Equality advocates say Philip Ruddock should stand down as the chair of the religious freedom review following his appointment as head of the NSW Liberal Party.

The mayor of Hornsby and former immigration minister was yesterday elected NSW president of the party.

Ruddock has been the head of the government’s review into ‘religious freedom’ following the introduction of marriage equality.

“Mr Ruddock’s appointment to a leading role in the Liberal Party raises questions about the independence of the religious freedom review he is in charge of,” said Rodney Croome of LGBTI advocacy group Just.equal.

“Given the controversial issues the review is dealing with it must be above suspicion of bias and partisanship.

“The only influence on the religious freedom review should be the evidence it takes.”

The review has been accused of bias against LGBTI people.

Croome said latest reports have alleged the review panel took evidence at a conference stacked with advocates who believe anti-discrimination law should be rolled back, and that it has not attended any LGBTI or progressive Christian conferences.

Junkee reported that advocates involved in hearings for the review are fearful of anti-LGBTI bias.

“I didn’t feel like they were looking for answers about how to reduce discrimination,” said Suzanne Eastwood from the ACT government’s LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Council.

“It was more about how to prop up and justify discrimination. There was no question that any type of discrimination would be reduced.

“It was more along the lines of: how will discrimination be even more entrenched than it is now?”

She said the questioning was “hostile” and “alarming”, and that it suggested the review was looking to allow discrimination against LGBTI people as well as other groups such as unmarried de facto couples.

The religious freedom review is due to return its findings to parliament by the end of March.

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