The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) has questioned a decision by the Victorian Government to reject an application for funding for the Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne next March.
The application was made in June 2009 through the Premier’s Department. It was then passed like a ball of flaming brimstone to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and, from there, to the Victorian Multicultural Commission where it has remained, smouldering, for months.
The AFA was advised that the basic criteria for funding was over one thousand ticket sales, including purchases from interstate and overseas. That goal was accomplished in October.
Also in October, the Atheist Foundation received a letter of rejection from the Premier’s Department. But, when AFA President, David Nicholls, questioned the decision he was told the letter had been sent in error, because the application was now being handled elsewhere.
This week, the Convention & Visitors Bureau advised that it was rejecting the AFA’s application because the Convention was already ‘secured’. This was a surprise to the AFA, who believed their application was being handled through the Multicultural Commission and had never been told that securing a venue would disqualify the Convention from funding. In fact, the venue was secured months ago prompting no comment from any government department until now.
“One has to ask,” says Nicholls, “how you can confirm 1,000 ticket sales before having a venue secured.”
“And,” Nicholls continues, “if our application didn’t meet the government criteria, why did they hold on to our application for five months without once mentioning that fact?”
The Global Atheist Convention is a major international event, involving an impressive line-up of world-class speakers. The Convention has been promoted world-wide and will be the largest gathering of freethinkers in Australia’s history. At least 2,000 people are expected to attend the event, bringing considerable publicity and revenue to Victoria. While applications were made to federal, state and municipal authorities with careful attention to meeting funding criteria, not one application has yet been approved.
Conversely, The Parliament of the World’s Religions which is hosting 5,000 people at the same venue (the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre) has attracted $4.5 million in government support – 16 times the amount requested by the AFA.
“The atheist community is large, well-educated and well-connected,” said Nicholls. “It’s not going to take long for word to get out internationally that Victoria does not welcome non-theists.”
Still, Nicholls is hopeful the situation can be resolved.
“Either this is an ideological and bigoted decision on the part of the Brumby government or a serious bureaucratic bungle. We’re very hopeful that it’s the latter and that Mr Brumby will step in quickly and put things right.”
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
Private Mail Bag 6
Maitland SA 5573
Phone: (08) 8835 2269
International +61 8 8835 2269