Religions for Peace Australia – through the offices of the National Secretary, Dr. Susan Ennis and oversight from the Chair, Professor Emeritus Desmond Cahill, has conducted an audit of mulitfaith and interfaith activity in each state along with the National Capital. The Audit results find skewed activities and significant variations in support of multifaith and interfaith activity. An overview of the report is given, and the document is available for reading.
RELIGION and SOCIAL COHESION IN AUSTRALIA: AN OVERVIEW of MULTIFAITH ACTIVITY
The audit has highlights that policy and program development of faith/worldviews from a government perspective is simply not occurring, even though religion is constantly in the news like the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse and the media focus on religiously inspired terrorism.
This report articulates the need for action.
We would welcome your support for the holding a small national two-day conference for those who are actively engaged in faith/worldviews and multicultural matters in early 2019 or support for any of the recommendations below.
In 2017-18, as part of its continuing commitment to Australia’s social and religious well-being, Religions for Peace Australia (RfP Australia) conducted an Audit of Multifaith/Interfaith Groups and Institutions and their activities across Australia: from the Grassroots to International Engagement to examine what is occurring across the nation.
Two structural factors motivated the above overview. Firstly, Australia is often described as a secular society implying that the secularist worldview is official policy whereas in fact Australia is a civil society with a soft separation of Religion and State. In addition, the religious profile of Australia has changed very quickly over the past two decades with Australia paradoxically becoming more secular and more multi-faith with a huge growth in the numbers of believers in faiths other than Christian (see the full attached report for details).
This RfP Australia audit found that the multifaith/interfaith sector is managed by very small dedicated groups of volunteers, a handful of part-time paid workers (almost all appointed by religious bodies such as the Catholic Church and its dioceses, by local government councils, by one network (the Interfaith Network of the City of Greater Dandenong) and an even smaller group of dedicated academics many of whom are semi-retired. This audit also found that faith/worldviews engagement was not included as a structured part of social cohesion policy by the Federal Minister of Home Affairs, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the State and Territory governments, nor the Federal Department of Social Services.
The audit has highlighted policy and program development of faith/worldviews from a government perspective is simply not occurring, even though religion is constantly in the news with the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse and the focus on religiously inspired terrorism and this report articulates the need for action.
Given that the last conference to discuss multifaith and multicultural matters was twenty years ago, RfP Australia calls for a small national two-day conference of selected volunteers, paid employees, academics, politicians (tripartite), policy makers and interested parties who are actively engaged in faith/worldviews and multicultural matters. It is suggested that this timely conference be held in early 2019. The aim of the conference is to discuss matters mentioned in this report and matters raised by other interested persons (see full attached report for details).
1. ESTABLISH AND FUND FAITH/WORLDVIEW SECTION WITHIN AN AGENCY
This audit agrees with the suggestion of the Senate’s 2017 report on Ways of protecting and strengthening Australia’s multiculturalism and social inclusion which calls for a National Centre for Multiculturalism and Religious Diversity (NCMRD). It is important to note that the 2004 Religion, Cultural Diversity and Safeguarding Australia report for the then Immigration Department, recommended that a similar centre was needed and urged for but was not implemented.
It is suggested that an Australia-wide expert body be formed on faith/worldview matters to support and guide this new section and that this committee have representatives from FECCA, APRO, RfP Australia, United Religions Initiative, select established multifaith groups, the Attorney General’s Counter Terrorism unit and relevant peace-making organisations. These participants span from the grass roots to academic levels and that they be of different faiths and worldviews. Also, appointments be made for a maximum of 6 years.
It is recommended that until such an agency as NCMRD is formed that the Australian Multicultural Foundation employ 4-6 employees with full time status. Their tasks will encompass researcher, program initiator, evaluator and educator. It is envisaged that in the first few years there will be a considerable amount of work. However, this should reduce as policy and structures are developed to bring multifaith/worldviews into the multicultural area and mainstream educational frameworks.
It is also recommended that funds from the counter-terrorism area be marginally reduced. That these separate funds them be directed to developing faith/worldview policies, programs and evaluation within the three tiers of Australian Government as this will strengthen Australia’s social cohesion.
2. FAITH/WORLDVIEW POLICY, PROGRAM AND RESEARCH INITIATIVES
i. Federal and State Education Policies and Programs: School Education: the national curriculum and teaching training bodies to incorporate religious and worldview education in its framework, and this be incorporated in all State school curricula.
ii. Federal Initiatives:
a. Signs and Symbols for a Multifaith Australia: there needs to be a public consultative study on Signs and symbols in and for a multifaith Australia.
b. Opening Prayers and Statements for Each Parliamentary Day: RfP Australia supports the suggestion made in the 2004 study “that the Our Father [in Federal Parliament] be replaced by a series of prayers and readings selected by each of the major faith communities [including secular] on a rotational basis”
c. Modifications to the Racial Discrimination Act: to provide for similar protections against discrimination upon religious grounds.
iii. State Multicultural and Multifaith Policies: New Initiatives at the State Level i.e. each State and territory to be encouraged to have faith advisory councils (only some States currently have this), a small-scale review of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO) be conducted with a view to a set of recommendations as to the way forward, and that each State and Territory police force establish a Multifaith advisory council using the 2005 model adopted by Victoria Police.
iv. National Training Issues: The complex interaction between people of differing worldviews need to be incorporated into current accredited and new accredited courses. Such courses need sufficient funds and clearly defined standards i.e.
- Community Education
- Chaplaincy Standards/ Education
- Education of Media Personnel
- Education of Multifaith Workers
- Induction Programs for Newly Arrived Religious Leaders
v. The Adult Migrant Education Program: There needs to be a revamping of AMEP courses/curriculum and increased training for AMEP staff and Humanitarian Services in how to assist people with differing faith/worldviews settle into Australia.
Vi. Research Needs
a) Australia-wide Audit,
b) Religious Exclusivism, Interreligious Harmony and Social Cohesion