Australia failing to uphold international commitment to right to housing

August 7, 2021

This Homelessness Week, leading human rights lawyers are calling for laws to protect the fundamental right to adequate housing.

More than 116,000 experience homelessness in Australia on any given night, with many more at risk of homelessness. The largest number of those experiencing homelessness are women and children escaping family violence. And many more women and children cannot escape family violence because they have no safe shelter to flee to. The fastest growing number of those experiencing homelessness are older single women.

Kerry Weste, President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) says, “Everyone has a fundamental right to adequate housing – housing that is secure and safe, and enables people to live with dignity.  This Homelessness Week, ALHR laments that people experiencing homelessness are not afforded basic human rights protections.  ALHR calls on the Australian Government, and all state and territory governments, to introduce Human Rights Acts as one small step in recognising that all people have basic, fundamental rights, whether or not they have a home. Although Human Rights Acts will not solve homelessness, human rights legislation at least recognises that all people, including those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, have the right to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect in their dealings with the Government and government services.”

“For children, human rights legislation ensures all governments and their agencies must consider the best interests of the child before making decisions that impact on them. A housing authority would be required to think about a child’s rights before making a decision to evict a family from public housing due to rental arrears. For women experiencing violence, government agencies would need to consider a woman’s safety in making decisions that affect her. For the criminal justice system, it would mean putting in place processes to ensure a person is not denied bail or parole merely because they do not have a home. For those rough sleeping, it means governments and their agencies would need to consider an individual’s human rights before arbitrarily moving them on, when they have nowhere to go.”

“ALHR envisions a future when Australia fully complies with its international commitment to the right to housing. Implementing Human Rights Acts federally, and in all states and territories, can ensure those who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness have their human rights recognised in law.”

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.