Human Rights ACT NOW!

The report of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee was
released on 8 October 2009, with 31 recommendations regarding how best
to ensure human rights protection in Australia. The release of this
landmark report signifies the end of the most extensive consultation on
human rights and one of the greatest exercises in participatory
democracy in Australia's history. This included 35,014 submissions to
the Committee from a diverse range of professions including church
ministers, nurses, job seekers, pensioners, lawyers and students. 

One clear finding of the Committee is that Australians know little
about their human rights. According to the Report, Australians are
generally unaware as to what human rights are, where they evolved from
and how they are promoted and protected. It is not surprising then that
the Committee recommended "that education be the highest priority for
improving and promoting human rights in Australia".

A HUMAN RIGHTS ACT FOR AUSTRALIA

Moreover, the Committee found that the current patchwork protection of human
rights is neither comprehensive nor adequate. Instead, it recommends
that Australia adopt a Federal HUMAN RIGHTS ACT
which promotes a dialogue about human rights between the Federal
Parliament, the executive and the judiciary. Of the total
submissions received by the Committee, 87 percent were in favour of a
Human Rights Act!

The Committee recommended that a Federal Human Rights Act should:

  • Protect civil and political rights and possibly social and economic
    rights, with priority given to the right to an adequate standard of
    living, the right to health and the right to education;
  • Require statements of compatibility for all Bills introduced into the Federal Parliament;
  • Empower the proposed Joint Committee on Human Rights to review all
    Bills and legislative instruments for compliance with human rights;
  • Contain an interpretative provision that requires federal
    legislation to be interpreted in a way that is compatible with the
    human rights expressed in the Act and consistent with parliament's
    purpose in enacting the legislation;
  • Require Commonwealth public authorities to act in a manner
    compatible with human rights (excluding economic and social rights) and
    to give proper consideration to relevant human rights (including
    economic and social rights) when making decisions; and
  • Strengthen the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Liberty Victoria supports the recommendations of the National Human Rights Committee. 

To access the Report of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee click here

WHY WE NEED A HUMAN RIGHTS ACT

Australia is the only Western democracy without some kind of Human
Rights Act or Charter of Rights.  Put simply, Australia needs a Human
Rights Act because our human rights are not adequately protected.  The
current protection of human rights is a patchwork combination of
limited Constitutional rights and specific Acts.  This ad hoc approach
is "fragmented and incomplete, and its inadequacies are felt most
keenly by the marginalised and the vulnerable" (National Human Rights
Consultation Committee Report.)  We cannot assume that rights are
protected merely because they have not yet been threatened.

The unmistakable progress Victoria has made in protecting and
promoting human rights since the adoption of the Victorian Charter of
Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006 is a clear example why Australia
needs a Human Rights Act.

          NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT AND WRITE IN HUMAN RIGHTS

          LIBERTY Victoria has been campaigning for civil liberties and human rights for over 70 years.  Australia's current system leaves human rights and civil liberties vulnerable to curtailment and abrogation. It also means that Australia has not implemented in domestic law its human rights obligations under international law.  Liberty believes that Australia should meet its international human rights obligations without qualification. 

          As stated in Liberty's submission to the National Human Rights Consultation Committee, we believe Australia needs a Human Rights Act for the following reasons:
           

          1. Restore Australia's reputation - Australia has freely promised the world, by becoming a party to the legally binding treaties that are collectively known as the International Bill of Rights, that it will respect, protect and fufill the human rights of all in this country.  Australia needs a Human Rights Act because it will join us to the international human rights framework which Australia has promoted and which we continue to support in principle.  This year the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights called on Australia to enact Federal human rights legislation.  The Committee against Torture and the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism have also expressed concerns about Australia's lack of legislative human rights protection.
          2. Better Government - A Human Rights Act will lead to better government in our constitutional democracy.  Such an Act would serve as a measured constraint upon executive power and as a benchmark for legislation.  It would also bring the interpretation of legislation in line with human rights standards.  The Act would be a source of remedies for infringements of fundamental human rights.  
          3. Recognise and Respond to Violations - A Human Rights Act is a systematic way of avoiding the types of violations of human rights that have occurred in Australia's past, as well as making government more accountable for future breaches of human rights.  Human rights legislation formalises and facilitates the assessment of laws, policies and practices against basic standards of fairness and decency.  
          4. Strengthen Protections - A Human Rights Act will improve our national ability to analyse and debate policy choices in a way that respects the human dignity of all. It will also help Australians to transparently assess the proportionality of measures proposed along with the balancing process that must be undertaken at the boundaries between different human rights, or different groups of people. A Human Rights Act will provide a focus for the systematic development of a human rights framework and culture.  
          5. Social Inclusion -  Explicit human rights standards and informed public conversation are vital to the development of a human rights culture within which social inclusion become the norm, and social exclusion is systematically challenged and eliminated. A Human Rights Act will make explicit the standards we have set ourselves, and set the framework for meeting those standards with minimum inconsistency and maximum respect for the dignity of our people.

          To read Liberty's submission to the National Human Rights Consultation click here

          LIBERTY'S ROLE IN THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONSULTATION

          LIBERTY has played an active role in the National Human Rights Consultation Process.

          • Liberty's theme for 2009 is "Write in Human Rights".
          • Liberty composed a substantial and thorough submission to the National Human Rights Consultation Committee.
          • As individuals and representatives of Liberty Victoria, many Liberty Committee and Executive members participated in public consultations in Melbourne and regional Victoria hosted by the National Human Rights Consultation Committee.
          • Behind the scenes, Liberty Executive and Committee members lobbied and liaised with politicians from all parties.
          • Importantly, Liberty Victoria is also contributing to public debate on the issue of human rights protection and promotion in Australia through the media, hosting events, online materials and networking sites.
          • Bi-monthly newsletters and regular Bulletins have ensured that Liberty members and visitors to the Liberty website are informed about developments in the Human Rights Act Now Campaign. 

          To read more about the National Human Rights Consultation and Liberty's involvement click here

          LETS ACT ON IT AND WRITE IN HUMAN RIGHTS - WHAT YOU CAN DO

          It is imperative that our political representatives are aware of the need for an Australian Human Rights Act. 

          Most backbenchers and Ministers have not read the National Human Rights Consultation Committee's Report, and many have even overlooked the Executive Summary and Recommendations. 

          In full light of Australia's democratic nature, it is up to the Australian public to campaign for a Human Rights Act and ensure it is a central political issue. 

          Here are some tips about what you could include in your email or letter:

          • The National Human Rights Consultation Report records overwhelming community support for a Human Rights Act: 87% of submissions were in favour, and the polling reveals that 57% in support and only 13% against.  Other research, particularly research undertaken by Amnesty International, affirms that most Australian's want their basic rights protected in law.
          • Tell your MP about your story, that is why human rights matter to you.  Is it because of a breach of your human rights?  Or a breach of the human rights of someone close to you - family, friends, colleagues, clients?  Or do you know about human rights issues through your work or community?
          • Tell them that the Australian Federal Parliament should follow the recommendations of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee Report and implement a Human Rights Act that protects the rights of all Australians, including the disadvantaged, marginalised and vulnerable minorities.
          • Tell them why action needs to be taken NOW, it is time that the Federal Government acts and writes in human rights.

          Access a List of Federal House of Representative Members here

          Access a List of Federal Senators here