The government will introduce a Religious Discrimination Act to
protect the rights of people of faith, with Scott Morrison declaring
he would like the legislation passed before the election.
Announcing the government’s long-awaited response to the Ruddock
inquiry into religious freedom – which the government has had since
May – Morrison said some people of faith felt “the walls closing in on
In a range of measures, the government said that as well as making
religion a “protected attribute” in the new Religious Discrimination
Act, it would also
establish a statutory position of Freedom of Religion Commissioner
in the Australian Human Rights Commission;
develop a Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill to bring in
a range of amendments recommended by the Ruddock review.
Morrison repeated his offer of a free vote on the legislation before
parliament to protect LGBT students in religious schools from
discrimination. This legislation was deadlocked with Labor in the last
week of sitting.
The government is now referring this and the broader issue of
discrimination against LGBT teachers and other staff in these schools
for discussion with the states, with a potential referral to the
Australian Law Reform Commission, which would report in the second
half of next year.
Morrison said 70% of Australians identified with some religious belief.
People of faith feel “walls closing in”
Strongly arguing for his proposed changes, he said: “Those who think
that Australians of religious faith don’t feel that the walls have
been closing in on them for a while” were “clearly not talking to many
people in religious communities or multicultural communities in
He had had a conversation with a community in Western Sydney who “said
they left where they came from to come to Australia because of
religious persecution in the countries they were living in – only now,
they feel, to be potentially facing the same sort of limitations to
how they practice their religion in this country.
“And that made me incredibly sad. That one of the great liberties
Australia has always been known for at perception and indeed in their
mind, in fact, is being curtailed. I don’t think that’s something I
should allow to stand,” Morrison said.
Timing up in the air
On the timing of the legislation, he said: “I’m happy for us to advance
a Religious Discrimination Act and also to deal with the other
legislative matters before the next election. I would hope they would
have the support of the Labor Party”.
There will be consultations over the summer.
But with only a handful of sitting days before the election, it will
seem testing to meet Morrison’s timetable for passage.
The Law Council supported enshrining religious protections but said
“the delicate balance between freedom of religion and freedom from
discrimination would be better dealt with in comprehensive national
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.