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Universal Periodic Review reports in six languages

Reports: National Report, Compilation of UN Information, Summary of Stakeholders’ Information, Questions Submitted in Advance, Report of the Working Group – Conclusions and Recommendations, Related Webcast Archives. Main Country Page: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/AUIndex.aspx

Universal Periodic Review - Australia
Only contributions submitted in one of the United Nations official languages are admissible and posted on this webpage
Date of consideration: Thursday 27 January 2011, 2:30 pm - 5:30 pm

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The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process launched by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 to review the human rights obligations and responsibilities of UN Member States by 2011. The UN Human Rights Council has recommend a second cycle starting in 2013. UPR Process and News: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx


In 1984 Australia was represented by Dr. Juliet Sheen in a two week  Seminar on the Encouragement of Understanding, Tolerance and Respect in Matters Relating to Freedom of Religion or Belief  (ST/HR/SER.A/16).  The Seminar was on how to implement the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.  Dr. Sheen wrote a report for the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board,  Discrimination and Religious Conviction,  which was circulated to all delegates by the UN Human Rights Centre.  Since then she has been involved in international ways to implement the 1981 Declaration.  In 1997 with the late Kevin Boyle of the University of Essex Human Rights Center she co-Edited Freedom of Religion and Belief: A World Report published by Routledge.

The UN Human Rights Council in January 2011 conducted the Australia Universal Periodic Review on its obligations and responsibilities to implement its human rights agreements. While improvements have been made over twenty-seven years since the 1984 Geneva Seminar intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief is still reported in many human rights reports. Australia is to be commended for co-sponsoring Regional Interfaith Dialogue with New Zealand, Indonesia and the Philippines, and for teaching tolerance in New South Wales public schools.

In 2008 the government launched the National Human Rights Consultation to seek the views of the public on how to better protect human rights. It reported to the government in September 2009. The consultation generated debate on whether to establish a Human Rights Act. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC)  backed such an act, but opponents, such as the Australian Christian Lobby, feared it would give more power to unelected judges. The government released its response on April 21, 2010; it did not support a Human Rights Act.

At the end of the reporting period HREOC was preparing a report titled "Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century" to be released in late 2010. The report when released should be compared to the paper by Dr. Juliet Sheen in the 1984 Geneva Seminar as a historical record and follow-up recommendation for the Australia Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief.


U.S. State Department 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, Australia


Links to State Department sites are welcomed. Unless a copyright is indicated, information on the State Department’s main website is in the public domain and may be copied and distributed without permission. Citation of the U.S. State Department as source of the information is appreciated.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 2.9 million square miles and a population of 22.4 million. According to the 2006 census, 64 percent of citizens consider themselves Christian, including 26 percent Roman Catholic, 19 percent Anglican, and 19 percent other Christian denominations. Buddhists constitute 2.1 percent of the population, Muslims 1.7 percent, Hindus 0.7 percent, Jews 0.4 percent, and all others professing a religion 0.5 percent.

At the time of European settlement, indigenous inhabitants were animists with belief in spirits behind the forces of nature and the influence of ancestral spirit beings. According to the 2006 census, 5,206 persons, or less than 0.03 percent of respondents, reported practicing indigenous traditional religions, down from 5,244 in 2001. The 2006 census reported that almost 64 percent of indigenous persons identify themselves as Christian and 20 percent listed no religion.

In 1911 during the first census, 96 percent of citizens identified themselves as Christian. In recent decades traditional Christian denominations have seen their total number and proportion of affiliates stagnate or decrease significantly, although from 2001 to 2006, the total number of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians increased by 12.9 percent. Over the past decade, increased immigration from Southeast Asia and the Middle East considerably expanded the numbers of citizens who identify themselves as Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, and increased the ethnic diversity of existing Christian denominations. Between 2001 and 2006, the numbers increased for Buddhists by 17 percent (to 418,000), Muslims by 21 percent (to 340,393), Jews by 6 percent (to 89,000), and Hindus by 55 percent (to 148,131). In 2006 approximately 18.7 percent of citizens considered themselves to have no religion, up from 17 percent in 2001, and 11.2 percent made no statement regarding religious affiliation.

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or sets a religious test for a federal public office. Although the government is secular, each session of parliament begins with a joint recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas.

Religious adherents who have suffered religious discrimination may have recourse under federal discrimination laws or through the court system and bodies such as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). Federal laws which protect freedom of religion include the Racial Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Commission Act, and the Workplace Relations Act. The country accepts refugees fleeing religious persecution and is party to the UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol governing refugees.

Commonwealth and state public service agencies are active in promoting religious tolerance in the workplace. Public service employees who believe they have been denied a promotion on religious grounds can appeal to the public service merit protection commissioner.

The state of Tasmania is the only state or territory whose constitution specifically provides citizens with the right to profess and practice their religion; however, seven of the eight states and territories have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person's religion or ethno-religious background. South Australia is the only jurisdiction that does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion. All jurisdictions, apart from South Australia, have established independent agencies to mediate allegations of religious discrimination.

