Extracts from pages 2 to 5 of Making a Submission, by Halina Strnad, Convener of the Submissions Committee, Humanist Society of Victoria (Melbourne: Council of Australian Humanist Societies, 1995).



Making a Submission


This information is compiled from several sources: instructions issued by Standing Committees of the Parliament; guidelines issued by other authorities conducting public inquiries; books on lobbying and, not least, the valuable advice given by the late Senator Olive Zakharov — the recipient of many submissions to the Senate — who was active as a member of the submissions committee of the HSV.



1.1. Submissions are a major form of lobbying and influencing government policy. Their quality reflects on the standards of the submitter.

1.2. Submissions should not be made for the sake of it, but only if a valid point can be made.

1.3. Public inquiries, mostly and essentially, gather public opinions. Opinions may be of two types: informed and uninformed. The informed opinion carries much greater weight. Every effort should be made to research the issue and, whenever possible, to enclose reputable references.



Topics may be selected in the following ways:

2.1.a.      by writing to authorities and Standing Committees of the Parliament which deal with issues of interest to Humanists (education, law reform, bioethics, social welfare and justice, population control etc.) expressing the wish to participate in public debates and inquiries and asking to be placed on their mailing list for this purpose;

2.1.b.   and/or by scanning the daily press for advertised ‘calls for submission’. . . .

2.1.c.      by identifying topical issues on which there is a widespread concern or interest or where the Humanist view should be presented.

2.2. Authority for the submission. The selection for a topic for a submission should be a matter of consensus among at least the executive if not the committee, to avoid the “pushing of private barrows”. The content should reflect the organisation’s policy or point of view.

2.3. A convenor and a subcommittee should be appointed for making submissions. HS members with relevant expertise should be invited/co-opted to find data and references on the subject.

2.4. Most desirably, the content of a submission should arise from the combined wisdom of as many members as can and wish to contribute. Such discussion groups are a valuable learning time for all participants.

2.5. Public inquiries often have short deadlines. This might present difficulties in terms of notifying a date for discussion in the monthly bulletin or organising wider member­ship involvement.

2.6. An established view or item in HS policy can be reiterated (without discussion) in submissions to various bodies and levels of government and in the context of different inquiries. For instance, our statements on religious instructions or on female genital mutilation were used in the context of responses to inquiries (State and Federal) into education, multiculturalism, law reform, “Schools of the Future” etc. (see para.3.2.)



3.1. In answer to a call for submission, observe the terms of reference. A small step outside these may be acceptable: a marked departure might result in rejection of the submission.

3.2. The submission may cover all points raised in the terms of reference or just a selection of them.

3.3. If a Discussion/Issues Paper is provided, the questions or paragraphs are usually numbered. Quote these numbers in your response.

3.4. Submitters to inquiries should observe the deadline or ask for an official extension of time. Belated entries are often rejected.

3.5. If any of the material is of a confidential nature, this should be indicated. It will then not be issued to the public.

3.6. A submission to a Parliamentary Committee becomes a committee document. You may be advised that: “In accordance with the rules (the Standing Orders) you may not withdraw alter, publish or otherwise disclose your submission without first receiving the Committee’s approval. However, provided that it is presented in a different form, you may use or publish the information your submission contains.” Thus summaries listing main points of submission may be published in bulletins. (. . . ) Not all authorities impose such restrictions.

3.7. It is required that: “The submission should be signed by the author either on his/her own behalf or on behalf of an organisation. Those signing submissions on behalf of an organisation should indicate in what level the submission has been authorised (e.g. sub-committee, executive committee, president, chairman, state branch, regional group etc.)”. (From Notes on the preparation of submissions, Parliament of Australia, A.C.T.)

3.8. Submissions should be typed on A4 paper. Some authorities also specify the type of computer disc on which submissions can be made.

