A review of Australia’s religious freedoms

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Philip Ruddock appointed to conduct review of Australia’s religious freedoms

Fergus Hunter

Published: November 22 2017 – 8:10AM

The government has appointed Howard-era cabinet minister Philip Ruddock to lead a review into the legal protections for religious freedom in Australia, which has emerged as a contentious issue inside the Coalition ahead of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. 

Announcing the review, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said recent proposals for religious protections went beyond the immediate issue of marriage and warned any change should be undertaken carefully. 

“There is a high risk of unintended consequences when Parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion. The government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights-style declarations,” Mr Turnbull said.

Since the Australian people backed same-sex marriage in the postal survey, Coalition MPs have been pushing various proposals for religious exemptions, including allowing service providers to boycott weddings that conflict with their faith. One proposal would see a section of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights incorporated into the same-sex marriage bill.

Debate over the raft of proposed amendments has risked derailing the government’s plans to legislate the change by the end of 2017. 

Mr Ruddock, who retired from Parliament in 2016 and was recently elected as mayor of Hornsby, will conduct the review with an expert panel consisting of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Rosalind Croucher, retired federal court judge Annabelle Bennett and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

The Prime Minister said the review, which will report back by March 2018, would be a “timely expert stocktake” to inform any future legislation. 

Treasurer Scott Morrison, a vocal advocate for religious exemptions, said he was pleased with the review and emphasised it was “not a substitute” for relevant amendments to the same-sex marriage bill.

“Those amendments … will still be pursued and, as you know, I have a view that they should be supported,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio.

As the last attorney-general of the Howard government, Mr Ruddock introduced the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act that explicitly defined it as a union between a man and a woman. 

He was recently the government’s special envoy for human rights and has strong connections to Australia’s multicultural and religious communities.

This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/philip-ruddock-appointed-to-conduct-review-of-australias-religious-freedoms-20171121-gzq9cl.html


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