The undersigned state and territory members of the Australian Council of Human Rights Authorities (ACHRA) are concerned about the recent unfair public criticism of the statutory role of the Australian Human Rights Commission in relation to complaints alleging breaches of human rights. ACHRA is comprised of state and territory statutory authorities with responsibility for protecting and promoting discrimination, equal opportunity and human rights laws.
The attacks on the work of the Commission as an independent and impartial statutory authority, and in particular on the President of the Commission, are inappropriate and reveal an inaccurate understanding of the Commission’s role in relation to complaints alleging human rights breaches. The Commission mandate includes inquiring into any acts or practices ‘that may be inconsistent with or contrary to any human right’ under s.11(1)(f) of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. This role is set out in the Act that was passed by the Australian Parliament. In relation to complaints alleging breaches of human rights, on completion of its inquiry, the Commission may report to the Minister and provide its recommendations. Such a report to the Minister is to be tabled in the Federal Parliament.
The Australian Government is, of course, free to not accept the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations in relation to human rights breaches. Constructive explanation by the Government to the Federal Parliament of its reasons for not accepting the conclusions and recommendations would better contribute to well-informed and respectful public debate.
The role of National Human Rights Institutions is set out in the Paris Principles that were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, and they emphasise the need for independence, autonomy and adequate investigation powers and resources for bodies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission to operate effectively.
Consistent with the Paris Principles and recent initiatives by the Australian Government to promote the independence of national human rights institutions at the UN, the first law officer, the Attorney-General, should defend the Commission performing its statutory duties in relation to human rights matters, by publicly affirming the scope, nature and independence of the Commission’s role and its members.
South Australia: Commissioner Anne Gale, 0422 007 069
Australian Capital Territory: Commissioner Helen Watchirs, 0423 821 718
Northern Territory: Commissioner Sally Sievers, 08 8999 1444
Queensland: Commissioner Kevin Cocks, 0402 288 419
Tasmania: Commissioner Robin Banks, 0459 800 570
Victoria: Commissioner Kate Jenkins, 0459 114 657