Category Archives: hypocrisy

Religion is a very serious business.

It’s not always easy being an atheist.  Too often I get caught in religious debates.  The same old stuff comes out; Pascal’s Wager1, Darwin didn’t prove life came from nothing, so evolution isn’t true2, our eyes are proof of intelligent design3, and so on it goes.  As an atheist, I’m not one to jump down believers’ throats and shout at them to tell them they are deluded.  It’s one of the fundamental human rights as laid down in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; people have the right to observe their religion.

I don’t believe religion is intrinsically a rort. However I do believe it’s protected by the Law more than secular belief such as humanism and is easily corrupted.  Yes, believe in whichever deity you want and you should not be persecuted by the state for that belief.  I say “the state” because it’s perfectly reasonable for any individual to question the integrity of such a believer; if such a believer is honest with nothing to hide, then the answers should flow freely, as any statement of faith should.

Yet this isn’t what really happens.  The very well publicised Harold Camping said the rapture would occur on 21st of May 2011.  He was (not surprisingly) wrong, and not for the first time on this matter, either.  Conservative Christians in the US, UK and here in Australia oppose gay marriage using 2 common arguments as a basis; 1) it would undermine heterosexual marriage by removing rights from heterosexual marriages, and 2) the law (at least in Australia) defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  Both these arguments are, to be fair, weak.

Now I wouldn’t personally mind this kind of debate if it were on a fair playing field.  Dare I suggest most religious conservatives believe it is, or if not it’s slanted in favour of the “homosexual agenda.”  If only it were!  Organised religion is exempt from discrimination laws; religious schools can expel students and sack teachers on the basis of being gay, pregnant and unwed, or even being nonbelievers of the school’s religion e.g. a Buddhist can be sacked in a Catholic school.  That wouldn’t be such a problem if governments didn’t give such schools no strings attached subsidies!

This is nothing short of hypocrisy.

For all that, my biggest beef is that religions don’t pay tax.  Religions hold the cards here, because in nearly all democratic nations, religions are exempt from paying tax.  They are assumed to be not-for-profit organisations.

(Now to be fair, most religious organisations are not-for-profit, but how do we know if the books are kept in secret, and religion is exempt from Freedom of Information laws?)

These exemptions have their basis in medieval law, when the church and state were cosy bedfellows.  The church even had powers to tax.  That may have changed since the French and American revolutions and the resultant separation of powers, but religion remains untouchable when it comes to tax. It’s unreasonable, and unjust.

To make things a little more fair, organised religions should be taxed like non-religious charities, trusts and companies.  If a registered religious group is truly not-for-profit, then nothing changes; they won’t pay tax.  If they do make profits, or accumulate wealth through property, gifts, bequeathments, grants and so forth, then they should have to declare their income, assets, fringe benefits, etc., and thus pay tax.  Like anyone else.  The same rules should apply equally to all.

To demonstrate the hypocrisy, the Church of Scientology was taken to task by a few individuals who believe the organisation is quackery and fraudulent, claiming that Scientology is not a religion but a philosophy.  This may be true, and as an atheist I have little doubt that the accusations are true.  However the means of attack against Scientology was about their tax status, not values or ideology.  The High Court of Australia ruled that Scientology is a religion and therefore exempt from being taxed.  Anyone can form a religion as long as there is a belief in a supernatural something, and cannons of conduct exist and are accepted by the believers.  That’s all.

I’m not going to try to figure out how much governments – and therefore citizens – miss out by religious organisations not paying any tax, but as a guestimate the figure would be in he order of $1 billion.

In the meanwhile, approximately $600 million is being spent by the Federal Gillard government to place chaplains in all schools; private religious and government secular alike.  The Victorian Baillieu government is injecting a further $200 million.  These chaplins aren’t allowed to teach or proselytise, so what is the point of them being there?  I can only see them as bargain basement counsellors with no qualifications at all other than to have a working with children check like this or this.  Seriously, no teaching, psychology or any tertiary qualifications are needed at all; equivalent experience is enough.  Far from being representative of the non-secular make-up of Australia, these chaplains are all Christian4.  It’d be interesting if an atheist was appointed as a school chaplain under the NSCP.

