The Turnbull Government’s religious freedom review has been extended after it received an “unprecedented” number of submissions.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the review, headed by former Howard Government minister Philip Ruddock, had requested the extension because it had receiving more than 16,000 submissions.
The panel’s deadline to deliver its report has been pushed back almost two months, from March 31 to May 18.
“The response from individuals and organisations has been unprecedented — with more than 16,000 public submissions received,” Mr Turnbull said.
“While it was anticipated that the original deadline of 31 March would be met, the number of submissions has made this impossible.
“In light of the volume of submissions, I have agreed to this extension to ensure that the Panel has adequate time to carefully consider the issues raised.”
The review was launched to review “whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom” following the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in December.
LGBTIQ advocates have raised concerns that the review’s findings will undermine current anti-discrimination laws protecting the LGBTIQ community.
Advocacy group just.equal told the review they strongly oppose any weakening of Australian anti-discrimination laws and urged the creation of a national bill of rights to protect LGBTIQ people from discrimination.
The petition argues “religious freedom” has become “a way to euphemise and legitimise discrimination against LGBTIQ people” including in the provision of marriage services and the employment of married LGBTIQ people.
Christian Schools Australia argued in their submission that existing religious exemptions should be widened to give religious schools a legal form of “differentiation” with which they can hire and fire staff based on their adherence to religious codes.
The Equality Campaign said in their submission to the review that the cross-party same-sex marriage bill “struck a fair balance and should not be revisited” and called for all of the amendments to broaden religious exemptions – introduced and struck down during the parliamentary marriage equality debate – to be rejected and not revisited.
In January, Philip Ruddock said he personally took an “open-minded” approached to the complex issues of the review.
“I have a strong view that people should be free to practice their religion as they see it,” he said.
But he acknowledged that “many of the values of our religions are contemporised.”
“You can find death penalty in parts of the Bible, and that’s not something that I support and wouldn’t be encouraging in our legal framework,” he said.