While the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review’s recommendations were leaked to the media a while ago, and caused considerable confusion among the Liberal Party when they were queried about them1, it is only now that the government has released its response to the Ruddock report2.
Because several of the recommendations of the Ruddock Review relate exclusively to the states and territories, the federal government has accepted all of those recommendations. As part of this, the government intends to amend existing Commonwealth legislation including marriage law, charities law and anti-discrimination law. It also intends to develop a Religious Discrimination Bill to provide protection from discrimination based on religious beliefs or activity. It also intends to develop a stand-alone position of Freedom of Religion Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, and to make sure all state legislation is consistent across the nation2.
When developing the Religious Discrimination Bill, the government maintains that it will work with the Opposition, crossbench and stakeholders in a consultative process which aims to allow bipartisan agreement on the Bill2. The problem is that some of the ‘stakeholders’ are some of the stridently religious who still wish to be able to discriminate against LGBTIQ people and to cover up child abuse.
Astonishingly, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, cited state criminal laws which require the reporting of child abuse even if heard in the confessional, as an attack on religious freedom. When religious freedom involves covering up child abuse, then religious freedom is a criminal activity. He said “we used to be ‘live and let live’ on religious matters”. That was when there were untold numbers of children all around the world who have suffered the most appalling abuse, while the Catholic Church made every effort to cover it up. Furthermore, Fisher stated: “We gave each other space to be different, but lately there has been a hard-edged secularism that wants to stamp out religion from public life.” I’d suggest that people want to stamp out child abuse, that they want to stamp out institutionalised discrimination, and that they want to stamp out bullying of children. So, if protecting child abusers, discriminating against people for who they are, or bullying children in schools is your credo, then yes, it should be removed from public life because it is an abomination.