Is it not galling enough that that secular entities don’t pay tax and yet many are given government grants, or paid contracts to provide essential services?  How is it fair that a church can “syphon” off funds from government to build a chapel instead of, say, a computer lab for students?  How is it fair that an organisation like The Salvation Army can purchase a vehicle tax free to provide for a Salvation Officer or employee in lieu of income?  (In any other context this is seen as Fringe Benefits and is thus taxed.)  This is a double dip that no other business can get away with.

I specifically mention the Salvos because they have many government contracts to provide services to the community, such as employment and food, clothing and transport.  It goes without saying the Salvation Army don’t do it for nothing, but we won’t find out how much profit they earn from these deals because they are exempt from FOI because they are a contracted service provider (and a religion).

Why can’t a secular charity or organisation provide these services?  Well, some do, but without the tax breaks afforded to them that religious organisations automatically get, secular organisations aren’t competitive in a bidding process.

All this makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not suggesting all nonsecular organisations are corrupt, but they are certainly open to corruption and have more mechanisms at their disposal to cover up any corruption.  It’s difficult to prosecute when wrongdoing is exposed, too.  Such as when a private religious school principal and his brother were taken to trial for fraud, but they were acquitted on appeal despite the obvious rort.

It’s time to stop giving religious organisations a helping hand at becoming asset rich whilst they cry poor.  Praying should not be conceded to be a public service.  Religious charities should not be allowed to discriminate when they are contracted to provide a government service to all members of the community.  Most of all, it’s time for the books to be open and tax paid in the same way, under the same rules, that secular organisations have to.

1. Pascal’s Wager suggests it’s a good idea to “hedge one’s” bet and believe in God.  If God doesn’t exist, then no harm done.  This logic fails because there is more than one god.  Also, any god who chooses humans because of their gambling habits over their value as humans is vain and capricious and therefore not worth aspiring to be with.

2. Darwin’s seminal work On the Origin of Species isn’t about first life, rather how new species evolve from common ancestors by natural selection.  It’s not just an idea, but a testable theory with observable predictions, just like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Further, debating anything in science using the premise “but x isn’t true” does not negate a theory in it’s entirety; just because science doesn’t explain everything doesn’t mean it can’t explain anything.

3. Human eyes are terrible at many things.  They aren’t like camera at all, and only a small part near the centre of the retina, near the blind spot, can detect colour.  Even then it’s not very good.  If the eye were designed, then the designer did less than a half-arsed job.

4. This blog here does an excellent job of dissecting chaplains in school, and why the commissioned report (which I linked here) for Access Ministries should be viewed as propaganda, or the very least, extremely subjective and biased.  Not one acceptable metric was used.

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>Welcome to Eternal Digital Purgatory

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It’s an unwritten law about politicians: it’s expected that they be hypocrites and be able to disguise (so they think) by using gobbledegook or nonsensical technocrat jargon.
Senator The Honourable Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is today’s subject.  Well, not so much a subject as a lesson.  In not how to be a minister.
What Conroy is trying to achieve is nothing short of total censorship of the internet within Australia.  Many commentators have already spoken about this, commentators far more qualified than I am.  However I will add something that no commentator to my knowledge have spoken about.
I wrote to the Senator about his plans for a compulsory internet filter for all Australian ISPs.  He finally replied with an nonsense letter (in PDF form), republished here;

(I apologise for the poor quality of the images.  One could say it represents the quality of the answers Conroy gave.)