3.9. The front page of the submission should set these identification details:

•      the name, address and telephone number (if available) of the person or organisation making the submission,

•      the inquiry or subject with which the submission deals,

•      if made by an organisation — a brief outline of its objects. (. . .)



4.1. There are no official limits to the length of a submission but guidelines advise brevity and conciseness.

4.2. If the submission is a lengthy one, i.e. more than six pages, include a summary and highlight the main points.

4.3. In the body of a submission points should not be just asserted but should be argued well, with support of references and footnotes.

4.4. References should preferably be first-hand sources: press or other second-hand reports may be seen as poor or distorted evidence.

4.5. Copies of any documents relied on should be attached to the submission unless they are published documents available to the public (official reports etc.). Identify such documents and state where they are available.

4.6. Details should be kept out of the body of the submission to avoid overwhelming the reader with volume. They should be put in appendices.

4.7. Accuracy of names, dates, quotations or references is essential.

4.8. Structure the submission into sections, e.g. General Remarks, Specific Comments, etc. with underlined titles for sections and subsections.

4.9. Attention should be given to spacing lines and paragraphs for ease of reading, and to the overall aesthetics of presentation.

4.10. Views, suggestions and proposals should be stated — each in a separate paragraph. Numbering of paragraphs may be helpful if discussion or comments are likely to arise.

4.11. Long, convoluted sentences and verbosity are to be avoided. Clear statements in plain English make a favourable impression.

4.12. Provide a list of enclosures, if any.



Additional comments on Making a Submission



1.    Best opened with a positive statement e.g: “We congratulate the Government/Senate/Department for consulting the public” or “putting this important social issue up for public debate”, or “We welcome this opportunity to express our views on this vital issue”. Then proceed with criticism or rebuke. This creates a more receptive attitude at the receiving end.

2.    Use expressions such as: “we believe that . . ., in our view. . . , we observe that . . . , we suggest that. . . , etc., to avoid seeming to be dogmatic. Definite, unqualified statements do have a place but not all the time.



1.    Terms of reference, any previous of our statements on this issue and current information and references need to be presented to the discussion group.

2.    It is not always possible to discuss all questions or issues raised in the discussion paper, hence the need to select those that are within the range of HSV’s interests. Comments will range from pearls of wisdom and insight to nonsense

3.    Need to have a strong chairperson to prevent chaos and to establish majority view which should prevail (unless meeting “stacked”)

4.    A co-opted person with relevant expertise might offer a monograph with eye-glazing detail. References should be supplied and the HSV should not imply that it has any very specific expertise.



