment by large chunks of Australia at the sight of ScoMo getting his Pentecostal on, they might get a bit of a bump in the polls this time around.

Also, a disclaimer before I start.  I’m a Christian, though one of a decidedly left wing bent, and while I believe that we should be keeping religion out of politics, I do (obviously!) think that religion has value.  I have many atheist friends with whom I have a lot of common ground.  But I have to admit, I’ve had one too many arguments with internet atheists lately, and so I am a little wary of a party called the Secular Party. My instinct is to wonder if they are going go obnoxiously Richard Dawkins at any moment.

As 21st century citizens, we want to challenge the power and privilege of religious institutions in Australia. As secular humanists, we want an end to religious interference in education, health, civil liberties and taxation. As champions of human rights, we want women, minorities and the LGBTI community to be free of discrimination and the dictates of archaic superstition.

Both socially and economically liberal, we are the only party that stands for comprehensive secularism. We fight for the separation of religion from state institutions, impartiality between religions and the protection of human rights from violation on the basis of religious doctrine.

The separation of church and state is the only valid foundation for a free and liberal modern democracy. We want legislation based on evidence, informed debate and equality for all. We want a society that honours the universal humanist values of compassion, honesty, freedom and justice.

Look, I don’t really care for the implication in the first line that religion is old-fashioned and outdated, but everything else in this preamble sounds pretty good to me.  Frankly, I think secular humanism is a good basis for government – even (especially?) as a religious person, I find the overt religiosity of many of our members of parliament uncomfortable, and, as I have certainly said here before, I feel that if you are going to use your religion to justify being rampantly sexist and also horrible to LGBTQIA people (which you shouldn’t), you have absolutely no right to ignore it when it comes to addressing poverty or treating refugees with compassion.

The Secular Party has a *lot* of pages which are effectively ‘About’ pages of one kind or another; since they also have a lot of policies, which I will focus on, I am just going to glance at some of their Principles, Aims and Abouts.

On their ‘Our Difference’ page, they make the following bold claim to uniqueness:

Right-wing parties support economic freedom but oppose personal freedom, while left-wing parties oppose economic freedom but support personal freedom. The Secular Party is in favour of both economic freedom and personal freedom.

Well yes, but so is the LDP, and look where that got us.  Quite seriously, I have an instinctive ‘Ack!  More libertarians!’ reaction to that statement which I really hope isn’t going to be justified.

Their chief aims are a separation of church and state and the promotion of secularism globally, while standing for human rights, social justice and freedom of expression.  (Please tell me we aren’t going to go all ‘Abolish 18C’ here…).  On the upside, they are in favour of science, reason and rationality, so that’s good, and they are against religious indoctrination, which is good unless they are saying that teaching anyone anything about religion is indoctrination, which I have a suspicion they might be.

Oh, and they don’t like wearing religious attire in schools, which I think is potentially problematic, as we have seen in France – if a child (or a child’s parents) strongly believes that one must wear religious attire in public, banning such attire from schools can result on that child missing out on an education – or being limited to an education that only includes children from the same religious background.  If your goal is to avoid extremism, then effectively excluding kids from mainstream schools is not a good way to go about it.

The Secular Party doesn’t like the state endorsement of religions, even if it endorses multiple different ones, because ‘the religious concept of being “elect” or “chosen” is inherently divisive’.  There is some merit in this argument, though I’m not sure I agree.  But then I’m fairly universalist in my leanings, which is to say I think we are all elect/chosen, and that there is space for all of us in God’s love, so yeah.  They don’t say what they mean here by ‘state endorsement’, but I’m guessing they are talking about religious exemptions to the Discrimination Act, which I agree need to go, and possibly about churches not paying tax, which I think is a slightly more complex question than they would acknowledge.

This is probably a good summary that reflects both where the Secular Party comes from and what they want to achieve:

We concede that in providing psychological consolation and inspiring charitable works, religious belief and practice may be beneficial. We also contend that by invoking needless fear and guilt, in hindering progress, and in fostering social division and violence, religions are on balance harmful to society. We doubt they are necessary. In the 21st century we can aspire to do better.

The Secular Party seeks a harmonious and peaceful world. It is undeniable that some extremist religious beliefs can cause harm. We contend that it is not wrong to raise questions about the nature of belief, and that in some cases this must be done in order to seek to counter the harm that religions cause.

While in an ideal world we might prefer that all religious practices and freedoms should be conducted in private between consenting adults, we are realistic enough to accept that this will not be achieved. However we certainly think that curtailing government support, endorsement, subsidy and promotion of religion is possible. This is what we advocate.

And on that note, let’s move on to the policies!

