Tuesday, 03 December 2019 10:14

A national Human Rights Act would enshrine the rights and freedoms of all Australians

For many in modern Australia, it’s easy to imagine that our human rights and freedoms are well protected. But some Australians have less assurance of this - young people navigating the youth justice system, vulnerable individuals and families relying daily on public housing, disability services or social security, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities seeking to uphold their cultural rights.

At some point in our lives, any one of us could find our human rights at risk, whether it be in accessing timely health care, ending family violence, obtaining equal pay, living free from intrusions to our privacy, or in other areas of life. And that’s why we support the enactment of a national Human Rights Act to protect and promote the rights and freedoms of all Australians.

"Every day at the Commission we hear from people who have felt excluded or been treated unfairly, who have been discriminated against because of their personal characteristics, or who have had their human rights breached by the public authorities they rely on," says Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Catherine Dixon. "A national Human Rights Act would be a powerful foundation for embedding a fair, respectful and inclusive culture of human rights for the benefit of all Australians."

In our submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry on the need for a national Human Rights Charter, we draw on our experience as Victoria’s independent human rights regulator and share real-life examples of how Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has helped build a human rights culture in Victoria.

In recent years, Victoria’s Charter has shaped the development of stronger and fairer laws, such as improvements to mental health legislation, and the passage of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017. Within public authorities, the Charter has improved decision making and culture – for example, by ensuring public servants consider people’s rights when delivering housing services and local councils relying on the Charter to tackle rough sleeping within their communities. There are also examples from Victorian courts and tribunals that have led to better outcomes – such as ensuring that the police act within the law, enabling Victorian Aboriginal people to have their cases heard in the Koori Court,  protecting the rights of people who may be compulsorily subjected to electroconvulsive treatment, and ensuring children in the youth justice system are not held in adult prisons.

"By ensuring human rights are protected and promoted by Parliament, the public sector and courts, Victoria’s Charter anchors human rights in the day-to-day interactions between the Victorian public and their government" Ms Dixon says. "Since the Charter was first enacted 13 years ago, we’ve seen real examples of how the Charter can protect the fundamental liberties that we are all entitled to."

The recommendations in our submission focus on:

  • the scope of rights that should be included in a national Human Rights Act
  • how decision-makers can balance competing interests when rights come into conflict
  • what kind of pathways would provide remedies for individuals if their human rights are breached
  • the need for ongoing training to help public authorities fulfil their obligations and members of the public know what protections they are entitled to
  • the important role the Australian Human Rights Commission could play as a national regulator for human rights.

"A national Human Rights Act would be a powerful mechanism for elevating and protecting the human rights of all Australians - not just as a symbol, but as a real tool for delivering fairer laws, shaping decisions of government, and ensuring human rights are incorporated into our judicial system," says Ms Dixon.

Read our submission to Free and Equal: An Australian conversation on human rights

Media contact

Peter Davies
0447 526 642
Email: [email protected] 

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