Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Religious Freedom Review

The National Director of UnitingCare Australia Claerwen Little has affirmed the Uniting Church and its agencies’ opposition to all forms of discrimination before a hearing of the Federal Government’s Expert Panel reviewing Religious Freedom.

“Our agencies are open to all regardless of their race, religion or sexual preference,” Ms Little told the panel chaired by the former Attorney-General the Hon. Phillip Ruddock.

“In aged care services like Uniting in NSW and the ACT we are actively engaging to make sure that we have special accommodations for people who are in same-sex relationships,” Ms Little told the Expert Panel.

“As an Assembly agency and as the Church, we don’t discriminate in the way we employ our staff, or recruit our carers or with what we do in service.”

Ms Little said that UnitingCare Australia took a different view to a number of other faith-based agencies on the need for religious protections, notwithstanding the diversity of views across different services and even across the UnitingCare network.

Expert Panel members went on to quiz representatives about how changes to the Marriage Act might impact on the way they perform their services or limit their enjoyment of freedom of religion.

In response to the challenge by some groups to the charitable status of faith-based agencies, the Panel heard strong testimony of the commitment of the agencies present to people in their care, as well as the huge volunteer base that faith-based agencies bring to bear in their service provision.

The Expert Panel of Mr Ruddock, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, the Hon. Dr Annabelle Bennett SC, Professor Nicholas Aroney and Fr Frank Brennan is holding consultations around Australia in February and has been asked to report its findings by 31 March 2018.

The Uniting Church Assembly has published its submission to the Expert Panel, arguing for a careful balance between the right to practice religion and freedom from discrimination under the law.

In line with previous Uniting Church statements, resolutions and submissions to Government, the Assembly continues to believe that the best legislative provisions for religious freedom would be through a comprehensive Human Rights Act.