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.
The Secular Party recognises the societal benefits of a well-funded and high-quality education system. This is best provided by teaching based on universal values and principles, and school curricula founded on reason and evidence consistent with academic expertise. Currently, funding is inequitable and fails to properly resource students with complex needs, leading to disadvantage. It also promotes the segregation of students according to their parents’ faiths.To address these issues and in accordance with the overarching principle of evidence-based policy, the Secular Party of Australia would broadly seek to implement the recommendations of the Gonski Review, with some amendments. Firstly, if the financial resources available per student in a private school, including those provided by school fees, exceed the standard resource per student, government funding will be reduced accordingly and used to help bring disadvantaged public schools to the required standard. Secondly, 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.
The Secular Party also supports an adequately funded tertiary education sector. The future economic health of the country depends upon investment in education.
The Secular Party believes that the UN International Convention on the Rights of the Child should be enshrined in legislation so that children receive fair and equitable treatment, without being taken advantage of or being abused. We endorse institutions that support and educate parents in parenting issues including preschools, schools and other organisations that support the family.
The Secular Party believes in equality and that the stipulation that marriage must be between a man and a woman discriminates against same-sex couples. It is therefore the policy of the Secular Party that references to specific genders be removed from the Marriage Act, and that marriage should be defined as between two people.
The Secular Party also believes that civil marriages and the celebrants who perform them should have equal status with religious marriages and celebrants. It is therefore the policy of the Secular Party 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”. It is also our policy that civil celebrants should have a status equal to ministers of religion in relation to witnessing statutory declarations, and in relation to GST exemption.
Personal freedoms should be based on modern secular humanist principles. Only secularism can guarantee religious freedom, and we endorse this freedom. However those who adhere to faith-based morality frequently seek to impose their religious views on the entire population. This occurs in policies concerning areas such as abortion, voluntary euthanasia, stem cell research, drug policy and gay rights.
The Secular Party believes in equal human rights. Same-sex couples should enjoy the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples, in inheritance, and for all ceremonial, financial, legal and medical purposes. 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.
Death with dignity
It is unethical that in this day and age Australians who are suffering through irreversible injury or disease are prevented from undergoing a peaceful and dignified death in the company of loved ones. Each individual should have control over his or her own destiny. Religious lobby groups have repeatedly blocked appropriate legislation on voluntary euthanasia in various states.
It is the policy of the Secular Party that voluntary euthanasia be legalised, at state and federal levels, in cases where the individual is undergoing unbearable suffering with little or no hope of improvement. It is also the policy of the Secular Party that this legislation should include adequate safeguards to prevent abuse. This would include, but not be limited to, independent and unbiased psychological evaluation, independent and unbiased medical evaluation, a “cooling off” period, and the right of the patient to change his or her mind at any stage of the process.
The rights of citizens have been curtailed as a result of the “war on terror”. There is a risk that these new laws will produce greater alienation amongst target groups. Citizens therefore need the protection of legislation that protects human rights. The Secular Party endorses and supports a proposed Bill of Rights Act. The purpose of this act is to formalise in Australia rights that have already been agreed to in international treaties that Australia has signed and ratified.
The Secular Party recognises that equality between men and women is a basic human right. 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.
Legislation surrounding abortion law differs from state to state, and is often poorly defined and poorly understood. Religious parliamentarians and lobby groups continue to have undue influence on such legislation, despite cases including but not limited to contraceptive failure, health issues, economic hardship, changed circumstances and rape. Abortion should be a matter solely for women and their medical practitioners.
It is the policy of the Secular Party that abortion be removed from criminal law in all states. Furthermore, it is our policy that all medically approved surgical and medical abortion procedures and medications (such as RU486) and all contraceptives be available under Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
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.
It is the policy of the Secular Party that pharmaceutical staff be required to administer all prescribed medication, irrespective of religious preference.
The Secular Party believes that ideally, expression of religious belief should be a private matter for adults. However we endorse the right of adult individuals to wear clothing of their choice.
The Secular Party supports a ban on identity hiding-garments or other items, including burqas and motorcycle helmets, in public places where there are legitimate security and/or safety concerns, or where personal identification is required. The Secular Party supports the right of relevant officials to request that such items be removed.
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.
Anti-discrimination laws that have been enacted in Australia make exceptions on the grounds of religion. The Secular Party sees it as unjust that religious groups can legally discriminate against others. We propose that these loopholes be removed from anti-discrimination laws.
