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 establishes a religious test for a federal public office. A Melbourne court affirmed the right of a Sikh student to wear a religious turban to a Christian school even though the turban was not consistent with the school’s obligatory uniform. The political platform of the One Nation Party, which had four senators in the federal parliament, included cessation of Muslim immigration and limits on some Islamic practices. Parliament passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage on December 7. Former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott expressed concern prior to passage that the legislation provided inadequate protection of religious freedom. The attorney general said current law provided adequate protections for religious freedom. The prime minister stated in his July National Security Statement that the country’s national identity is defined by a commitment to a shared set of values, including freedom and democracy, rather than by reference to issues such as religion or race. The government continued to run extensive programs to support religious pluralism.
In April a Greek Orthodox Christian wearing a large cross reportedly was beaten by men of “Middle Eastern appearance.” The attackers reportedly ripped the crucifix off his neck and stomped on it. In May the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, an independent statutory organization, said “there is consistent evidence that Muslims are subject to higher rates of racism than pertains for all other racial and religious groups within the Australian community … the headscarf has become a lightning rod for attacking Muslim women. The Muslim community is disproportionately subject to ‘hate speech’ and discrimination in employment and the delivery of goods and services.” The Australian Christian Lobby organization said its activities were disrupted during the period preceding a national federal government-run postal survey on same-sex marriage by threats of violence.
The U.S. embassy and the U.S. Consulates General in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney regularly engaged government officials and a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups to promote religious freedom. Embassy and consulate general officers at all levels, including the Charge d’Affaires, engaged with religious communities and promoted religious tolerance in person and through social media.