6 MAY  2008






Cardinal Pell and Religious Liberty

On 29 April 2008, Cardinal Pell delivered an  address entitled An Argument Against a Charter of Rights to the Brisbane Institute. There is nothing strange about a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church opposing a Charter of Rights in the Australian Constitution. They live in fear of a proper finding on the one Bill of Rights provision for religious liberty in the current Constitution, namely Section 116.

The arguments employed by Pell remind the DOGS of the opposition of the Catholic Bishops to the extension of Section 116 to the States in one of the 1988 Referenda.

Missing Activity

 When DOGS wrote a News Release on Archbishop Little ( Press Release 247 at we were amazed at how quickly historical events can be wiped out or smothered. We noted the following comments of Archbishop Hart's homily in the Age of April 16, 2008.

(Frank Little) did not shrink from involvement in controversies that arose on his watch, such as 5the Defence of Government Schools case, the Medical Treatment Bill, and disputes over the Church's teaching on abortion which he always upheld.

There was no mention however, of Archbishop Little's involvement in the biggest defeat of 44 referendum proposals put to the Australian people since Federation. Why this deafening silence?

The 1988 Referendum Proposal

There have been 44 Australian Constitutional referenda: the first, in 1906 and the last in 1999.The biggest defeat in any of these referenda was Question Four in the referendum of 1988. It was>

 A Proposed law: To alter the Constitution to extend the right of trial by jury, to extend the freedom of religion, and to ensure fair terms for person whose property is acquired by any government.

 Do you approve this proposed alteration?

Constitution Alteration ( Rights and Freedoms) sought to guarantee various civil rights in relation to trials, freedom of religion and compulsory acquisition of property.

Number of Votes: Largest Margin of Defeat

AGAINST:            6,503,752

FOR        :            2,892,828

margin of defeat:  3,610,924

This margin of defeat is by far the biggest margin of defeat of any of the 44 referenda held on the Australian Constitution.

Percentage of Votes: Lowest Yes % Ever

In 1988, there was 30.79% vote for the Question Four  which included  religious freedom

This was the lowest percentage Yes vote for any of the 44 referenda to date.


Two political/historical documents deal with this vote. Brian Galligan, in his " Australians Rejection of A Bill of Rights " in the Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, November 1999 at p. 364 wrote the following:

 The rights proposal fared worst of all with only 31% approval making it the least popular of all forty two proposals ever put to referendum in Australia.

A document produced for the Parliamentary Library of the Parliament of Australia by Scott Bennett and Sean Brennan entitled Constitutional Referenda in Australia expanded on the above account. At page 21 they wrote:

In 1988, the rights and freedoms amendment and in particular the religious freedom section was strongly opposed by many church representatives and by independent schools, both fearful of the future of State Aid to Church schools.

Notice that they failed to mention the part played by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Roman Catholic Church Activity in 1988 Referenda

The above accounts do not reveal the true activity of the Roman Catholic church hierarchy. This is what they had to say in what amounted to an Australian papal Bull. The following was read in the churches , schools and homes. The figures speak for themselves. It had its required effect. The following is the relevant text of this document.

Press Release from the Bishops' Conference released  16 August 1988.


 The Central Commission of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has considered the four proposed laws which are to be put to a referendum on 3rd September, 1988. Each question involves significant issues of public policy and individual rights. In accordance with the Catholic Church's commitment to providing guidance in matters of social justice the Bishops offer the following for consideration:

  1. The alteration of the Constitution is a matter so significant that all voters have a clear moral responsibility to inform themselves of the issues. Each voter should vote according to conscience rather than simply through loyalty to any political party.

  2. The Central Commission is concerned about the manner in which the issues in this referendum are presented. Indeed, the issues have been selected not by any pressure from the electorate but rather by the Government.

  3. The Australian legal and political system involves a federation with separate tiers of government. The principle of subsidiarity demands that there should not be undue concentration of political power in the Commonwealth.

  4. Of particular concern is the grouping in one question of three quite distinct issues - right to trial by jury, freedom of religion and no establishment of religion, and just compensation for property. This grouping is confusing and limits to a single "yes" or "no" vote the choice of individuals who may wish to support one, or two, but not all, of these propositions.

