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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14672

Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (17:26): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee's second interim report of the inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief entitled Freedom of religion or belief: the Australian experience.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr ANDREWS: by leave—I commend to the House this second interim report of the human rights subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief, Freedom of religion and belief: the Australian experience. Freedom of religion or belief is one of the cornerstones of human rights. As such, the significance of freedom of religion or belief in our community cannot be overestimated. It goes to the core of human individuality and identity—ideals which we hold dear here in Australia.

Around the world it is clearly evident that, when this right is denied, social cohesion, democratic practice and the stability of societies are affected. This in turn can lead to division and conflict and, in the worst of cases, violence and even terrorism. The right of individuals to believe in, and society's tolerance towards, differing religions or beliefs is a fundamental component of any healthy democracy, along with the respect for all other human rights upon which democratic societies are based. The recent horrific attack in Christchurch underscores the importance of supporting everyone's right to practise their religion or belief in safety and with the acceptance of the community.

Striking the balance between giving everyone the opportunity to pursue their faith and respecting the human rights of others in society is not an easy task for societies to accommodate or for governments to achieve, but the importance of doing so is evident, both from overseas experience and from the evidence of everyday Australians put before this inquiry. The subcommittee would like to extend its warm thanks to all those individuals and organisations who took the time to make submissions or appear before the committee at public hearings. These contributions have been invaluable to this inquiry and make up much of the report's content.

The second interim report of the human rights subcommittee's inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief provides a snapshot of the current domestic experience of Australians in the practice and exercise of freedom of religion or belief. While there is much community debate surrounding the manifestations of beliefs and indeed religion's role within society, the subcommittee has found that the right to believe in whatever faith you choose is something that Australian people take seriously and hold dearly. Our successful multicultural society is based on mutual understanding and respect, which cannot exist and grow without this fundamental right.

This interim report examines some of the perceived problems associated with the reconciling of the exercise of freedom of religion with other human rights, especially the principles of freedom of speech and expression and the principles of nondiscrimination and fair treatment.

The report examines some of the proposed solutions that have been advanced in the context of vigorous community and political debate. In this, the subcommittee was cognisant of the findings and recommendations of the Australian government's Religious Freedom Review and the government's response to this review, which are summarised in this interim report.

The subcommittee recommends that, as a first step in legislative reform, the Australian government, in consultation with the states and territories, develop and introduce or amend as necessary, legislation to give full effect to Australia's obligations under article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The subcommittee's work in this important field is not yet complete. Accordingly this second interim report further recommends that its inquiry be continued in the 46th Parliament so that the international situation concerning freedom of religion and belief can be further examined, including Australia's efforts to protect and promote respect for this vital human right all around the world.

Finally, may I thank all the members of the committee. I thank Dr Aly, the deputy chair of the subcommittee, and also the members of the secretariat, whose important efforts and work over the period of this parliament have greatly aided the output of the committee and our deliberations.

I commend the report to the House.