Submissions To The Religious Freedom Review ‘To Be Kept Secret’

Public submissions to the federal government’s religious freedom review will reportedly not be published, prompting concern from LGBTI advocates.

The review was announced in November and is being chaired by former federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock (pictured).

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s department told Fairfax Media that submissions to the review won’t be published, in contrast to the process during regular parliamentary inquiries.

“Submissions to the Expert Panel will not be published online,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“However, where individuals provide consent, submission extracts may be included in public materials.”

The department later clarified to Fairfax Media that the release of submissions will be determined by “whether individuals have provided consent,” but the online consent form on the review’s website states submissions “will not be published in their entirety.”

Philip Ruddock told The Guardian on Wednesday that a decision would be made about whether or not the submissions would be made public when the review panel meets for the first time next week.

“In all of these things, there are always some circumstances where if people have a view that there is material that they want to provide but it is sensitive – yet they want it brought to the committee’s attention but not necessarily the public’s – then you have to have some regard for that,” he said.

He earlier told Fairfax he wanted to be “as open as possible with people in relation to the information we receive and the nature of the approaches that are taken.”

This week, LGBTI advocacy group just.equal launched a petition that it will submit to the review strongly opposing any weakening of anti-discrimination laws and calling for an Australian Bill of Rights.

Just.equal spokesperson Ivan Hinton-Teoh said it was astonishing that the review’s submissions would be kept secret when the review had the potential to influence Australian anti-discrimination law.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for an inquiry into freedom of religion, conscience and speech to keep its submissions under wraps,” he said.

“The misuse of religious freedom to justify discrimination is an important issue for many LGBTI Australians and we have a right to know what different interest groups are influencing our federal government.

“It’s vital that the Ruddock inquiry adopt the conventional process for publicly releasing submissions if its findings are to have any credibility.”

The review is accepting submissions until January 31, and it’s expected to hand down its findings in March.

Other panelists on the review include Human Rights Commissioner Rosalind Croucher, Federal Court Judge Annabelle Bennett, University of Queensland constitutional law professor Nicholas Aroney and Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan.