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.