There are some answers that amuse me.  For example Enex TestLab tested the filter, but no IT group, journalist or editor accept the findings, particularly at ADSL2+ speeds.  Mainly because the Minister reneged on his promise to publish the full results.  Instead we have to take the Minister’s word and Enex’s report as gospel.  No surprise, then, that Enex “found that a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy.”  Of course it can, because that’s like saying parsing a text file for the word “the” will succeed 100% of the time if “the” is in the defined list.  What Senator Conroy or Enex don’t say is what the defined list is.  In other words it’s easy to pass with 100% any test when you know what the answers are beforehand.  If it were a statistical study or basic science at year 11/12 level, then quite rightly the examiners would fail the student.

Of course, this “one hundred per cent accuracy” is spin.  At least three websites were erroneously added to the the banned list, if this news article is to be believed.  And even though I don’t trust News Ltd or the Courier Mail 100%, I trust that report 100% more than Conroy’s statements.  Especially since Conroy threatened to have the Federal Police, which was never followed up, investigate the leaking of the list held by AMCA.

There are, at best, deliberately misleading errors, or at worst, lies, by Conroy.  The claim that Germany has already legislated ISP filtering only relates to child abuse.  Italy’s Ministerial Decree only relates to child abuse and illegal gambling sites.  Neither are close to the scope Conroy and the Government want to implement.  Misinformation, spin or lies.  You decided.
Much more amusing is the quote “Some opponents of the policy are trying to misrepresent the figures in the Enex Testlabs report by suggesting that a figure if of less than ten per cent is substantial.  To put that into context of real time, Australia’s largest ISP, Telstra, undertook its own testing that showed the impact on internet performance would be less than one seventeenth of the blink of an eye!”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty certain a “blink of an eye!” isn’t a standard measurement of time, let alone one seventeenth of a blink of an eye.  It’s a claim made more absurd when neither the government nor Telstra will release how they tested the filter to arrive at this ‘figure’.
Who are these opponents?  One is a influential body, Save the Children, an NGO that pushes for some radical rights for children.  But even they are against Conroy.  Why?  Adviser Holly Doel-Mackaway when interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald said:





The filter scheme [is] “fundamentally flawed” because it failed to tackle the problem at the source and would inadvertently block legitimate resources.  Furthermore there was no evidence to suggest that children were stumbling across child pornography when browsing the web.  Doel-Mackaway believes the millions of dollars earmarked to implement the filters would be far better spent on teaching children how to use the internet safely and on law enforcement.  “Children are exposed to the abusive behaviours of adults often and we need to be preventing the causes of violence against children in the community, rather than blocking it from people’s view.”

    Even Google Australia’s Head of Policy, Iarla Flynn, wrote in an official Google Blog:





    At Google we are concerned by the Government’s plans to introduce a mandatory filtering regime for Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Australia, the first of its kind amongst western democracies.* Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide.





    We have a bias in favour of people’s right to free expression. While we recognise that protecting the free exchange of ideas and information cannot be without some limits, we believe that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.





    Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available – and we agree. Google, like many other Internet companies, has a global, all-product ban against child sexual abuse material and we filter out this content from our search results. But moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”…

