Date: 
Monday 21 March 2011

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes has tonight released the Freedom of religion and belief in 21st century Australia report, the culmination of an extensive nationwide consultation process.

The research report to the Australian Human Rights Commission was prepared by Professors Gary Bouma and Desmond Cahill, Dr Hass Dellal and Athalia Zwartz. The Australian Multicultural Foundation was contracted to convene the consultations.

"This research was a massive undertaking, with the objective of addressing the enormous breadth and range of voices, the complexity of debate, the shifting nature of contexts, and accommodation of opposing views on this issue," Commissioner Innes said. "I applaud the researchers for what they have achieved."

The extensive research process took place throughout Australia over a 12 month period. It involved over 210 senior religious representatives, in 23 group consultations and 30 interviews, as well as the receipt of almost 2000 submissions from a vast cross-section of individuals and organisations from the Australian community.

"This process has provided very valuable opportunities to share a wide range of perspectives on major issues for churches and faith organisations, particularly in the relationship between the church and the state, including in areas such as operation of discrimination laws," Commissioner Innes said.

The Commissioner said the intention behind the research had been to listen to the voices of the community, and report on the issues that were raised, and the final report stands as an extremely comprehensive account of this.

"One of the conclusions that can be drawn from this research, is that there is a need to develop appropriate responses to the unique and varied Australian religious contexts and settings, including ancient Indigenous traditions, Christian heritages, and minority faith communities,"  said Commissioner Innes.

"Additionally, when we are considering issues of discrimination and equality, as we do at the Commission, the research shows that there is a pressing need for education about religions, if we are to reduce ignorance and fear, while promoting intergroup respect."

Commissioner Innes said the report would prove a valuable tool in the development of policies and programs in the area of religion and belief, as we continue to address the changing and evolving needs of our multicultural population in Australia.

The report is available at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/frb/report/index.html

Media contact: Brinsley Marlay (02) 9284 9656 or 0430 366 529.