The Secular Party are pretty serious about climate change:

That global warming is upon us and that greenhouse gas emissions are responsible is a proposition that cannot be ignored. The potential for global catastrophe is too great. Scientists warn that world emissions of carbon dioxide need to be reduced by at least 50 per cent to stabilise the climate. Yet even with all proposed measures in place, the best estimate is that global emissions will increase by 50 percent by 2050. That is, the problem is not even remotely being addressed in the manner required.

The solution will be painful and costly, which is no doubt part of the reason it has been avoided. Short-term thinking, ignorance and cowardice on the part of politicians, local and national self-interest, and the lack of a global ethic are perhaps other reasons. One might also conjecture that, as with religion, susceptibility to mass delusion and inability to face reality might also be a contributing factor.

Aside from that rather unnecessary dig at religion, they have a good point.  The SP propose a carbon tax, which would increase annually, to incentivise reduction in use of coal.  They want to explore all forms of renewable energy, including nuclear energy.

Also

This will not be achieved without the active promotion of a global ethic based on the universal values of compassion, honesty, freedom and justice. Instead the world is currently preoccupied with conflicts based on ancient religious ideologies that should have been confined to the dustbin of history centuries ago.

You know, if even their sensible policies on science are going to contain gratuitous sniping at religion, this is going to get old fast.

Actually, I’d also like to point out that this isn’t just a case of me feeling personally offended.  If you are saying that we need people to work together on a global solution to a global problem, it’s a poor strategy to start by insulting people’s religious beliefs, because for a problem of this scale, you are going to need to get everyone on board, and everyone includes people who aren’t atheists.  (Gratuitous sniping is also not especially congruent with your value of compassion.)

And here I thought I was starting with something safe.  Oy.

The Secular Party wants Australia to be a republic, primarily because if you want separation of church and state, having a monarch who is the head of the Church of England is kind of inconsistent.  Can’t argue with that.  Also on governance, the SP is worried about Sharia law, because of course they are. They also don’t much like Aboriginal traditional law.  They do, however, believe that the justice system should emphasise ‘rehabilitation, crime prevention and harm minimisation,’ so good for them.

They don’t like religious oaths or Parliamentary prayers, and they would like to take God out of Citizenship ceremonies.  Fair enough, too – we are a secular country, and bringing God – specifically, the Christian God – into everything is alienating for people of other faiths or none.

They are weird on Halal certification.

Any food labelling scheme should provide a public benefit. It is acknowledged by halal food certifiers that some of the money raised through halal certification schemes goes to religious institutions such as mosques and Islamic schools, and to Islamic communities. This is not a public benefit, as least to the general public. The the consumer has the right to make an informed choice about the purchase of goods that have been halal certified. It is the policy of the Secular Party that where halal or any religious certification has been paid for a product, then this should be disclosed on the product label.

So… they don’t like it, but on the other hand, they don’t want people to be unknowingly eating Halal chocolate.  I suspect they want to get rid of the entire practice, but they haven’t actually gone there at this point.

On Economics, the SP seems to be fairly centrist – they like balanced budgets, but not unleashed capitalism – however:

The Secular Party recognises that the age-old struggle between the forces of labour and capital is no longer the major determinant in political economy. Unlike the major parties, we have no allegiance to the sectional interests of labour or capital. The Secular Party bases its economic policies on judgements concerning the long-term public interest and the interests of global humanity.

They want to tax religious organisations unless they can show they serve a purpose more charitable than ‘advancement of religion’, which, as you would expect, the SP doesn’t view as a useful purpose.  They also want a resource rent tax, whereby Australians receive a share in profits from future resource sales.

They have a very brief policy on welfare, but they are concerned about cuts to services and feel that people aren’t being treated fairly.  They also feel that the government needs to intervene in the housing crisis, possibly by building more public housing.

On Foreign Policy, they don’t like it that our Defence Force assumes that in the long term we will always be allied with the US, and they would like us to be more independent.

They are into global secularism:

Secularism is the ideal on which modern civilisation was built. Specifically, secularism is the separation of religion from state institutions. More generally, it is a recognition that the affairs of state are too important to be subjected to the whims of ancient myths and superstitions. Secularism was a key historical development because it was primarily the relegation of the status of religion that it provided that allowed scientific progress to take place, from which all technical and economic benefits have flowed. In addition, secularism was the proven solution to centuries of religious conflict in Europe. Despite this legacy, secularism in now under threat.

Reeeeeeeally.  I think this would come as a surprise to, ooh, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, a 9th century Muslim scholar often called the father of algebra.  Or Abu Kamil Shuja ibn Aslam, also a Muslim scholar of the 9th and 10th century, and the first mathematician to work with irrational numbers.  Or Omar Khayyam, who figured out how to solve cubic equations.  He was a 12th century Muslim scholar, by the way.

