The right to discriminate to be enshrined in law

October 10, 2018

Philip Ruddock’s (pictured) government-commissioned review of religious freedoms in Australia will urge the Morrison government to enshrine the right of religious schools to turn away gay students and teachers, according to a leak from the report.

The Conservative Party had urged the Turnbull government to guarantee religious freedoms in law before the same-sex marriage plebiscite last year.

SBS reports,  the review has not been publicly released despite being handed to then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull four months ago. His successor, Scott Morrison, has promised a response before the next election.

But segments of the review leaked to Fairfax Media reveal some of the key recommendations.

Among them, a proposal to change the federal Sex Discrimination Act to allow religious schools to discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

Schools already have this exemption in some states, but the change would extend the rule around the country.

The report says schools should be given similar rights to discriminate in the hiring of teachers.

The leak comes in the leadup to a significant by-election in the seat of Wentworth on October 20, where the Morrison government’s one-seat majority is under threat from high-profile independent candidate, Kerryn Phelps.

Ms Phelps, a prominent same-sex marriage advocate, has accused prime minister Scott Morrison of stalling the report to shield himself from a backlash from socially progressive voters in the traditionally safe Liberal seat. Mr Morrison said those claims were “rubbish”.

The review also recommends a new Religious Discrimination Act, or changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, to make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their religious beliefs, or lack of beliefs.

Such a change, which Mr Morrison hinted at in September, would effectively make religious beliefs a protected characteristic, just like race, disability, gender and sexuality are currently.

The review said there was no evidence religious freedoms in Australia were in “imminent peril”, and reportedly warned against changes that would let businesses refuse to sell wedding cakes to gay couples, for instance.

The Conservative Party's Queensland Senate candidate Lyle Shelton has told ABC Radio Melbourne that the consequences of last year's same-sex plebiscite are already being felt and that's what the reports recommendations address.

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