The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. 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.
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. Federal laws that 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 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 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 ethnoreligious 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.
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.
In September the New South Wales parliament passed laws enabling police officers and certain other public officials to require the removal of face coverings for identification purposes. In August the Victoria state government announced that its existing laws were adequate for that purpose.
The government permits religious education in public schools, generally taught by volunteers using approved curricula, with the option for parents to have their children not attend. The government’s National School Chaplaincy Program, established in 2007, provides annual support of up to A$20,000 ($20,800) and A$24,000 ($24,960) in remote areas for government and nongovernment school communities seeking to establish or extend school chaplaincy services. In 2011 the government provided a further A$222 million ($230.9 million) over three years for participating schools and 1,000 additional schools focusing on remote and disadvantaged areas. A private citizen challenged the program’s constitutionality; a high court decision was pending at year’s end.
Public schools in New South Wales provide secular ethics classes as 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 have opposed the classes, asserting that they attract students away from the traditional religion classes.
The federal government provides funding to private schools, the majority of which are faith-based.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas.