Sat, 12 Jan - 11:43
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Religious Freedoms & LGBTI Students

The Liberal National Government has released its comprehensive response to the Religious Freedom Review and has committed to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act to provide comprehensive protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity. The Act will create the position of a Freedom of Religion Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission who will promote understanding of and compliance with the new Religious Discrimination Act.

We want to ensure that every Australian understands their right to freely choose, express and practise their religion without intimidation or interference, provided these practices comply with Australian law. Equally as importantly, this right also includes the right to not hold a religious belief. Respecting the diversity of religious views in Australia is not only fundamental to recognising the inherent dignity and rights of the individual, but also contributes to the democratic life of the Australian community.

Our response to the review strikes an appropriate balance between the fundamental right to freedom of religion with other fundamental rights, including the right to equality and nondiscrimination. The review concluded that there is an opportunity to further protect and better promote freedom of religion under Australian law and in the community. The Liberal National Government is committed to doing just that and has accepted, or accepted in principle, 15 of the 20 Recommendations of the Review.

Further consideration will be given to the remaining five recommendations regarding the current exemptions to discrimination in anti-discrimination law and the Fair Work Act. We will consult with the States and Territories on the terms of a potential reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission, where these five recommendations can be referred with a view to considering options to achieve the twin purposes of limiting or removing altogether legislative exemptions to discrimination based on a person’s identity while also protecting the right of religious institutions to reasonably conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos. We strongly recognise the need for religious bodies to preserve their religious character and conduct themselves in a way that does not contradict the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of the relevant religion or creed, and will always seek to ensure our human rights framework is consistent with broad community expectations.

To implement the Report’s recommendations, the Government will introduce legislation to:

  • provide comprehensive protection against discrimination based on religious beliefs or activities in a new Religious Discrimination Act;
  • create a new statutory position of Freedom of Religion Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission to strengthen the understanding and protection of freedom of religion in Australia; and
  • amend existing legislation relating to freedom of religion, such as those applying to faith-based charities to ensure funding certainty.

We will work with the Opposition, crossbench and stakeholders in a consultative process which aims to allow a bipartisan agreement on the Religious Discrimination Bill which can be introduced into Parliament with broad cross-party support. We will also work with the States and Territories to ensure greater consistency across Australia in promoting and protecting freedom of religion in Australia.

The Government thanks the Expert Panel and the Australian people who took the time to have their say on this important issue in such a comprehensive and respectful way. The Expert Panel has produced a significant report that will form the basis for a better understanding and protection of freedom of religion in our community.

As regards religious schools and discrimination against students, the Liberal National Government believes that no student should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy. The Government has made its position on this issue abundantly clear. We do not support the existing exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act – introduced by Labor – that allow religious schools to discrimination against students on the basis of their sexual orientation and other attributes. The Government committed to removing this exemption in the final sittings of Parliament in 2018. Labor’s refusal to accept that religious-based schools should be allowed to impose school rules, such as a requirement for all students to attend chapel, meant this issue could not be resolved by Parliament before the end of the sitting year. If Labor is able to support the Government’s amendments to ensure religious schools can educate within the doctrine and tenets of their faith, then this issue could be dealt with in the first sitting days of 2019.

The report and Government’s response to each recommendation are available here: https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/Pages/default.aspx.