I could continue.  Now, it’s true that Western Europe during the Medieval period was pretty poor on science, and the Church was not known for being open to scientific advances (though, actually, this is also rather a simplistic view, and the monastaries did a pretty good job of preserving knowledge during the Medieval era).  But the Muslim world during that period was going great guns in scientific and mathematical advancement, and their religion doesn’t seem to have notably hindered them.  Christendom might have been having the Dark Ages, but over in the Middle East, it was a Golden Age.

I mean, by this line of reasoning, the Secular Party should be encouraging us all to convert to Islam.

(The Jews weren’t doing so badly, either.  How about Immanuel ben Jacob Bonfils, who was a 14th century rabbi and a pioneer of exponential calculus and is credited with inventing decimal fractions?  Or, if we are feeling patriotic, there is Joao Faras, a 16th century Jewish physician, surgeon and astronomer who wrote a letter identifying the Southern Cross constellation?)

But my point is – this is an incredibly European-centric view of history, and a very narrow one.  And I should probably point out my own biases and gaps in knowledge here – I wouldn’t know where to start on Chinese scientists of the same era, and I bet there were plenty of them and they weren’t all raging atheists.  Ditto India.  And probably all sorts of parts of Asia about which I am completely ignorant on history.

Now, if your religion means that you refuse to look outside your holy book to see the world around you, you have a problem.  But secularism is by no means a precondition of scientific progress.

OK, I got distracted there.

They seem to view multiculturalism as a Trojan Horse for ‘fundamentally absurd’ religion.

When societies were more culturally homogenous, religion could more easily be criticised, since cultural sensitivities were less threatened. As we became more ethnically diverse, the ethos of multiculturalism was highly successful in fostering tolerance and in assisting the advancement of minorities. The acceptance of cultural diversity certainly does help in fostering social cohesion. However religions are cultural phenomena, and multiculturalism has had the adverse effect of placing religious cultural beliefs beyond question, shielding them from the rational assessment that they need, and to which they were previously exposed.

And of course they feel that the Muslims are the worst of the lot, and are worried about Sharia law.  I sense a theme.  Anyway, the SP informs us that secularism is necessary for democracy.

Oh lord, and they have a policy about Israel.  I can see no possible way that this will end well.  And… it doesn’t, really.  They seem pretty conflicted.  On the one hand, Israel is all invasiony and religiony.  On the other hand, Palestine is all Muslimy.  They conclude that a two-state solution is impractical, due to water supply and infrastructure issues, compounded by the Israeli settlements, and ‘constitutes a further serious disconnection from reality. The fact that this gross cognitive error is confounded by religious mythology on all sides confirms the role of religion in such psychological dysfunction.’

They want a single, secular state in which all citizens have equal rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

I want a pony.

Also, they don’t know what confounded means.  Compounded is the word you were looking for, folks.

I really wish they would stop going on about how we need to recognise that religion is irrational and it’s all just myths.  We get it, guys.  You are atheists.  That’s fine.  You don’t actually need to spend this much time telling the rest of us that we are stupid and irrational.

(Did anyone’s mind ever get changed by being told repeatedly that they were stupid and irrational?  I suspect not.)

They are a bit funny about refugees.  On the one hand

The Secular Party deplores xenophobic attempts to demonise asylum seekers. We support review of any system that gives special priority to those asylum seekers who manage to reach Australia.

But they don’t think they should come here on boats.  And they are worried about refugees bringing ‘extremist religious values’ with them.

Prospective refugees must be aware that indoctrination of their children in any religion in school will not be permitted.

The SP has a policy on human rights and anti-discrimination, which is mostly pretty reasonable.  Unsurprisingly, the Secular Party supports same sex marriage and wants same sex couples to have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples.  They want to close the loopholes allowing religious organisations to discriminate against, e.g., LGBTQIA people.  Oh, and they want Civil Celebrants to have the same rights and responsibilities and abilities as religious celebrants, which I think is a good idea.

They support the right to euthanasia (for which they have a detailed and nuanced policy), contraception and abortion, and feel that all hospitals who receive public funding need to be willing to provide these services.

They also support women’s rights, but in a way that feels like it’s more about being suspicious of Muslims and immigrants.

The Secular Party also recognises that equality between men and women is a part of the Australian Values Statement that all migrants to Australia agree to respect. We propose that certain cultural and religious practices that specifically and significantly limit the rights and freedoms of women in Australia be prohibited. This includes situations where women are forced or coerced into wearing garments such as burqas, and where the freedom of movement of women is limited or restricted.

