The Commonwealth Attorney-General has released Exposure Drafts of a package of Federal Bills designed to improve religious freedom protections under Australian law, along with associated explanatory information. The legislation responds to the recommendations of the Ruddock Panel into Religious Freedom, released late in 2018. Public comment has been invited by 2 October, 2019.
The main item is the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 (“RDB”), which broadly replicates the existing pattern of anti-discrimination laws enacted by the Commonwealth, but picking up for the first time at the Federal level the “protected characteristics” of “religious belief or activity”. Two ancillary Bills propose consequential amendments to other legislation, add some specific matters to be taken into account in objects clauses for other discrimination laws, and slightly amend or clarify the laws on charities and marriage.
The RDB is a lengthy document (68 clauses over 52 pages), with some complexities that will need to be unpacked. But I would like to offer a brief overview and an initial response, which will be followed up later by more detailed comments about particular issues. I can say, however, that it looks like being a worthwhile and helpful change which in general will further the cause of religious freedom (for both believers and non-believers) in Australia.