THE leaking of parts of the Religious Freedom Review prior to last October’s Wentworth by-election was “unhelpful”, review panel chair Philip Ruddock told the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum last week.
Referring specifically to sections dealing with the rights of religious schools in relation to LGBTI+ students and staff, the former federal attorney-general said the way it was leaked suggested that children might be expelled from schools, “something that we found, with all the evidence we were receiving, wasn’t happening”.
“When we would go to church schools, when I spoke to people in the Jewish community, when I spoke to the Islamic community, most took the view that they would work with children,” he said. “They understand that sometimes these are developing issues – something that people find out as they’re growing older about themselves – and in that context they work with them to try and ensure that there’s no adverse discrimination.”
In relation to school staff, he said, “If schools were going to believe that as part of their ethos they should be able to deal with staff in that way, it needed to be absolutely clear that it was part of their ethos and it needed to be made known to people before they were even engaged to work in that community.”
Ruddock noted that the report recommended the introduction of a Religious Discrimination Bill “that would provide substantive protection against discrimination, rendering it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, including on the basis that a person does not hold a religious belief”.
“The government has accepted that recommendation,” he said.
Rabbi Shua Solomon of Bondi Mizrachi Synagogue, whose grandfather Joseph Berinson served as environment minister in the Whitlam government and as Western Australia’s attorney-general, said the report’s “policy-based solution is fair and appropriate”, but added, “In reality most of my energy is invested in people, not in rules.
“Often that requires balancing tensions and sensitivities in a way that requires common sense and almost always, compromise.”