On 22 November 2017, the Australian Government appointed an Expert Panel into Religious Freedom, chaired by the Hon Philip Ruddock, to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion.
The Expert Panel provided its report, 'Religious Freedom Review', to the former Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, on 18 May 2018.
The full report is available to download below:
The Expert Panel concluded that there is an opportunity to further protect, and better promote the right to freedom of religion under Australian law and in the public sphere. The report made 20 recommendations to enhance the protection of the right to freedom of religion in Australia, both through legislative amendments to Commonwealth, state and territory legislation, and through non-legislative measures.
Government response to the Religious Freedom Review
On 13 December 2018, the government released its response to the report. It accepts either directly or in principle, 15 of the 20 recommendations of the Religious Freedom Review. While noting and agreeing with the principle underpinning the remaining 5 recommendations (1, 5, 6, 7 and 8), the government considers that further review is needed to address the complexities associated with these recommendations.
The government has determined that all Australian jurisdictions need to be involved in progressing the remaining 5 recommendations. As such, on 8 April 2019, the government referred an inquiry to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) on the framework of religious exceptions in anti-discrimination law.
The ALRC's reporting deadline is 12 months from the date the Religious Discrimination Bill passes through the Parliament.
Download the Australian Government response to all 20 recommendations:
Religious Discrimination Bills consultation
First exposure drafts
From 29 August 2019 to 2 October 2019, the Attorney-General invited submissions on the first exposure drafts of 3 draft bills, which together form a legislative package on religious freedom.
Find out more about the first consultation process, including copies of some submissions, on the Religious Discrimination Bills – first exposure drafts page.
Second exposure drafts
From 10 December 2019 to 31 January 2020 the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General invited comments on the second exposure draft of these 3 bills, which addressed feedback following the first consultation process.
Find out more about the second consultation process on the Religious Discrimination Bills – second exposure drafts page.
Religious Discrimination Bill 2021
The Religious Discrimination Bill, and associated legislation, will ensure Australians are protected from discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity – just as they are protected from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race and disability.
The legislative package implements key recommendations from the Report of the Religious Freedom Review to protect religious freedom in Australia (recommendations 3, 4, 12, 15, 19). It comprises:
- the Religious Discrimination Bill, which prohibits discrimination on the ground of religious belief or activity and creates the office of the Religious Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission;
- the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill, which amends Commonwealth legislation to reflect the changes in the Religious Discrimination Bill; and
- the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill, which will provide certainty to charities, religious educational institutions, and the community by clarifying ambiguities in the Charities Act 2013 and the Marriage Act 1961, and inserts or updates objects clauses into the other Commonwealth discrimination laws to recognise the indivisibility and universality of human rights, their equal status, and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights.
Find out more about the legislative package, including copies of the Bills, on the Religious Discrimination Bills 2021 page.