The Commonwealth Government has commissioned the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to undertake a comprehensive review of the framework of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination legislation across Australia.
The Review was promised as part of the Government’s response to the Review of Religious Freedom, released in December 2018. In announcing the referral the Attorney-General said that “It is essential that Australia’s laws are nationally consistent and effectively protect the rights and freedoms recognised in international agreements, to which Australia is a party. This particularly applies to the right to freedom of religion and the rights of equality and non?discrimination.”
The ALRC review will consider what reforms to Commonwealth, state and territory law, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and any other Australian laws should be made in order to:
- limit or remove altogether (if practicable) religious exemptions to prohibitions on discrimination, while also guaranteeing the right of religious institutions to conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos, and
- remove any legal impediments to the expression of a view of marriage as it was defined in the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) before it was amended by the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 (Cth), whether such impediments are imposed by a provision analogous to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) or otherwise.
In undertaking this reference, the ALRC will have regard to existing reports and inquiries including the Report of the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom and the ALRC Report on Traditional Rights and Freedoms – Encroachments by Commonwealth Laws.
The Commission has been asked to report to the Government by 10 April 2020.
CSA welcomes the reference before the looming Federal election. The consideration of these complex issues by the ALRC is an appropriate means of striking an equitable balance between fundamental human rights.