Report of the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom

The Government has released the Report of the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom along with the Government’s Response.

The Expert Panel Review Report is available here.

The Government’s Response is available here.

In line with media reports some months ago the Report contains 20 recommendations.  These have been split into three categories by the Government –

  1. Fourteen recommendations to be implemented as soon as practicable (being recommendations 2 to 4, 9 to 14 and 16 to 20);
  2. One recommendation to be implemented following consultation to seek bipartisan support for the Religious Discrimination Bill (being recommendation 15); and
  3. Five recommendations which require further consideration (being recommendation 1 and recommendations 5 to 8).

In relation to the first and second categories of recommendations set out above, the Australian Government has indicated that it intends to respond by:

  • developing a General Amendment Bill for introduction to Parliament as soon as practicable, containing amendments to existing Commonwealth legislation relating to freedom of religion, including amendments to marriage law, charities law and objects clauses in existing anti-discrimination legislation;
  • developing a Religious Discrimination Bill to provide comprehensive protection against discrimination based on religious belief or activity. The Government will work with the Opposition, crossbench and stakeholders in a consultative process which aims to allow for bipartisan agreement on a Bill which can be introduced into the Parliament with broad cross-party support;
  • establishing a standalone position of Freedom of Religion Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission;
  • supporting the Australian Human Rights Commission to increase awareness of the importance of freedom of religion;
  • commencing a process with all State and Territory Governments seeking their consideration to review and amend their own existing policies and legislation which pertain to freedom of religion to ensure a high degree of consistency across Australia; and
  • referring recommendations that pertain to the States and Territories to a proposed Council of Attorneys-General Working Group and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Education Council, as appropriate, to consider all relevant recommendations.

In relation to the third category of recommendations set out above, the Australian Government considers that this group of recommendations require further consideration and is proposing to refer these issues to the Australian Law Reform Commission with a view to considering what drafting options may be available that would achieve the twin purposes of limiting or removing altogether (if practicable) 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.

A brief initial summary of the recommendations, the Government’s Response and our initial thoughts can be downloaded from the link below.