Philip Ruddock has said that the review into religious freedoms which he headed found little evidence of religious discrimination.
Ruddock made the comments in an interview on ABC Radio, saying that some of the recommendations were made in response to the few examples they did hear in consultations.
“But where we did, we brought forward some recommendations to help deal with it.”
Ruddock said that much of the religious discrimination described to the panel was really “fear and anxiety” that discrimination may occur.
Throughout its report, the review notes Australia’s obligations under international law as a mitigating factor in its considerations.
“Freedom of religion gives you certainly protection to have your beliefs, but it doesn’t mean you can infringe other fundamental human rights,” Ruddock said.
Morrison has elected to refer the issue of discrimination against LGBTI students in religious schools to the Australian Law Reform Commission, in what advocates say is a means of protracting an easily solvable issue.
It’s a similar approach to the government’s insistence on last year’s postal survey on same-sex marriage, which simply prolonged debate and delayed the inevitable.
With polling suggesting the government is poised for a drubbing at Labor’s hands come next year’s election, Morrison will seek to push the Religious Discrimination Act he has proposed through parliament before the May vote.
Morrison’s other major proposal – establishing a religious discrimination commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission – was not part of the Ruddock review’s recommendations, though Ruddock said he would “not be averse to it”.
But a legal expert has noted that the government faces the possibility of shooting itself in the foot with its religious discrimination legislation, which may cast doubt on the legitimacy of the controversial school chaplains program.
Associate professor Luke Beck told The Guardian that if laws make it “illegal to discriminate in employment on the grounds of religious belief, that would give rise to questions of whether the hiring practices of the military and school chaplains programs are lawful”.
“One of the worst offenders when it comes to discriminating on the grounds of religion is the federal government itself…usually only Christians are able to get [chaplain] jobs,” Beck said.
The program, which was extended in the May budget, does not allow for secular pastors to be employed in chaplain positions.