Under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter), local councils have a legal obligation to act compatibly with human rights in the way they go about their work and deliver their services.
In practice, this means that local councils must:
- give proper consideration to human rights when making decisions
- ensure that actions, policies and services are compatible with human rights
- interpret and apply local laws consistently with human rights
- ensure that people who work on their behalf do so in a way that respects human rights.
Can Charter rights be limited?
In undertaking the day-to-day work of local government, there will be times when the human rights set out in the Charter may need to be limited.
However, Charter rights can only be limited to achieve a legitimate and reasonable objective. For local government, this will often involve balancing a number of different rights and other important interests, such as the health and safety of the community.
For example, a local council seeks to restrict the use of the local swimming pool to women only on Thursday evenings, outside of ordinary operating hours. This is in order to address the inequalities in access to swimming facilities for local Muslim women. Feedback from local Muslim women indicated that, due to their cultural and religious beliefs, they felt uncomfortable attending the swimming pool when men were present. The council decides that the restriction is a reasonable limitation on the right for men to access the facilities free from discrimination. This is particularly so because the women’s only access will occur after normal operating hours and therefore will not detract from the opportunities for men to access the facilities.
How do local councils engage with the Charter?
Local councils engage with the Charter in four main areas of operation:
- Elected council: Elected councillors need to consider human rights when they undertake strategic planning and create local laws. Elected councillors can also help to promote a culture of human rights within local government and the community.
- Administration: Council staff need to consider human rights when they deliver services to the community and review or develop policies, plans and procedures.
- Community engagement: Council staff need to consider human rights when they engage with the community and handle complaints from members of the community about alleged breaches of human rights.
- Third party interaction: Council staff need to consider human rights when they educate the community about human rights, enter into contracts with third parties, and review grants and funding policies.
The Victorian Local Governance Association’s Human Rights Toolkit can help you to understand and comply with your obligations under the Charter, as well as build a culture of human rights in your community.
The toolkit provides a practical framework for implementing the Charter in relation to each of the four main areas of operation discussed above