ATTORNEY-general Christian Porter chose The Great Synagogue as the venue to release the government’s proposed religious freedom reforms yesterday (Thursday).
The Bill will provide “comprehensive protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity” and create a new office of the Freedom of Religion Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The attorney-general expects a final draft Bill will be presented to federal parliament in October.
“Australia has a strong anti-discrimination framework with specific protections for people against discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race and disability,” Porter said.
“This draft Bill released today extends those protections to provide protection for people against discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious belief, or lack thereof.
“Whilst there will always be competing views on issues such as this, the government considers the draft Bill presented today strikes the right balance in the interests of all Australians.”
Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Anton Block commended the government for its efforts in producing the draft legislation which will make it unlawful to treat anyone less favourably simply because of their religious faith or absence of faith.
“I am sure all of us here today are committed to working with the government to achieve a fair and just outcome,” Block said.
The Great Synagogue’s chief rabbi, Benjamin Elton said, “We are conscious of the fortunate position of our community, and we want to do all we can to support other faith communities, whether larger than ours or smaller, so that their rights and freedoms are also protected.
“At the same time, what we must bear in mind, is that our freedoms do not diminish the freedoms of others.”
Under the draft proposals, religious bodies including schools will be exempt from discrimination laws when they employ staff of their faith.
The Australian Law Reform Commission will consider separately the issue of exemptions for religious institutions in current anti-discrimination legislation when employing LGBTI staff.