Minority religious groups generally had equal rights to land and status and to build places of worship; however, in the past, a number of small city councils refused local Muslim and Buddhist groups permits to construct places of worship.

Some of those religious groups successfully appealed the councils' decisions to the courts. In May 2009 the Land and Environment Court handed down a judgment allowing construction of a 1,200-student Islamic primary and secondary school in Bass Hill, a Sydney suburb, which some local residents had fought since the land was purchased in 2006. However, in July 2009 the New South Wales government acquired the land to build a school for students with disabilities.

In May 2008 a council cited "planning grounds alone" for rejecting an application to build an Islamic school in Camden, a Sydney suburb. In April 2009 some Christian leaders opposed to the Camden school signed a letter warning that "the Qur'anic Society inevitably advocates a political ideological position that is incompatible with the Australian way of life." On June 2, 2009, the Land and Environment Court rejected the applicants' appeal.

In June 2009 a council approved plans to build an Islamic school in Hoxton Park, a Sydney suburb. A group of local residents contested the ruling, and the case was pending a decision from the Land and Environment Court and the New South Wales Supreme Court at the end of the reporting period.

Religious groups are not required to register; however, to receive tax exempt status, nonprofit religious groups must apply to the Australian Tax Office (ATO). Registration with the ATO has no effect on how religious groups are monitored, apart from standard ATO checks.

The government permits religious education in public schools, generally taught by volunteers using approved curriculum, with the option for parents to have their child not attend. The government's National School Chaplaincy Program provides annual support of up to $17,932 (A$20,000) for government and nongovernment school communities seeking to establish or extend school chaplaincy services. To date $135 million (A$151.2 million) has been provided to 2,689 schools. Starting November 30, 2008, no new funding agreements could be entered into, but the government extended funding until December 2011 for participating schools.

The federal government provides funding to private schools, the majority of which are faith-based.

The New South Wales government is piloting secular ethics classes in 10 public primary schools to provide an alternative for students who do not attend optional scripture classes. The Catholic and Anglican archbishops of Sydney and the Islamic Council of New South Wales oppose the classes for attracting students away from the traditional religion classes.

The government has extensive programs to promote respect for diversity and cultural pluralism. The country participates in the United Nations Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and is cosponsor of the Regional Interfaith Dialogue with Indonesia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. In 2008 the government established the Multicultural Advisory Council to provide advice on "social cohesion issues relating to Australia's cultural and religious diversity." The government reshaped its flagship anti-racism program to better target potential problem areas and was working with Muslim leaders on the advisory council to develop de-radicalization programs for individuals convicted on terrorism-related offenses.

In March 2010 the major parties defeated an independent senator's motions to establish parliamentary inquiries into the tax-exempt status of religious groups, especially allegations concerning the Church of Scientology. In May the senator introduced a bill seeking to introduce a public benefits test to determine whether religious groups qualify for tax-exempt status. At the end of the reporting period, the Fair Work Ombudsman was investigating the employment practices of the Church of Scientology following complaints from former members.

In May 2010 an opposition senator called for a ban on the wearing of the burqa, claiming it was a symbol of female oppression and had been used as a disguise by criminals. Neither the prime minister nor the opposition leader supported the motion. In May 2010 the New South Wales parliament blocked debate on a private member's bill which sought to ban the wearing of the burqa in that state.

In May 2010 police raided 12 properties owned by a Christian organization called Agape Ministries. Police found large caches of guns, ammunition, and detonators. Subsequently, four men were charged with firearms offences. Authorities were continuing to investigate the organization at the end of the reporting period.

In 2008 the government launched the National Human Rights Consultation to seek the views of the public on how to better protect human rights. It reported to the government in September 2009. The consultation generated debate on whether to establish a Human Rights Act. The HREOC backed such an act, but opponents, such as the Australian Christian Lobby, feared it would give more power to unelected judges. The government released its response on April 21, 2010; it did not support a Human Rights Act.

At the end of the reporting period, the HREOC was preparing a report titled "Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century" to be released in late 2010. A similar HREOC report in 1998 recommended the establishment of a Religious Freedom Act. Critics of the inquiry argued the constitution and other laws already protect religious freedom, and that the inquiry's recommendations may seek to curtail some religious freedoms, such as the right of religious institutions to take beliefs and behavior into account in their hiring.

The Tandem Project a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance, and respect for diversity of religion or belief, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference material and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

In 1968 the United Nations deferred work on a legally-binding treaty on religious intolerance as too complex and sensitive and passed a non-binding declaration in its place. The Tandem Project believes until a core legally-binding human rights Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief  is adopted international human rights law will be incomplete. It may be time to begin to consider reinstating the 1968 Working Group to better organize and bring all matters relating to freedom of religion or belief under one banner, a core international human rights legally-binding treaty.

Documents Attached: Background - Human Rights & Freedom of Religion or Belief; United Nations History - Religion, Science & Inquiry