The Cabinet has agreed to appoint the Hon Philip Ruddock to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom.
The impending legalisation of same-sex marriage has seen a variety of proposals for legislative reform to protect freedom of religion. Many of these proposals go beyond the immediate issue of marriage.
Any reforms to protect religious freedom at large should be undertaken carefully. There is a high risk of unintended consequences when Parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion. The Government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights-style declarations.
This will be a timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms.
The Hon Philip Ruddock is the right person to conduct this review. Mr Ruddock has most recently served as Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights. In his many years in public life he has maintained a steadfast commitment to cultural and religious diversity in this country.
Mr Ruddock will be assisted by an expert panel consisting of the recently appointed President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, the Hon Annabelle Bennett AO SC and Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO.
I have asked Mr Ruddock to report his findings by 31 March 2018.