It’s time for Australia to walk the talk on human rights: ALHR welcomes Australian Human Rights Commission proposal for a Federal Human Rights Act
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) welcomes the launch of an Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Free & Equal Position Paper proposing a model for a Federal Human Rights Act. The AHRC’s proposals seek to create legal protections for the human rights of all people in Australia, and provide ways to seek justice if people’s rights are breached.
ALHR President Kerry Weste said, “Australia was a founding member of the UN and one of eight nations involved in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), yet we remain an outlier as the only Western liberal democracy bereft of a national framework to legally protect the rights and freedoms of all Australians.”
“If accepted by the federal government, the AHRC’s proposals will create an essential framework that enables everyone involved in the work of government to engage in a positive collective effort to realise greater freedom, dignity and equality for all of us. When governments legally articulate and protect everyone’s human rights the quality of decision-making is improved and people are empowered to understand and stand up for their rights,” said Ms Weste.
“Australia has a long-standing body of anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation and some states, including the ACT, Victoria and Queensland have already introduced their own Human Rights Acts. However, far too many of Australia’s international human rights obligations remain conspicuously absent from our domestic laws. We need to address this piecemeal approach to human rights protections and introduce a Federal Human Rights Act that protects everyone’s human rights equally.
“The AHRC’s proposed Act seeks to impose a legislative obligation on federal public authorities to act compatibly with human rights and to give proper consideration to those rights when developing laws and policies or making decisions. Importantly, it would also establish a duty that requires public authorities to ensure the participation of groups and individuals in decisions that directly or disproportionately affect their human rights.”
“The position paper suggests a law that would articulate and protect 28 different human rights, many of which are consistent across the three existing state and territory Acts, such as the right to recognition and equality before the law, humane treatment when deprived of liberty, and the right to a fair hearing. However, the AHRC has also considered the need to establish legal protections for rights that increasingly pose significant risks to all Australians such as the right to a healthy environment and the right to an adequate standard of living.”
“ALHR particularly welcomes the AHRC’s focus on the fundamental importance of access to a range of remedies. Under the model, people whose human rights have been breached could access a complaints mechanism at the AHRC, just as they currently can for discrimination matters. Where unsuccessful or unsuited, complaints could also be referred to a court. The model also allows for federal human rights breaches to be raised in proceedings outside the Act, such as in judicial review. In addition to establishing a cause of action, further mechanisms for accountability would be established, such as provisions to guide the judiciary in interpreting legislation in a manner consistent with human rights.”
Ms Weste emphasised, “This year marks thirty years since ALHR began calling for a federal Human Rights Act, it has been over a decade since the Brennan Inquiry indicated overwhelming public support for the enactment of federal human rights protections. In December the world will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, and it’s time for Australia to walk the talk. We must address the reality that, despite our commitments on the international stage, the majority of the country has no access to enforce and remedy infringements on their human rights”.
“Australians want to live in a society that, through everyday actions and decisions, upholds our rights and the rights of others, working together for a more sustainable, just, and prosperous society – for this generation and those yet to come. Indeed, only when all the states and territories have a Human Rights Act, and we also have one at the federal level, will Australia have what AHRC President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher has described as a “solid bedrock for rights protections across Australia and the tools to shift the focus of decision making and policy development through a human rights lens.”
Further work on the AHRC’s proposal will be completed throughout this year with an aim of releasing a more in-depth report on its proposed Human Rights Act and anti-discrimination reform later in 2023.
Ms Weste concluded, “ALHR welcomes and looks forward to these developments and we commend the AHRC for this vital work.”
“It is time to reignite the dialogue about a federal Human Rights Act. We all deserve to be treated fairly and equally. This is about good governance. The people of Australia deserve nothing less.”
Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.
In December 2018 the AHRC launched its‘ Free and Equal Project: An Australian conversation on human rights’ (the National Conversation).
You can read ALHR’s November 2019 submission to the National Conversation Inquiry here.
Following extensive consultation with, the Commission has released its two Free and Equal Position Papers.
The First Free & Equal Position Paper, A Reform Agenda for Federal Discrimination Laws, makes 38 recommendations across four major reform areas.
The Second Position Paper, A Human Rights Act for Australia, proposes a model for a national Human Rights Act, how it could function and what it could do.
About ALHR’s advocacy for Human Rights Acts
This year ALHR will celebrate its 30th birthday and 30 years of calling for the comprehensive domestic implementation of Australia’s international legal obligations via a Federal and state and territory-based Human Rights Acts. ALHR advocated in support of the introduction of both the ACT Human Rights Act in 2004 and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities in 2006. ALHR was a steering committee member in the civil society alliance which successfully campaigned for the passage of the QLD Human Rights Act in 2019.
Currently, ALHR is one of more than 80 organisations supporting the Australian Charter of Rights Campaign led by the Human Rights Law Centre.
- in Western Australia, ALHR co-convenes the Western Australia for a Human Rights Act campaign coalition with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia inc;
- in NSW ALHR convenes the Human Rights Act for NSW campaign alliance; and
- in South Australia ALHR convenes the Proposal for a Human Rights Law for SA with the Rights Resource Network of SA and the South Australian Council of Social Service.
ALHR has a national Human Rights Act(s) Committee, chaired by eminent experts in the development and application of Human Rights Acts. If you are a member of ALHR and interested in actively engaging in this work email us here
If you would like to make a donation to support this work, you can do so here