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Religious Freedom Act planned, but schools staff debate to drag on

Ruddock review response sets up election issues

The Morrison government is ready to release the long-awaited Ruddock report into religious freedom – but will send a key part of it to the Australian Law Review Commission.

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The Australian reports today that the key religious freedom topics of school staff selection will get months of further review at the ALRC, while 14 out of 20 Ruddock recommendations have been accepted.

A Religious Freedom Act, as suggested by Ruddock, is the key part of the government’s response.

“The overhaul is aimed at ensuring religious discrimination is treated as seriously as racial or sexual discrimination, and will not pose curbs on free speech by avoiding replication of controversial provisions in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act,” The Australian’s Joe Kelly reports.

However, only draft legislation will be submitted to parliament early next year – with the new Religious Freedom Act becoming a key part of the Coalition’s election platform. This act will include setting up a religious freedom commissioner.

Five key Ruddock recommendations about school exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act for student and staff will be sent to the ALRC. This delays some of the more difficult religious freedom issues – those that require balancing against other human rights for groups such as LGBTQI persons – until after the election. The Australian describes this as an attempt to “defuse” these contentious issues.

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