They also want to ban the burqa and ban all forms of religious attire in schools.

Look, my view is that nobody should be forced to wear anything they don’t want to, but nobody should be forced to bare anything they don’t want to, either.  My body, my choice. And I’ve already mentioned my concerns on the ways in which these sorts of rules have the potential to exclude Muslim women and girls from education and foster extremism.

I’d add to this that schools can be super important for child safety.  If you are worried that a particular group might be harming their children (which it appears the Secular Party is), then making sure those children attend schools outside the home, where they will interact with teachers, counsellors and other adults who are in a position to notice something is wrong, is absolutely essential.

Speaking of schools, they want free, public, secular education, including comprehensive sex education, and they want to replace school chaplains with qualified counsellors.  Also:

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.

This is a good policy, but I feel like it sort of contradicts the ban on religious attire in schools.  If you can’t exclude a student for being Muslim, but you can prevent them from wearing religious attire, but that particular student’s interpretation of Islam requires religious attire, where, precisely, does that leave you?

Well, probably telling them that religion is just a stupid myth, but I’m still not convinced that this is productive.

The Secular Party opposes censorship, which for a change is not about repealing Section 18C, but is about opposing blasphemy laws and internet filters.  OK then.  They think that intellectual property is important, but that 70 years past the death of the author is too much – 50 should suffice – and they want no patents on genetic material.  They also make a point of recognising the rights of Indigenous communities to ‘maintain ownership of innovations derived from their custodial knowledge,’ so they get points for that.

On Health, the Secular Party wants accessible and affordable healthcare for all, and this should include prescription medicines and dental care.  They want to regulate alternative medicines, and they are in favour of medical research, including, by implication, use of animals in research, since they say quite firmly that testing cosmetics on animals is not OK.  They are a bit funny about religious hospitals:

Hospitals and medical services that are owned by religious organisations often display religious paraphernalia and may be inclined to favour medical practices that are influenced by religious doctrine. The Secular Party believes that such institutions that are in receipt of public money should not exhibit bias in favour of any religion. It is the policy of the Secular Party that such organisations be required to ensure that no such bias exists.

Look, the part about medical practices, I’m completely on board with.  Particularly in the area of women’s reproductive health (and especially pregnancy-related emergencies), our hospitals need to be providing evidence-based care, not doing things like waiting for an infection to reach a particular level of life-threateningness before intervening.  But I’m a bit bemused by the SP’s evident concerns about religious paraphernalia at hospitals.  I feel like these two things are of slightly different moral weight.

The SP wants drug use and abuse to be treated as a health and social issue rather than a criminal matter, and they are absolutely right. They also want to legalise and regulate ‘many drugs which are currently illegal’.  This is in line with harm minimisation practices, so good for them.

And that’s it.  Yes, there is a definite flavour of Smug Internet Atheist about the Secular Party, which would be less objectionable if it didn’t come with a side order of Islamophobia.

I reckon that the Secular Party is going to sit dead in the middle of my ballot.  On the one hand, they are fairly progressive, and have sensible policies on health, human rights, the environment and education.  On the other… they are such annoying gits.  And I don’t think they are as rational as they think they are – certainly, a little self-reflection would do them no harm at all.  There’s also something I can’t quite put my finger on that reads very… un-intersectional to me?  I think they genuinely mean well on all the anti-discrimination stuff and human rights stuff, and the welfare stuff, but their policies read as though they haven’t actually spoken to a lot of people in the groups they are talking about.

Well, and then there is the Islamophobia.  I mean, they definitely rate above the armed racists, the libertarians, the conspiracy theorists, the people with absolutely no policies at all, and the Liberal Party.  They do not, at least, seem to be harmful, or stupid (a little blinded by preconceptions, perhaps…).

But yeah.  Very much not my cup of tea, which would be fine, except that they do seem to feel that there is only one valid tea flavour, and that’s a bit of a problem for me.

Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

Strangely enough, neither secularism or atheism are common themes in Eurovision songs.  But I feel like ‘The Westener’s Karma kind of captures the feeling of this lot.

Lessons of Nirvana,

You’ll find Buddha standing in single file,
it’s a time of fun for everyone – a time of glory! (ALE!)
The crowd’s shouting a mantra,
yet evolution’s stumbling along;
the naked ape is dancing the Westerner’s Karma.
… Westerner’s Karma.
The naked ape is dancing the Westerner’s Karma.
Drops of Chanel pour on to sterile bodies
Save yourself from the smell of those around you!
Everyone’s a spin-doctor with the web in their pocket,
Cocaine for the masses – an opiate for the poor.

 

 

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