Religious freedom should be protected for all Australians
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Religious freedom should be protected for all Australians

More needs to be done to ensure fundamental human rights are protected for all Australians, including freedom of religion.

However, if new laws are introduced it must not result in an erosion of current legislation that protects human rights, like those implemented in the ACT and Victoria.

The ACT is ahead of the curve when it comes to laws protecting basic human rights, after the welcome introduction of the ACT Human Rights Act in 2004.

Victoria followed suit in 2006 with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act.

However the absence of statutory human rights instruments at a national level means other Australians receive inadequate protection.

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In a recent submission to the panel on religious freedom, chaired by Philip Ruddock, the ACT Human Rights Commission asked the panel to ensure Canberrans would be better, and not worse off, if new protections were introduced nationally.

“We would like to ensure that any changes to federal law to improve protection of religious freedom do not result in any diminution of existing rights or protections currently enjoyed by Territorians,” the submission reads.

The ACT is one of only two jurisdictions in Australia that provide statutory human rights protection, including for freedom of religion.

While all states and territories have anti-discrimination laws, some do not include religion as a protected attribute - like NSW and South Australia.

The ACT Human Rights Commission submission reads: “Our view is that Australia should adopt a comprehensive human rights act that protects all fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion”.

While the ACT HRC supports extending federal anti-discrimination protection to explicitly cover religion, provided that it allows the concurrent operation of state and territory discrimination laws, the submission states they would be wary of adopting a stand-alone Religious Freedom Act.

“This is because international standards on freedom of religion do not arise solely from provisions addressing religion specifically. They come also from other rights, such as those relating to association, expression, privacy and the rights of parents and children.”