      This is not enough for Conroy and his cronies.  In justifying the filter, Conroy concedes that “it is possible that filtering may be circumvented by a technically competent user”.  That is a lie, Conroy.  A user need not be technically competent to circumvent the filter.  A user only needs to see what other users are doing to circumvent the the filter, and apply it to their own situation.  A user doesn’t need to know the hows and whys of various methods to work around the filter.  The user merely only needs access to the information.  Such as a WikiPedia page or a forum with the instructions.  A user doesn’t need to know how an OS like Windows 7 or Mac OS X work, so sure as eggs break when thrown at brick walls, the “technically competent” will be able to show even the most casual user how to circumvent the filter.
      The filter doesn’t address peer-to-peer connections or proxy servers or VPNs.  In short AUD$126 million and counting is being wasted to catch the 11 or 12 kiddy porn downloaders out of the 22 million Australians.  Wow that’s outstanding value, Conroy.  Pity it won’t catch the thousands using peer-to-peer networks or those grooming on chat channels and the like.  Police agencies will still have to work as hard as ever to catch these offenders, and the “smartest” of these offenders will escape being caught.
      It’s as stupid an idea to waste money to target the drug mules carrying illicit drugs in their hand luggage instead trying to nail the source.  Or ignoring illegal drug labs and targeting the one or two drug-fucked that sell a few grams of low-quality marijuana to undercover police officers.
      So why is Conroy equally obsessed with a mandatory filter and refusing to answer questions by the public or the media about it, except on his terms to spruik it?
      This will help answer that question.
      Conroy, despite being a Senator for the Australian Labor Party, is a conservative right-of-centre politician.  Since leaving university he has been working for, or understudy to some of the ALP’s biggest king-makers and head-kickers.  He has been implicated in the plot to removed former ALP leaders Mark Latham and Kim Beasley to stall current hypocrite, PM and master of double-speak Kevin Rudd.
      Conroy’s also religiously a conservative, fundamentalist Catholic, having voted against the “morning after pill” RU486 (the bill passed, and RU486 is legally available in Australia), and voted to overturn the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws.  Not so ironically, abortion and euthanasia will be banned subjects once the filter is imposed in full.  We’re not talking about pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia, the filter will block any site that discusses these issues.  Potentially sites that carry information about safer drug use, or safer sexual practices, will also fall foul of the filter.  It’s conceivable that people will die because information Conroy perceives as dangerous will be filtered, or if a domain within Australia, be given a “take down notice” by ACMA without AMCA having to explain why such an order is issued.

      Separation of church and state, anyone?

      Despite his conservative, fundamentalist Catholic views, and right wing conservative political views, he and his wife arranged to have a surrogate mother by egg donation, with the procedure performed in New South Wales.  Such surrogacy arrangements were illegal in his home state, and the state of his Senate Seat, Victoria.  Not to mention that such a procedure anywhere goes against the Papal decrees of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI.
      This man wants censorship based on an ill-informed won’t-someone-think-of-the-children mentality, justifying it on the thinest of premises.  The very same man who has, despite the deep conservative fundamentalist Catholic beliefs, evaded one set of laws by having the procedure done in another state and yet use his vote to overturn the wishes of the Northern Territory because euthanasia is a “dirty” word in fundamentalist Catholicism.
      For now, Conroy wants to protect children from seeing images that have been refused classification, and yet there is no transparency as who decides this or exactly how it is to be done.  Even the “list” of URLs which have been deemed to contain material which is Refused Classification is to be kept secret.  Despite what Conroy wants, the horrible truth is that children will continue to be abused – with the Catholic Church still being the biggest institution offending, and protecting offenders).  Internet content that is currently available with a classification will inadvertently be reclassified as RC mostly due to some fundamentalist viewpoint objecting for no other reason than their belief that it should be offensive, or because a site has been hacked and redirects to a site that sells sex toys or R18+ DVDs.




      How long is it before ideology or political or social commentary is deemed to be “Refused Classification”, with the author or authors none the wiser as to who complained and under which grounds the complainants believe the material is RC?  This has already been done.  The parody site StephenConroy.com.au has been removed by auDA and has the strong stench of political interference.
      We can only hope that the bill, and Conroy’s and the Government’s plans are scuttled.  And then hope Conroy doen’t introduce it as policy as a back-door method to get around the law.
      There is something you can do.  Write to your local MHR (you can find your member here), and cc Senator Conroy either by senator.conroy@aph.gov.au or minister@dbcde.gov.au
      Don’t restrict your questions to the filter.  Ask about the NBN, AustraliaPost, the ABC and SBS.  Anything and everything that is in his portfolio.  That way you won’t get an automatic, computerised letter that says nothing.  When you do get a response, question the answers, and ask again.  This is where asking your MHR is important.  You MHR is obliged to ask questions of the Minister on your behalf and the Minister is obliged to answer.
      As it currently stands, on-line petitions are being ignored.  Conroy doesn’t have to respond, and given the outrage and lack of intestinal fortitude, he won’t.
      It’s time Conroy had a decent kick in the balls, or his head kicked in instead of being the head-kicker.