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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (27 November) . . Page.. 4884 ..


The leaking of the recommendations of the Ruddock religious freedom review has galvanised public debate in a way that we have not seen in this country for some time. The absolute outrage across this community and nationwide that these exemptions to law existed prompted the Prime Minister to commit to remove them. A conservative, hard-right Prime Minister committed to remove them in the week ahead of the Wentworth by-election. He said he would do it in the two sitting weeks of the federal parliament that have just proceeded. He did not. He still has not. We will, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The leaking of these recommendations galvanised public debate and concern—serious concern—about the scope of exceptions within our discrimination laws. While some religious education institutions have raised concerns about removing broad exemptions, as the Leader of the Opposition mentioned in his speech, we are hearing very strong voices from faith-based schools in the ACT. They make it very clear that they have no intention, absolutely no intention, or desire to discriminate against students or teachers in relation to attributes such as sexuality or relationship status.

These schools are happy to have the law clarified to ensure that all students and teachers feel valued and supported. Schools do not want this legal right. They have spoken very clearly in that regard. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition. The schools do not want this legislative right; so let us get rid of it, because there is agreement in almost every element of our society and in almost every element of Australian society, except for the reactionary right of the Liberal Party.

This is not just an ACT issue. This is an Australian issue. For example, in New South Wales there was an overwhelming community reaction to a letter sent by Anglican schools to federal MPs. On 8 November the Archbishop of Sydney issued an apology for his letter in which he acknowledged the unfortunate consequence affecting many gay students and teachers who feared that they could be expelled or sacked as a result. The Archbishop stated:

This past week has demonstrated it is untenable that religious freedoms be expressed as exemptions in discrimination acts. Some exemptions, such as those relating to sexuality, we do not use and have no wish to preserve. But the mere fact these remain on the statute books has alarmed people. Therefore, I have approached the government and the opposition for an immediate bipartisan approach which would remove these exemptions and create legislation which provides a positive protection for freedom of religion.

Madam Deputy Speaker, in the ACT we have such a positive protection for freedom of religion. It is contained in section 14 of the territory's Human Rights Act. This act also provides protection for other human rights, such as the right to equality and the rights of children and young people to the protection that they require. Our Human Rights Act allows us to draw on established principles of international human rights law and provides a clear pathway to resolve situations where there are competing human rights and community interests at play.

This is done through a requirement that any limitations on protected human rights be reasonable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society. Any


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