Christian-based blasphemy laws still exist in Australia, despite being rarely used. Islamic nations have campaigned in the United Nations to have laws banning blasphemy made mandatory worldwide. All such laws are an attempt to impose religious law, and to impose it in particular upon those who do not believe in that or any other religion. They are designed to protect religions from beneficial exposure to analysis and criticism based on reason and evidence. Such laws are anti-secular and are an unwarranted restriction on the right to freedom of speech. In many countries they lead to gross abuses and violation of human rights.
It is therefore the policy of the Secular Party to abolish blasphemy laws in Australia, and to oppose all blasphemy laws internationally.
The Secular Party supports the right to access legal information and entertainment. Internet censorship is a tool commonly used by tyrannical regimes. It is hypocritical for Australia to introduce a broad internet censorship scheme which is in principle no different from an authoritarian one.
Under current laws, the Australian Communications and Media Authority may investigate and fine websites hosted in Australia if they contain illegal material; we believe that this is an appropriate method of regulating internet content. Given the technical and ethical concerns with a broad filtering of all internet content, the Secular Party is opposed to any kind of internet filter.
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.
Environment and climate change
We recognise global warming as a significant and dire threat to global civilisation. To address the problem, global carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced dramatically. Existing “cap and trade” proposals may not achieve anything like the magnitude of reduction required. They may therefore be a counterproductive diversion. The required global emission reductions are eqivalent to the global cessation of emissions from coal-fired electricity generation. We need the phased introduction of a carbon tax, nationally and internationally.
The cost of investment in alternative energy production will be at least a hundred billion dollars in Australia alone. This can be financed from revenue from a carbon tax. To facilitate the introduction of a tax internationally, and to ease the transition for Australian industry, the Secular Party proposes an International Coal Tax to be levied on coal exports, in conjunction with other coal exporters. Revenue from the tax would be distributed domestically and internationally to assist structural adjustment and provide welfare compensation.
All forms of low carbon energy production will need to be utilised, including photovoltaic, wind, solar thermal, geothermal, tidal and new generation nuclear. Given Australia’s prominence in the world supply of uranium, the Secular Party considers that it is Australia’s responsibility, and to our advantage, to participate in all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, including power generation and waste disposal.
Read more: a solution to global warming . . .
The Secular Party recognises the need for health services to be accessible and affordable for all citizens, including dental care and prescription medicines. We recognise that multiple funding streams, together with the burden of oversight means that private health insurance, and particularly public subsidies for private health care, are an additional inefficient burden, and should be removed.
We further recognise cost shifting and perverse incentives through the tension between State and Federal Governments as a major problem in providing adequate funding, necessitating thorough reform of Federal-State health arrangements.
Complementary and alternative medicines
Australians spend more money on complementary medicines and therapies than they do on conventional evidence-based medicine. Despite this, there is little or no regulation of such products and treatments. They can be registered or listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, but if considered “low risk”, the TGA allows such listing without any form of efficacy testing.
Consumers can thus easily be misled by scam therapies that are implausible or defy logic, reason or scientific principles. It is the policy of the Secular Party that the regulatory regime for complementary medicine be tightened with the introduction of evidence-based criteria for registration or listing, and that Medicare rebates not apply to alternative therapies that have not passed tests for safety and efficacy.
Religious organisations and public health
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.
The Secular Party endorses all medical research, with appropriate ethical oversight, that benefits humanity. This should not be limited by misguided or religiously inspired “sanctity of life” prohibitions. We do not support research involving animals for purposes such as the development of cosmetics.
The Secular Party stands for the use of balanced judgement in economics, rather than any ideology. We recognise the general need for balanced budgets, but do not accept free market fundamentalism. In cases of market failure, government intervention is required. We recognise that Australia’s role as a major resource exporter is a significant factor in determining Australia’s economic future.
Tax exemptions for religion
Religious institutions receive significant advantages in terms of tax exemptions and benefits. At the same time these institutions are largely unaccountable for their receipt and distribution of funds. The policy of the Secular Party is to end these religious tax exemptions and subsidies. This will benefit the average taxpayer and a level playing field will be provided for all charities.
The Secular Party supports the setting up of a Charities Commission to supervise the appropriate administration of not-for-profit organisations. The Secular Party supports the proposal that a public benefit test be applied as a qualification for the granting of tax exemptions for religious organisations. The Secular Party proposes that the “advancement of religion” is not of itself sufficient to warrant exemptions under the definition of charitable purpose or public benefit.
Resource rent tax
Given the finite nature of global resources, and with increased demand from countries such as China, we expect that exports of Australian resources will continue to grow. In this situation, commodity prices may continue to substantially exceed mining production costs. To give all Australians, the collective owners of the country’s mineral wealth, an equitable share in the proceeds of future resource sales, the Secular Party supports improving the effectiveness of the resource rent tax on excessive profits from the mining of non-renewable resources.
