Under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Federal Liberal Government is acting to protect religious freedom in Australia and to protect the rights of Australians to be themselves.
In recent months, I have been working closely with a number of my colleagues as the Government prepared its response to the so-called Ruddock Review into Religious Freedom.
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.
Regrettably in recent times, we have seen vexatious claims brought forward to state ‘anti-discrimination’ tribunals, including in Tasmania, where activists have sought to prosecute religious leaders under the auspices of claimed discrimination.
The review which was released earlier this week (read in full here) concluded there is an opportunity to further protect and better promote freedom of religion under Australian law and in the community. The Government has accepted 15 of the 20 recommendations, and 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.
The Government’s 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.
The package that is being prepared by the Government is a positive step in the right direction and I will work closely with my colleagues to ensure the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion are upheld.
The Review and our government’s response is available at: https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/Pages/Freedom-of-Religion.aspx