Australia should be a nation that leads the world in promoting peace not war

The ACT Humanist Society challenges the newly released plan of the Federal Government for a $3.8 billion Defence Export Facility to assist arms industry companies wanting to find overseas markets.

"Weapons are designed to kill and maim human beings," said the Society’s Convenor Mary-Anne Cosgrove. "As Humanists we completely reject the philosophy which finds it acceptable to boost industry, create jobs, increase exports and protect local manufacturing via the arms trade."

Humanism is a lifestance aiming for the maximum possible fulfilment of human potential, through the cultivation of ethical and creative living. It offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanists believe in treating all humans with compassion and respect.

Four major issues concern the Society:

  • There is enormous difference between a defence manufacturing industry to protect Australia and the development of a weapons export industry.

  • It is a matter of great concern and sorrow that Australia's overseas aid has dropped to its lowest level ever, while at the same time plans are underway to increase the sale of weapons.

  • The government's assurances about establishing and maintaining "controls" over which nations access Australian weapons lack detail on methods of oversight and on how such controls would be policed.

  • Australia's considerable design and production expertise would be better used in projects that promote peace among nations and care of earth, particularly in places and electorates where people lack employment opportunities.

The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty came into force in December 2014, and has 130 signatories, and 89 ratifications, including Australia’s. Australia has a history of positive actions for peace internationally, but recent decades have reversed that admirable record. 

"We strongly urge the government to resist the hypocrisy of talking about peace while financing and supporting the arms trade," Mary-Anne said. "Over 90% of those who die in war zones are not soldiers, but civilians, including so many of the most defenceless humans - the children. It is reprehensible for government and industry authorities to pursue financial and electoral gain through promoting the weapons which enable the escalation of violence."

“It is not strong defence exports that will safeguard Australia against conflict, but strong and respectful relationships between Australia and countries in and outside our region,” she concluded.

ACT Humanists believe our Government’s foreign policy should be focused on dialogue with and support for other countries to address the causes of war and offer resources to help create the conditions of peace – not actively promote measures that perpetuate war.


For immediate release.

Further comment: Mary-Anne Cosgrove  0408 945 360

Two Canberra universities appoint Australia’s first Humanist university chaplain

Geoff Ballard is a member of the ACT Humanist Society and began working as a volunteer chaplain at both the ANU and the University of Canberra in 2016. All but three universities in Australia have a Chaplaincy service – mostly staffed by volunteer religious chaplains- but there are no other secular university chaplains in Australia for those of ‘no faith’. By contrast, there are well established Humanist chaplains in many universities overseas including Harvard, Stanford, Toronto, Edinburgh, Glasgow and in the Netherlands.

 But isn’t Chaplaincy all about religion? Geoff is not anti-religion. “As a Humanist with a personal spiritual journey including the Anglican priesthood and Quakers, and training and experience as a counselling psychologist and psychotherapist, I believe that young people today are still on a spiritual quest to find meaning and purpose in their lives with some solid values. These can be found outside the traditional monotheistic belief systems of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism”, he says.

 He sees the presence of a Humanist chaplain as completing a spectrum of religions and beliefs on campus, along with others like Buddhists, Baha’is, Hindus, Sikhs and Pagans. Humanists believe that you can lead a good life without god and have a positive outlook on life guided by rational thought, focusing on the importance of human cooperation and compassion when solving problems. Geoff aims to inculcate the values of compassion, friendship, reason and hope in his work, believing that his presence can contribute to the well-being of students and staff, whether they already have an established faith system or are searching for answers about existential questions.

 Geoff agrees with Cardinal Newman that a university has a greater role than just doling out degrees; it is about shaping the whole individual. He hopes that university chaplains, whatever their belief system or worldview, can be part of that vision. He says: “The general Australian community is culturally Christian but the religious landscape is changing. There is spirituality without religion, and spirituality without god. I want Humanists to be welcomed by universities, to be able to engage with students who claim ‘no faith’ – those who are sometimes called, ‘the good without god’ community. By offering hospitality and inclusive friendship, demonstrating their common values, chaplains can actively and intellectually engage in the university community.”

 Lyndon Storey, ACT Humanist Society Convenor said, "It's wonderful to have one of our members pioneering Humanist chaplaincy in these universities. Humanism is a philosophy of life which can inspire people to engage in compassionate care and community service. Geoff’s work, along with that of those of our members who volunteer in pastoral care roles at Canberra Hospital, is evidence that our approach of supporting and helping humanists who are interested to engage in community volunteer work is bearing fruit. We are working to get to the stage where having humanists in such roles is not remarkable; but the norm.”

 Geoff is also a student himself, enrolled in a PhD at Western Sydney University, looking at the role of chaplaincy in Australian universities. As well, he is a new Board member of the Pastoral Care Council of the ACT.

A Humanist Society for the ACT

Humanists now have a voice in Canberra. The newly formed ACT Humanist Society ( hopes to be a positive presence in the ACT, promoting Humanism and creating a community where people can support each other in living ethical, meaningful lives.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy that affirms the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively. Humanists believe in critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. We affirm that this approach helps people thrive as they give meaning and shape to their own lives, and contribute as free individuals to the good of their societies.

We have decided on three areas of focus for this fledgling year: 

  • To start building a Humanist community in Canberra. This includes supporting individuals in exploring what it means to be a Humanist. 
  • To reach out into the broader community, to both increase understanding of Humanism, and also to find ways to contribute to changes in line with Humanist ideals. Some members are already involved in Humanist care and other volunteering efforts. 
  • To promote and support compassionate, rational, evidence-based government policy making.

If you would like to know more about Humanism and our Society please explore our website, or come to one of our events. You can join us here or in person at an event.