Australia is the only western democracy without a comprehensive human rights instrument and has only limited protection for religious freedom in its constitution. It was Australia’s growing religious diversity—the result of robust political support for multiculturalism and pro-immigration policies in the post-war period—that led to the first public inquiry into religious freedom by an Australian statutory body in 1984. Responding to evidence of discrimination against Indigenous Australians and minority religious groups, the report detailed the need for stronger legal protections. By 2019, Australia’s religious freedom ‘problem’ was focused almost solely on the extent to which religious organizations should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ people. Using the What’s the Problem Represented To Be?
approach to policy analysis, this paper explores the changing representation of the ‘problem’ of religious freedom by examining all public, parliamentary and statutory body reports of inquiries into religious freedom from 1984 to 2019. In their framing of the problem of religious freedom, these reports have contributed to a discourse of religious freedom which marginalises the needs of both those who suffer discrimination because of their religion and those who suffer discrimination as a result of the religious beliefs of others.
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