  5. On the issue of freedom of religion the bishops have obtained specialist advice from a variety of experts .In the light of that advice the bishops place on record their concern that a " yes " vote on this question could in fact end up seriously restricting freedom of religion

  6. Experience in the United States of America, where there is a constitutionally enshrined prohibition against establishment of any religion, suggests that the proposed alteration to our Constitution may open the way for unnecessary litigation. Some groups or individuals may challenge the constitutional validity of any State law or administrative action that they consider in some way touches on the subject of religion or religious organisations.

  7. In particular the new settled question of government funding of non-government schools and other educational institutions may be re-opened since the legal basis of the decision in Attorney-General (Victoria) v. the Commonwealth ( the so-called D.O.G.S. case 1981) may be affected by the removal of the significant words "make any law for establishing".

  8. The long tradition of freedom of religion which our country has enjoyed is best protected through the democratic process in the Federal Parliament and each State and Territory Legislature. If the Constitution is altered, then issues are removed to the High Court for decision. The legitimate right of the electorate to "overturn" a High Court decision would then depend on a further referendum or on constitutional amendment.

  9. Voters need to be particularly cautious in assessing the proposal to provide a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. The proposal is vague, its meaning uncertain and its outcome unpredictable. There is no widespread discontent among ordinary Australians with the present religious freedoms that exist. This proposal, however, raises serious concerns for the future and deserves to be treated warily.

Papal Bull

If readers consider that DOGS were overstating earlier what occurred in 1988, we quote from The Age, 30 August 1988 page 13. Under the title Bishops' Doubts are Groundless ,  Xavier Connor QC ( who at that time was a former federal court judge and former President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, and also one of the  Participants who were involved with  the federal intervention into the Victorian Labor Party in the 1970s) wrote:

As a Catholic layman, I am profoundly disappointed at the way in which the bishops of the church have handled the issue of freedom of religion in the referendum debate. When I went to mass last Sunday every parishioner was given a copy of the Bishops' Statement. The message in it is loud and clear. Vote No!

What is missing from Xavier Connor's account is what occurred in the Roman Catholic schools.

Cardinal Pell at it Again

Nearly twenty y ears ago, at the time of the 1988 referenda, Cardinal Pell, then Catholic auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, was peddling ideas that he wrote earlier in 2008. His efforts were part of an attempt to defeat the 1988 religious referenda proposal. Cardinal Pell is certainly a consistent promoter of the views of his Church. If anyone wishes to read his printed public utterance at the time of the 1988 referenda, they should search for the following:

'Why a Church says No' The Herald, 23 August 1988, page 12. The Herald is an defunct  Victorian afternoon newspaper.

Referenda Absent from the official History of State Aid to Non-Government Schools in Australia.

The official history of State Aid commissioned under Howard and paid and promoted by the Coalition government contained no reference to the 1988 religious referenda which could have had an enormous effect on State Aid to church schools. DOGS cannot find any mention of the involvement of Roman Catholic schools in these referenda. We challenge anyone to find evidence of this State Aid ( cancer in the Body Politic) and the  defeat of the  section of the referenda dealing with the extension of religious liberty to the States.

Why ?

Why can such a significant event be written out or forgotten from Australian history in less than twenty years? Why can those who pontificate on Bills of Rights collapse under just a little pressure from the oldest enemy of such rights?

The answer relates to the operation of the cancer in the Body Politic. Suitable jobs for the boys; fellow travellers; fifth columnists and, worst of all, those who lack the courage or conviction to withstand the charges of sectarianism or anti-Catholicism that has cowered the so-called liberals and members of the Australian chattering class.

DOGS remind readers of the comments of D. Pryce -Jones statements about the Parisian collaborators with the Nazis in World War 2.

 People did not think of themselves as having moral choices to make - they had careers and ambitions, and so on.... 

Why should the religious leaders of a minority of Australians deprive the majority of the possibility of Religious liberties?

Face Reality:

Those left to fight for the public good and public education must confront reality. If the Liberal-Democratic dissenting society in Australia with its public educational systems is to survive beyond the mere educational experiment that was destroyed by the Irish Catholic bishops in 1899, they must show the intestinal fortitude and backbone and take on the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and their political friends.




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Last modified:Tuesday, 17 June 2008