Federal government orders review of religious legal exemptions

attorney general christian porter religious freedom review scott morrison religious discrimination
Photo: Sky News

The federal government has launched a review into religious exemptions in anti-discrimination laws that allow religious institutions to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said on Wednesday the government has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to undertake the review following the release of the Ruddock religious freedom review panel’s report last December.

It comes after the little-known religious exemptions caused outrage last year, and the government’s subsequent failure to pass amendments to scrap the exemptions before the end of the year.

According to the ALRC review’s terms of reference, the peak law reform body will “consider what reforms to Commonwealth, state and territory law, the Fair Work Act 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.”

The ALRC has also been asked to advise on “any legal impediments to the expression of a view of marriage as it was defined in the Marriage Act 1961” before it was amended in 2017 to allow for same-sex marriage.

It will consider Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination and vilification laws and the Fair Work Act, and the ALRC has been asked to produce consultation documents to ensure experts, stakeholders and the community are given the opportunity to contribute to the review.

Porter said on Wednesday the review is part of the government’s response to the Ruddock religious freedom review.

“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,” he said.

“This particularly applies to the right to freedom of religion and the rights of equality and non‑discrimination.”

The ALRC’s report is due to be passed to the Attorney-General by April 10 next year.

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