Elected council and human rights

The elected council plays an important role in building a human rights framework for the day-to-day work of local government.

As representatives of the community, elected councillors have a legal obligation to support and promote human rights principles and initiatives when they engage in strategic planning, provide governance and create local laws.

Equally importantly, elected councillors can take leadership to create a human rights culture in local government that upholds human dignity, equality and freedom.

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By promoting human rights at the strategic level, elected councillors can influence the day-to-day operations of local government and ensure that human rights filter down and across the organisation.

This will send an important message to local government and the community that human rights are integral to the work of local government.

Case study: Darebin City Council – Comprehensive review of its key strategic documents

Darebin City Council has developed a number of new strategies that include reference to human rights and consideration of the Charter in the development process.

For example, the Equity and Inclusion Policy 2012–15 adopts a rights-based approach, using the Charter as a key element to inform and support the activities of council.

The objective of the policy is for council to:

Work with and for the Darebin community in a way that recognises and acts to change the multiple and complex ways in which discrimination and poverty create barriers that limit people’s rights and abilities to achieve their full potential and a life of dignity and wellbeing.

The following examples demonstrate how local councils have engaged human rights in strategic planning:

  • The Hobsons Bay City Council Ageing Well Strategy 2007–17 sets out the council’s strategy for service provision, planning and advocacy for its residents over 55 years of age. The strategy recognises human rights principles that relate specifically to older people, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to recognition and equality before the law.
  • The City of Darebin Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2009–13 outlines the council’s plan to improve access for people with a disability. The plan is underpinned by a rights-based approach to access.
  • The Hobsons Bay City Council Reconciliation Policy Statement sets out the council’s commitment to the reconciliation process between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The statement acknowledges that the Charter provides an overarching framework for ‘respect, protection and promotion of culture and anti-discrimination’. 
  • The Moonee Valley City Council Municipal Early Years Plan 2010–13 sets out the council’s plan to develop, support and deliver children’s services. The plan is influenced by a human rights framework.

If you would like more information on how to review key strategic documents to ensure that they are compatible with human rights, please refer to the Victorian Local Governance Association Human Rights Toolkit.

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The Charter places an obligation on local councils to consider human rights when they create and review local laws. Laws that are not compatible with the Charter should be amended or removed.

When creating new local laws or reviewing existing local laws, councils need to:

  • consider whether the law raises any human rights
  • consider the scope of each human right raised
  • consider whether the law limits or restricts any of the human rights raised
  • consider whether the limitation or restriction is reasonable and justified
  • modify the law if it restricts rights in a way that is not reasonable or justified.

You may consider seeking legal advice to assist with the review of local laws.

The Department of Planning and Community Development's Guidelines for Local Laws Manual contains information on how to ensure local laws are compatible with the Charter.

Case study: Campaspe Shire Council – Local laws amended to increase participation

Campaspe Shire Council revised its local laws to increase community involvement in council decision-making and enhance transparency in relation to meeting requirements and providing agendas and minutes to the public.

Case study: Knox City Council – Amendment of local laws

Knox City Council revised its General Provisions Local Law after identifying several provisions that potentially infringed human rights. In each case, the Council considered the importance of the purpose of the limitation, the nature and extent of the limitation, and the relationship between the limitation and its purpose. Alternative options were considered that balanced individual rights with the rights of all people, particularly for the protection of public order, health and morality.

The following documents provide examples of how local councils have considered human rights when creating and reviewing local laws:

  • The Pyrenees Shire Human Rights Charter Guidelines help staff assess whether local laws, policies or services being reviewed or developed are compatible with Charter rights. The Guidelines set out a three-step process for ensuring compliance with the Charter and are a good example of council procedures that have been developed to help staff comply with their obligations under the Charter.
  • The Wyndham City Council Community Information Paper – General Local Law No. 16 outlines the council’s proposal to introduce a new General Local Law. The paper includes an assessment of the compatibility of the proposed local law with Charter rights. It is a good example of how councils consider the Charter in practice when making local laws.

{tab=Training and education for councillors}

As the tier of government that works most closely with the community on a day-to-day basis, it is essential that elected councillors are aware of and understand their obligations under the Charter.

This can be achieved by providing training and education to councillors to ensure that they give proper consideration to human rights when they engage in strategic planning, provide governance and create local laws. Human rights training and education can be included as part of the induction program for councillors.

The Commission runs a range of human rights workshops that councillors and local council staff can attend.

The Commission also provides training that is tailored to the specific needs of your organisation and which can be delivered at your workplace.

Find out more about the training provided by the Commission.

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Local councils can, and often do, demonstrate a commitment to human rights leadership by developing human rights initiatives and projects.

Human rights leadership involves going above and beyond the minimum legal requirements set out in the Charter, to develop and promote a culture of human rights in local government and the community.

Human rights leadership initiatives by local councils have included developing social justice charters, interfaith networks, district leadership programs, rooming house action groups, supporting women in local government, preventing violence against women, youth networks or councils, multicultural committees, disability advisory committees or advocacy groups, Aboriginal partnerships or actions plans, and cultural diversity initiatives.

Case study: Mildura Council – Human Rights Festival

Mildura Council is a member of the Mallee Human Rights Collective, a community collaboration involving a number of local organisations.

In December 2011, Mildura Council participated in a range of projects during its Human Rights Festival, including:

  • supporting and screening a locally made short film about human rights
  • participating in the Commission’s Rights in the Region community forum
  • running a media campaign that included ‘hijacking’ the local’s newspaper’s ‘Word on the Street’ vox pops to ask human rights questions
  • educating local students on the importance of placing human rights at the forefront of decision making.

Case study: Corangamite Shire Youth Council

Corangamite Shire Youth Council promotes and advises on young people’s needs and ideas through the development and implementation of youth-focused projects, such as KEVIN (Keeping Everyone Vitally Informed Now) and Youth Space. The Youth Council is comprised of 12 young people from across the Corangamite Shire, representing each of the six secondary schools in the Shire.

The following examples also demonstrate a strong commitment to human rights by local councils:

  • The Hume City Council Social Justice Charter seeks to ‘advance a fair and just society and to promote respect for every citizen, encourage community participation, strengthen community wellbeing and reduce the causes of disadvantage’. The social justice charter was developed after extensive review, community consultation and consideration of Charter rights and obligations.
  • In 2011 the Mornington Peninsula Shire hosted the Human Rights Art and Film Festival to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • The Brimbank City Council Social Justice Charter aims to promote people’s participation in government, strengthen community wellbeing and reduce the causes of poverty. The council’s charter includes a number of action items, including establishing a social justice working group, running staff training on human rights and developing a human rights complaints system.

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