You wait years for an atheist bus, then dozens all arrive at once – except in Australia

SEVERAL readers of this blog have asked WTF is happening to the planned roll-out of atheist buses in Australia.

Thanks to David Nicholls, 
President of the 
Atheist Foundation of Australia, we now have a better picture of why the initiative has stalled.

Nicholls, who said that “AFA phones and computers are running hot with inquires, support and a few requests for interviews by Australian media”, has sent us a link to a story published today in the Sydney Morning Herald, which informs us that:

The Atheist Foundation of Australia was knocked back by Australia’s biggest outdoor advertising company, APN Outdoor, on its proposal for a nationwide campaign featuring atheist slogans.

The planned campaign was based on slogans such as “Sleep in on Sunday mornings” and “Celebrate reason”.

APN Outdoor cited no reason for rejecting the $16,000 public transport campaign, and declined to comment.

An APN adorned Australian bus, with an additional Freethinker adornment

An APN adorned Australian bus, with an additional Freethinker adornment

The paper quotes Nicholls as saying:

The intention was to demonstrate to the public that there is an alternative to religion that is rational, reasonable and worthy of thought …  It took three weeks for APN Outdoor to come to a decision, after they initially told me there’d be no problem. The final discussion by phone to an executive ended with an abrupt message that they were not going to take our business.

APN Outdoor refused to comment on whether the company’s clients include religious organisations, but Mr Nicholls said buses in Adelaide had been adorned with religious messages such as “John 3:16”. He also approached bus advertisers in Hobart, with the same result.

Nicholls added:

Australia is in desperate need of a human rights and equal opportunities act. It’s clear that western Europe, the US and Britain have better laws than we do when it comes to … respecting freedom of speech.

Associate Professor Carole Cusack, of the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, said most Australians were too apathetic about religion to be affected negatively by the campaign.

If religions can buy advertising space, then why not atheists?

Even Friar Peter McGrath, of St Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Paddington, agreed:

The [atheists] should have a right to advertise. They should be able to say what they want.

In an email to the Freethinker today, Nicholls elaborated on the SMH report:

Members of the AFA and the public asked if the AFA was going to emulate the Ariane Sherine/London bus campaign in Australia. Yes, we answered!

In early November, the AFA approached APN Outdoor to place signs on the public transport buses in most of the capital cities of Australia.  At the same time, we approached the advertisers for the Metro bus company, Tasmania with a similar proposal.

Metro refused within a few day, saying it was too controversial for them and they would not run the ads. The Mainland bus company advertiser staff working for APN Outdoor, originally could see no problems with the adverts but had to ask a higher level for the final say.  After about three weeks of me ‘pestering’ them, as they would not respond to my phone calls, they said they would also not run the adverts.

In Australia, there are separate and independent anti-discrimination laws for each state. To complicate matters there is also Federal anti-discrimination regulations.  Excepting for an anomaly in Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws, none of the before cover the Atheist messages on buses. In Tasmania, we have a chance as they define religion as both religion and non-religion.  So, in about a week we will know if our lawyer, James Crotty was successful in his submission to the Tasmanian anti-discrimination board.

Australia is poorly served by its Human Rights and Equal Opportunity legislation, which is under review as I speak.  However, in the blurb intended for those who wish to make a submission, it nowhere mentions freedom ‘from’ religion and only freedom ‘of’ religion. The AFA, other secular organisations and individuals have sent official complaint to the commission about this oversight.

10 responses to “You wait years for an atheist bus, then dozens all arrive at once – except in Australia”

  1. remigius says:

    APN Outdoor. Twats!

  2. valdemar says:

    There’s only one bus advertising company in the whole of Australia? Blimey. But perhaps they could, y’know, buy ad space somewhere else? On kangaroos?

  3. newspaniard says:


  4. Barry Duke says:

    Newspaniard, if you look at APN’s website, it would appear that they control all (or most) of Australia’s hoardings too. A nice little monopoly, it would appear.

  5. Barry Duke says:

    The Age, Melbourne, today (Saturday, Jan 10) carries the following letter from a clergyman regarding atheist buses:

    AS AN ordained minister for 52 years, I relish conversation with committed atheists.

    They have as much right to present their case as I have to present mine.

    Atheists are God’s gift to the believers, obliging us to think through our position more carefully and express it more cogently.

    For too long, believers have been able to peddle their wares unchallenged except by widespread indifference. I am delighted that individuals such as Richard Dawkins now have believers on their toes.

    Reverend John Bodycomb, Doncaster [Vic]

  6. newspaniard says:

    This whole business appears to raise a few questions about the Australian administration. For example why does an advertising agency decide what a person may or may not advertize? Surely that kind of decision is up to the client; in this case, the bus companies. In any case, does Australia not have an equivalent to our ASA who can arbitrate over such matters? If this particular agency speaks for all bus companies, does that mean that it holds a monopoly? Are there no laws against monopolies in Australia? If they have the monopoly, how does the client know that he is getting a fair deal and a competitive rate? How does the client know about lucrative contracts being turned down on his behalf because of the prejudices of their agency? This all sounds very ‘iffy’ to me.

  7. AJS says:

    Australia is in desperate need of a human rights and equal opportunities act. It’s clear that … Britain [has] better laws than we do when it comes to … respecting freedom of speech.


    I never, ever thought anyone would ever say that Britain had better free speech laws than them!

  8. It is time we began funding our own thoughts and ideas. We have for too long funded our own suppression and oppression. Do not buy from a business that does not allow sovereign speech. Do not ride buses that only allow one point of view and picket the bus stops with individuals carrying signs and banners.

    Once Common Sense gets its voice, Common Sense will overcome.

    love ya

  9. Adam says:

    Why has there seemingly been no word on the matter of the Atheist Bus Campaign from Islam or Judaism?