Federal Government Defends Its Refusal To Release Religious Freedom Report


Janet Rice and Scott Morrison

The federal government has defended its refusal to release the religious freedom review’s long-awaited report, claiming it should remain confidential while the federal cabinet is examining its findings.

The religious freedom review, headed by Philip Ruddock, was announced last year to placate conservatives following the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in December. The review panel handed its report to the federal government on May 18 but it has not yet been released.

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The Senate passed a motion from the Greens on Wednesday ordering the government to release the review panel’s report by Thursday.

But the government’s Senate leader Mathias Cormann wrote to the Senate President yesterday to say the report was under review by the cabinet and was exempt from the Senate’s order for it to be released.

“The release of the document at this time would harm the public interest in that it would interfere with the proper consideration by and the deliberative process of cabinet,” Cormann wrote.

Cormann told the Senate the government “has not as yet made any decisions on the way forward” and it was important for the government to “get the balance right” in its response.

“The cabinet continues with its deliberations. This is obviously a matter which is highly sensitive,” he said.

“I think it would make it inappropriately more difficult for the government to get the balance right and to make the best possible decision in relation to this issue if the longstanding principle of cabinet confidentiality was breached in the way as is suggested in this motion.

“Once the government has made a decision, all of the information, quite rightly, ought to be in the public domain.

“But this is not yet the time, given that the cabinet has not yet made a final decision and the deliberations are ongoing.”

Kept in the dark

Greens Senator Janet Rice told the Senate it was extremely important for the LGBTIQ community to know what the review has found.

“It is extremely important… to know what Mr Ruddock is recommending to government and then to see what the government’s response is,” she said.

“This review and the government’s response to it have potentially huge impacts on the lives of LGBTIQ people.

“At the moment, they are being kept in the dark. They are being left in the lurch.

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“We do not know whether the Ruddock review is recommending further discrimination against LGBTIQ people, further discrimination that would allow schools, hospitals, aged-care centres, florists and bakers to further discriminate against LGBTIQ people.”

Senator Rice reiterated the Greens’ calls for a national Bill of Rights “to balance people’s right to have a religion versus people’s right to not be discriminated against.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “preventative regulation and legislation” was necessary to protect freedom of religion in Australia from hypothetical future threats.

“People say, ‘Oh well, if there’s not this great problem, why do you need to do it?’ Can they guarantee me it won’t happen in the future?” he said.

“I’ve seen where this issue has gone over the last 10 years. And issues of freedom of speech, I’ve seen where they’ve gone over the last 10 years. I’m not quite sure I’m pleased with the trajectory.”

‘No threat to religious freedom’

LGBTIQ advocates have been calling for the release of the Ruddock review’s report for months.

Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome warned the federal government last week it has no mandate to weaken existing anti-discrimination protections under the guise of “protecting religious freedom”.

“There is no threat to religious freedom so we fear the real purpose of any new law will be to take existing discrimination protections away from LGBTI Australians,” he said.

“We will lobby the Senate to oppose any new law that waters down existing discrimination protections.

“Last year Australians voted overwhelmingly for equality and any move to weaken LGBTI discrimination protections would run against that.”