Our government is acting to protect religious freedom in Australia and to protect the rights of Australians to be themselves.
Our response to the Religious Freedom Review, chaired by the Hon. Philip Ruddock, is about protecting every Australian from discrimination.
The Review concluded there is an opportunity to further protect and better promote freedom of religion under Australian law and in the community. We have accepted 15 of the 20 recommendations, and we will consult with the States and Territories on the terms of a potential reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission on the remaining five recommendations. Those recommendations deal with current exemptions to anti-discrimination provisions in Commonwealth, State and Territory law.
Australia is a place where discrimination on the basis of a person’s identity — including their religious identity — is unacceptable. It is also a place where we respect the right of religious institutions to maintain their distinctive religious ethos. Our laws should reflect these values.
Our commitment to striking an appropriate balance is clear in our proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. We have sought to overturn exemptions introduced by Labor so we can make clear that discrimination against students is not acceptable, while at the same time ensuring religious educational institutions can teach and maintain rules consistent with their faith.
The Labor Party’s opposition to those amendments highlights how difficult it is to secure bipartisan support on these sensitive issues. Our offer stands, however the issue highlights why our work with States and Territories and the independent Australian Law Reform Commission will be so important.
We are committed to finding a way forward that cuts through the political debates about whether some rights are more important than others.
Our response to the Religious Freedom Review includes:
- establishing religion as a protected attribute in a new Religious Discrimination Act, rendering discrimination on this basis unlawful;
- establishing a new statutory position of Freedom of Religion Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission;
- developing a Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill for introduction into Parliament as soon as practicable, implementing a range of amendments recommended by the Ruddock Review;
- supporting the Australian Human Rights Commission to increase community awareness of the importance of freedom of religion.
We look forward to consulting on the legislative package, which we intend to introduce in 2019.
We thank Mr Ruddock and the Expert Panel that informed the Review, as well as the Australians who took the time to have their say.
The Review and our government’s response is available at: https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/Pages/Freedom-of-Religion.aspx