N.H.S. 2009.04


2 Responses to Making a Submission

  1. CounterPunch – Dec. 29, 2016
    Religious Tolerance – Jan. 2, 2017
    Talk Freethought – Jan. 3, 2017

    The long, slow death of religion

    By James A. Haught
    By now, it’s clear that religion is fading in America, as it has done in most advanced Western democracies.
    Dozens of surveys find identical evidence: Fewer American adults, especially those under 30, attend church — or even belong to a church. They tell interviewers their religion is “none.” They ignore faith.
    Since 1990, the “nones” have exploded rapidly as a sociological phenomenon — from 10 percent of U.S. adults, to 15 percent, to 20 percent. Now they’ve climbed to 25 percent, according to a 2016 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
    That makes them the nation’s largest faith category, outstripping Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent). They seem on a trajectory to become an outright majority. America is following the secular path of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and other modern places. The Secular Age is snowballing.
    Various explanations for the social transformation are postulated: That the Internet exposes young people to a wide array of ideas and practices that undercut old-time beliefs. That family breakdown severs traditional participation in congregations. That the young have grown cynical about authority of all types. That fundamentalist hostility to gays and abortion has soured tolerant-minded Americans. That clergy child-molesting scandals have scuttled church claims to moral superiority. That faith-based suicide bombings and other religious murders horrify normal folks.
    All those factors undoubtedly play a role. But I want to offer a simpler explanation: In the scientific 21st century, it’s less plausible to believe in invisible gods, devils, heavens, hells, angels, demons — plus virgin births, resurrections, miracles, messiahs, prophecies, faith-healings, visions, incarnations, divine visitations and other supernatural claims. Magical thinking is suspect, ludicrous. It’s not for intelligent, educated people.
    Significantly, the PRRI study found that the foremost reason young people gave for leaving religion is this clincher: They stopped believing miraculous church dogmas.
    For decades, tall-steeple mainline Protestant denominations with university-educated ministers tried to downplay supernaturalism — to preach just the compassion of Jesus and the social gospel. It was a noble effort, but disastrous. The mainline collapsed so badly it is dubbed “flatline Protestantism.” It has faded to small fringe of American life.
    Now Catholicism and evangelicalism are in the same death spiral. One-tenth of U.S. adults today are ex-Catholics. The Southern Baptist Convention lost 200,000 members in 2014 and 200,000 more in 2015.
    I’m a longtime newspaperman in Appalachia’s Bible Belt. I’ve watched the retreat of religion for six decades. Back in the 1950s, church-based laws were powerful:
    It was a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath. All public school classes began with mandatory prayer. It was a crime to buy a cocktail, or look at nude photos in magazines, or buy a lottery ticket. It was a crime for an unwed couple to share a bedroom. If a single girl became pregnant, both she and her family were disgraced. Birth control was unmentionable. Evolution was unmentionable.
    It was a felony to terminate a pregnancy. It was a felony to be gay. One homosexual in our town killed himself after police filed charges. Even writing about sex was illegal. In 1956, our Republican mayor sent police to raid bookstores selling “Peyton Place.”
    Gradually, all those faith-based taboos vanished from society. Religion lost its power — even before the upsurge of “nones.”
    Perhaps honesty is a factor in the disappearance of religion. Maybe young people discern that it’s dishonest to claim to know supernatural things that are unknowable.
    When I was a cub reporter, my city editor was an H.L. Mencken clone who laughed at Bible-thumping hillbilly preachers. One day, as a young truth-seeker, I asked him: You’re correct that their explanations are fairy tales — but what answer can an honest person give about the deep questions: Why are we here? Why is the universe here? Why do we die? Is there any purpose to life?
    He eyed me and replied: “You can say: I don’t know.” That rang a bell in my head that still echoes. It’s honest to admit that you cannot explain the unexplainable.
    The church explanation — that Planet Earth is a testing place to screen humans for a future heaven or hell — is a silly conjecture with no evidence of any sort, except ancient scriptures. No wonder that today’s Americans, raised in a scientific-minded era, cannot swallow it.
    Occam’s Razor says the simplest explanation is most accurate. Why is religion dying? Because thinking people finally see that it’s untrue, false, dishonest.
    White evangelicals tipped the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, giving an astounding 81 percent of their votes to the crass vulgarian who contradicts church values. But white evangelicals, like most religious groups, face a shrinking future. Their power will dwindle.
    It took humanity several millennia to reach the Secular Age. Now it’s blossoming spectacularly.

    (Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. He can be reached by phone at 304-348-5199 or e-mail at haught@wvgazettemail.com.)

  2. EL says:

    You can finally end the ideological standoff with theists. Today there is a new message that is based upon reality. This message gives us a new perspective and is the path to a reality based world. With a slight shift in strategy your debate is already won.

    The first step is to focus on the magical elements in theist theories. We have to help people addicted to the supernatural realize that magic is no longer necessary to explain our existence. Please visit Just Say No to learn how.

    Our goal is to move people from an illusory belief to a practical perspective and in the process make a reality based message the accepted explanation of our existence. I cannot do this on my own. I need you and the people around you to guide the world into a new future and become its foundation. Take your place in history and be remembered forever.

    Click here to leave your contact information. Share this email with all of your friends.

    Best regards,

    E. L.

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