The Secular Party recognises that those who have become marginalised in society, such as drug users, criminals and the mentally ill, need support and fair treatment. Our view is that unwarranted cuts to services, that push responsibilities back to carers or others, merely create further problems. Our policy is to provide incentives for individuals and companies to support individuals in need.
The Secular Party recognises the crisis in housing affordability. We recognise the need for Government intervention, including the need for the provision of public housing.
Global population is a significant issue in dealing with many environmental problems. Australia is a dry but relatively rich country, and has a low population compared with our neighbours. Australia’s resource wealth will enable us to maintain a privileged position in the global community. The Secular Party is opposed to policies that encourage a higher birth rate. It is the policy of the Secular Party to abolish the baby bonus.
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.
Oaths and prayers
Oaths sworn in association with a chosen religious book have legal standing in Australia. Prayers to a particular deity are used to open parliaments and religious references are made on other ceremonial occasions. The veracity of such oaths and the solemnity of such occasions are not enhanced by such references.
The Secular Party believes that all citizens should be bound by the same undertaking, irrespective of their religion or non-religion, and that ceremonial references to religious beings are anachronistic, ethnocentric and divisive. It is our policy therefore that affirmations be taken, following which a religious oath may also be sworn upon request. On ceremonial occasions it is our policy that these entail pledges of loyalty to principles, and to the people of Australia.
Adapting a proposal by Dr Steven Tudor and Dr Gonzalo Villalta Puig of La Trobe University, it is the policy of the Secular Party that parliamentary prayers be replaced by the following oath, followed by a minute’s silence:
“All stand. We, the members of this House, humbly recognise the solemn responsibility placed upon us by the sovereign people of Australia to work together for the peace, order and good government of this Commonwealth, and we resolve to perform our duty with honour and integrity. I now ask all members to remain standing and, in silence, to reflect on our responsibilities to the people of Australia.”
To ensure that new Australian citizens understand that their primary loyalty must be to Australia and its values, not their religion, it is the policy of the Secular Party that there be a uniform Citizenship Pledge, to be used at citizenship ceremonies, as follows:
“From this time forward, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights, liberties and values I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.”
NB: Compared with the existing Pledge, the word “values” is inserted, and the optional words “under God” are deleted.
Food labelling for religious purposes
Some religious groups would like to see the introduction of religious food certification as part of food labelling standards. It is not the role of the state to authorise standards that are based on arbitrary religious doctrines and which have no relation to public health. The Secular Party is opposed to the introduction of any such standards.
The Secular Party recognises the need for incarceration to prevent harm, to foster reform and as a deterrent. Revenge should not be a motivation in punishment. The Secular Party advocates policies that stress rehabilitation, crime prevention and harm minimisation.
One law for all
The rule of law is best upheld and universal human rights are best protected by having laws that apply equally to all citizens, irrespective of culture or religion. Any legal recognition of Islamic Sharia law or Aboriginal traditional law is a violation of this principle. It is therefore the policy of the Secular Party that all laws be enacted such that they apply equally to all citizens.
The Secular Party recognises that monarchies embody the concept of hereditary privilege, and that this is incompatible with the principle of equal human rights. The British monarch is also head of the Church of England. Having the monarch as the Australian Head of State is thus a violation of the basic secular principle of separation of church and state. It is therefore the policy of the Secular Party that Australia become a republic, with an Australian head of state.
The Secular Party recognises that there are many other motivations for a republic, including that the people of Australia be ultimately sovereign and the source of any authority in government.
Strategic defence planning, as indicated by scheduled purchase of military equipment for the army, navy and air force, appears to assume that the future use of the Australian Defence Force will be for long-range external purposes in association with the United States. The Secular Party acknowledges the need for alliances, but does not accept that these should predetermine our entire defence strategy. We therefore support restructure of our defence capabilities in favour of greater self-reliance.
The Secular Party recognises that civilisation is sustained by the rule of law. Globally, we support the enhancement of the International Criminal Court as a means of dealing with problems, rather than arbitrary superpower intervention. We support the development of international corporate law as a means of addressing adverse transnational corporate behaviour.
We recognise that secularism is a principle that has wide application in solving a number of global issues. We support the concept of comprehensive secularism, (as defined by the International Humanist and Ethical Union) which entails not only impartiality between religions and the separation of religion from state institutions, but also the intervention, where necessary, to protect human rights from violation by religious assertions and injunctions.
Israel and Palestine
The Secular Party is opposed to theocracies, whether Christian, Islamic or Judaic. A state that preserves privileges to a particular religious, ethnic or national group violates secular principles and universal human rights. The Secular Party advocates that the only possible long-term solution is one in which all citizens have equal rights.