Australian Government Gives Millions for Religious Conference, None for Atheist Conference

The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc. and Atheist Alliance International are hosting a Global Atheist Convention in 2010. It’s going to be awesome, not just for the participants, but for the state of Victoria.

With possibly over 2,000 attendees, that’s a big chunk of tourism change coming into the region.

It makes sense, then, that the convention leaders would apply for $250,000 in funding from the Labor Government — not because of the religion aspect of it, but because this is good for Australia, and they give away money for this sort of thing.

How did that turn out?

President of AFA, David Nicholls, explains:

… it appears we “do not meet the criteria” for funding, (though we were recently led to believe that having reached ticket sales of 1000, funding was more or less assured). Indeed, we’re rather puzzled that the State Government held on to an application that didn’t meet its criteria for five months. It’s also puzzling that the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a similar gathering, in the same venue starting on December 3, involving a similar exchange of philosophical views qualifies for $4.5 million of government funds ā€“ more than 16 times the amount requested for the Global Atheist Convention.

$4,500,000 for a religious conference that could bring in about 5,000 attendees.

$0 for the atheists and their 2,000.

I didn’t know the Australian government was that bad at math. Someone should teach them about ratios and proportions.

I’d also like to know what criteria is not being met by the atheists. The articles I’ve read say the atheists didn’t meet it, without getting into any specifics.

(Thanks to Chrys for the link!)

  • Trace

    Didn’t the $ granting agencies argue that this even’t was perceived as being already secured ( or some BS along those lines ).

  • qwertyuiop

    Iā€™d also like to know what criteria is not being met by the atheists.

    Not religious.

    That’s all there is to it.

  • Kaylya

    I take it both funding requests are through programs that exist through the idea that supporting events that bring in tourists can help bring in many more tourist dollars to the local economy.

    Now, for the Parliament of World Religions event, it looks like a 7 day event. And it’s supported at around $900 per attendee, or around $129 per attendee per day.

    The atheist event is a 3 day event, and the requested funds work out to around $125 per person, or $42 per attendee per day.

    $129 per attendee per day seems like way too much to put in if the idea is to spin off tourism dollars. That’s probably subsidizing roughly the average hotel cost for people at the conference – maybe even more (given some locals, some people staying with locals, some staying in hostels, many staying in 3 star hotels at about that price point, and some staying in fancier hotels at twice that price point)

    And then people who are already staying for a week are probably less inclined to stay in the area a few extra days than people there for a weekend. It seems to me that almost all international attendees for the 3 day atheist conference would spend at least a few more days in the country given the travel times involved for most of them, and while many of the Parliament attendees would stay extra time as well, the average stay length may not differ so much.

  • flawedprefect

    I stand to be corrected, in fact, I hope to encourage to be corrected on the following. I believe this is drawing a dichotomy we have really been trying to avoid: Atheism as a religion. I’ve always contended that Atheism is precisely what religion is not; or more rightly – freedom from participating in any organized religion. To state “religious convention A got this much funding, where is ours” automatically suggests that an Atheist convention is a religious one. It’s not (I hope).

    To say that we are discriminated on the grounds of religious bias, however, which I believe is the point, is more correct: Religious group A received funding purely for upholding religious values and nothing more; we received no funding because of the stigma associated with atheism.

    I hope I’m making myself clear, here. It does get me angry that in Australia, altho we live in a secular nation, we can clearly see which side of our bread is buttered, and we have a PM who is outspokenly Xian.

  • Miko

    @Kaylya: That’s the problem with all government programs; logically they can’t create any wealth/value, so instead they just shift it around a la Three-Card Monte. The point isn’t to create new wealth for the area via tourism revenue, it’s to redistribute the wealth to the entrenched interests (typically, large landowners and especially hotel/tourism venues or other ventures based on rent collection) in a subtle way so that the masses won’t realize that they’re being robbed blind. In this case, they’re doing it by asserting that it’s in some vague way good for the community and throwing in a pro-religion bit for good measure. Similarly to how animals can be viewed as a mechanism by which genes replicate themselves, tourists are a mechanism whereby government takes money from many people and gives it to a few people. The economic effect is exactly the same as if they had just given it directly to the hotels, but people are less likely to object if they launder the money through an intermediary first. Just be glad they aren’t paying more in subsidies than they expect to take in as revenue, as even that isn’t uncommon (since the people making the revenue are by and large not the people paying for the subsidies).

  • Richard Wade

    The AFA statement concludes with:

    Despite all indications to the contrary, the Atheist Foundation is still hopeful that the decision is no more than a bureaucratic bungle and that sanity ā€“ and secularity – will soon prevail.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that. They’re not going to spontaneously do the right thing, they’re going to need to be pushed. I don’t know how or if the Australian Constitution protects against such arbitrary discrimination, but there certainly ought to be “criteria” written in official policy and I think some letters from an AFA lawyer are called for.

  • http://www.coreymondello.com Corey Mondello

    Sounds like they’re catching on to the tricks the religious folk in the USA honor daily.

  • Chal

    Miko: If people at the gathering spend more than the subsidies, and they would not have done so without the funding, then the government effectively generated money for that area.

    Of course, this requires the funding to somehow cause people to spend more money. Perhaps the organisers price tickets in anticipation of the funding so that they would actually be more expensive otherwise, which would reduce the number of people coming, which would reduce the revenue for the area.

    Whether this actually happens or not, I don’t know, but to claim that it’s logically impossible is incorrect.

  • Pseudonym

    I’d like to point out that the two conferences aren’t even close to being similar. The Parliament of the World’s Religions is an international diplomatic conference, close to the scale of a World Economic Forum summit. Every leader of every major world religion will be in one place. $4.5 million probably doesn’t even cover the costs of translators and security arrangements.

    By comparison, about half the speakers at the Global Atheist Conference are locals or near-locals (e.g. Peter Singer), and as far as I can tell, none currently live in a non-English-speaking country.

    So I’d be interested to know if there are any fairer comparisons. What conferences that are similar in scale to the Global Atheist Conference have received public funding, and how much?

    Mind you, the government’s economic analysis was probably partly based on the amount of global publicity that the event will attract, rather than the amount of money that local businesses will get from visitors. (At least, that’s the only reason I can think of that Catholic Youth Day got $55 million in 2008. Yes, I know it was also technically a state visit, but $55 million is a lot.)

  • GribbletheMunchkin

    Miko: Not sure i follow your logic here. Government certainly can create wealth/value through government programs. Job training programs, public health systems, education. All these are government run (at least where i live, the UK) and all add significantly to the British economy. And not just by moving the money around. Schools and universities develop skills that enable a high tech sector, public health means that illness doesn’t necessarily lead to poverty and job training programs keep the number of skilled workers high, as even after a particular sector diminishs, people can get retrained.

    I can’t see at all you reasoning on this.

  • P_O_O_L

    I’m still looking for legal/regulatory criteria to qualify as a religion.
    Perhaps all atheists should refer to themselves as Pastafarians from now on…


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