A charter of human rights for Australia – fairer decisions in our daily lives

A charter of human rights for Australia – fairer decisions in our daily lives

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The Australian Government should introduce an Australian human rights charter to protect the human rights of all people impacted by Federal laws, policies, decisions and actions.

‘An Australian human rights charter would make sure that the impact of decisions on people’s daily lives is at the centre of government decision-making’ said Rowan McRae, Executive Director of Civil Justice Access and Equity.

The recommendation is contained in one of two Victoria Legal Aid submissions to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Free and Equal inquiry. The submission states that the inquiry is a vital opportunity to make sure that an Australian charter is prioritised and supported. ‘An Australian charter is essential for a fairer, more respectful society where people are treated with fairness, equality, dignity and respect in all aspects of their lives’.

Rowan said that the experience of the Victorian Charter showed that a national one would lead to tangible improvements in people’s daily lives. ‘Since its introduction in 2006, the Victorian Charter has improved public service standards, prompted consideration of human rights in drafting new legislation and helped secure positive outcomes for our clients’ she said.

By ensuring that human rights are central to government decision-making and actions, the Victorian Charter plays an essential preventative role, including through promoting rights to a fair hearing, equality and freedom from discrimination, and freedom of expression. We have seen the benefits of Victoria’s Charter for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians and for people at risk of homelessness, people facing compulsory mental health treatment, and people in prison for unpaid fines. After we relied on the Charter to help secure disability modifications to our client’s home, she said:

I feel like I’ll finally be able to do things by myself and I will feel safe, independent and dignified. Everybody should have this right. Nobody should have to go through what I’ve been through.

The submission draws on 10 client stories to illustrate the benefits of the Victorian Charter in protecting and promoting the human rights of Victorians, as well as the impact of gaps in human rights protections at a Federal level. In particular, our work with people with disability, people relying on social security and people in immigration detention reminds us of the need to embed a framework for considering human rights at a federal level.   

Streamlining anti-discrimination laws

A second submission to the Free and Equal inquiry highlights the need to update and streamline Australia’s anti-discrimination laws to provide a modern and accessible legal framework.

‘We know from our practice experience that our Federal anti-discrimination laws need to be reformed to provide clearer and stronger protections for the community to prevent and address discrimination and harassment,’ said Aimee Cooper, Program Manager of the Equality Law Program.

Victoria Legal Aid is the leading provider of discrimination legal advice in Victoria, providing 1,376 legal advices on discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation and vilification under both state and federal anti-discrimination laws last financial year.

‘Through our work, we see the need to reduce the reliance on individuals to enforce the law by requiring duty holders to take steps to prevent discrimination and harassment occurring, and empowering our Australian Human Rights Commission to enforce compliance with anti-discrimination laws,’ said Aimee.

More information

Read A Charter of Human Rights for Australia, our submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Free and Equal Inquiry Discussion Paper: A model for positive human rights reform in Australia.

Read our submission on priorities for Federal discrimination law reform.

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