Government appoints Philip Ruddock to review religious freedoms

The Turnbull government has appointed former Attorney General Philip Ruddock to review religious freedoms in Australia.

The appointment comes as government members argue over the amount of religious protections to be incorporated into the nation’s marriage laws following the resounding ‘Yes’ response from the national marriage postal survey.

The bill currently before parliament was developed based on the findings of a senate inquiry into the issue. It has provisions that ensure that churches and recognised ministers of religion do not have to conduct same sex unions if they do not wish to do so. The bill also has provisions for civil celebrants who hold religious convictions, allowing them to opt out of same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Many of those opposed to marriage equality, including the Coalition for Marriage – the official ‘no’ campaign in the recent survey, have argued that wide spread protections for freedom of speech, freedom of religion and conscientious objectors is also required.

The divide has seen government MPs voice a wide range of opinions on the issue, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann have argued that the issue of religious protections should be looked at as a separate issue in 2018, while Treasurer Scott Morrison and Resource Minister Matt Cananvan advocate for them being incorporated into the marriage laws.

A marriage bill put forward by Liberal Senator James Paterson was widely condemned for including a wide range of religious protections that were seen as an attempt to wind back Australia’s long standing anti-discrimination laws.


The review will be conducted separately to charges to the marriage legislation, with Ruddock asked to report back to parliament by March 2018.

Today the Prime Minister said a separate review was necessary because the proposals went beyond the immediate issue of changing the marriage laws.

There is a high risk of unintended consequences when Parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion. The government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights-style declarations,” Turnbull said.

Joining Ruddock on the panel will be the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Rosalind Croucher, retired federal court judge Annabelle Bennett and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

While the Prime Minister appears to be eager to separate the issue of religious freedoms from the marriage bill, the Treasurer has voiced a different opinion. Speaking on ABC radio Scott Morrison said he would still be pursuing wide ranging religious protections within the marriage legislation.

Morrison said the review was “not a substitute” for the debate over the marriage bill.  “Those amendments … will still be pursued and, as you know, I have a view that they should be supported,” the Treasurer told ABC radio.

Philip Ruddock was the last Attorney General of the Howard government and oversaw the changes to the marriage act in 2004 that prevented same sex couples from marrying.

The government has promoted Ruddock as the “right person to conduct this review” highlighting his long parliamentary career, and his more recent appointment as a special envoy on human rights.

The appointment has also drawn criticism with many taking to social media noting their dismay that the man who introduced the current discrimination in the marriage laws was now being appointed to review religious protections.

There have also been questions on why there is no LGBTI representative on the panel, give the church’s history of discrimination against people of diverse sexuality and gender.

Long standing gay rights advocate Rodney Croome from just.equal said it was vital the LGBTI+ community was represented on the panel.

“Religious freedom is too often used as an excuse for discriminating against LGBTI people, so it’s vital our community is represented on the religious freedom review.”

“The panel members who were announced today include human rights experts, but they are not necessarily familiar with the concerns of LGBTI Australians when it comes to how ‘religious freedom’ is used to undermine our equal rights and dignity.”

Croome said it was a myth that marriage equality was at odds with religious freedoms.

“The context of this review is the myth that marriage equality is at odds with religious freedom, and the subsequent push to roll back laws protecting LGBTI people from discrimination, so it’s vital there is an LGBTI panel member to ensure our community’s concerns are heeded.”

“Genuine religious freedom must be respected and protected but it must never become a weapon to be wielded against vulnerable minorities.” Croome said.

OIP Staff

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