In February 2006, the NSW Humanists, the Australian National Secular Association (ANSA) and the newly formed Secular Party of Australia commissioned a Newspoll survey which, after questioning a carefully selected group of 1200 found that a majority of Australians, including Catholics, would support government legislating to separate church and state in Australia. The poll also said that a majority of Australians, including Catholics, also approve of same-sex legislation. Importantly, 28.8 per cent of Catholics strongly agreed with same-sex legislation and 20.2 per cent partly agreed.
To the question ‘Do you think there is, or there is not, a law separating church and state in Australia?’ 19.8 per cent said “Yes”; 45.9 per cent said “No”; 34.3 per cent opted for “Don’t know”.
When told there is no law separating churches and religious groups and the governments of Australia, either Federal or State, and asked whether they would support such a law, 31.7 per cent strongly agreed; 16 per cent partly agreed; 17.7 per cent partly disagreed; 18.8 per cent Strongly disagreed; and 15.8 per cent said “Don’t know”.
When asked whether the Federal Government should introduce a new law which formally recognises same-sex relationships’ overall 34.2 per cent strongly agreed; 18.3 per cent partly agreed; 9 per cent partly disagreed; 27.6 per cent strongly disagreed; and 10.9 per cent said “Don’t know”..
ANSA Director Dr Max Wallace, said Question 2, which for the first time in Australian history asked citizens what they thought about separation of church and state, and which generated a strong preference for legislation for separation, was an expression of Australians’ concerns at religious influence over the Australian government in the Howard era. He said the figures echo the classical Liberal sentiments expressed by Federal Minister, Joe Hockey, on 21 August 2002, when he said the Parliament is not a church for moral crusades and that it is not the role of elected representatives to impose their personal values on others.
Dr Wallace said the Newspoll results also go to the question of the “conscience vote” over RU-486. ‘This is a medical issue not a religious one. But when we see how the Prime Minister votes we’ll know for sure that citizens’ concerns about the need to keep church and state issues separate are ignored. It won’t be lost on the majority of voters that the Prime Minister is a Christian activist who puts his religious beliefs before a political duty of care to Australian women.’
Dr John Perkins, President of the Secular Party of Australia, said that as a majority of Australians support same-sex legislation, the government should legislate for it. “If they don’t, we’ll know why: politicians putting their religious beliefs ahead of the democratic majority.” He said the Newspoll showing 49 per cent of Catholics strongly and partly supporting same-sex legislation is yet another slap in the face for an out of touch church hierarchy.
The full Newspoll survey results are on the websites of the Secular Party of Australia http://www.secular.org.au and the NSW Humanists, http://www.hsnsw.asn.au