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An invitation from the President

Rights Rights and Freedoms
father holding child

Australia’s human rights policies and laws are in need of reform. That’s why today, I’ve released a new Discussion Paper as part of the Commission’s ‘Free and Equal': An Australian Conversation on Human Rights.

The Paper - A model for positive human rights reform in Australia - sets out a range of options and priorities to reform the laws that make up our system of protections. It seeks to complement our existing laws and address the over reach of executive discretion, which has seen an erosion of freedoms.

Our society - including our expectations, tolerances and demographic - have changed over time. Now is the chance to develop new guiding principles that reflect modern Australia. We are dynamic people and we have shown our ability to adapt and accept people from all walks of life. Reforming our laws is a chance to reflect these changes.

Reform is also an opportunity to reframe human rights law to be more positive and inclusive. Our current system of human rights protections is framed in the negative through discrimination laws. Such laws are critical in addressing discrimination when it has occurred. But it is time to positively protect against human rights violations by making human rights front and centre in the minds of legislators and decision makers.

The paper explores a range of complementary measures which include a federal charter of rights. This would provide a basis on which to balance competing rights and to protect important freedoms such as expression, religion, association and privacy. These rights have been increasingly infringed by government in recent years with insufficient justification.

A charter names rights; it provides an obligation to consider them and a process by which to do it—together supporting a cultural shift towards freedom, equality and protection so that this becomes part of the national psyche, not just an afterthought.

We welcome the views of the community on the various mechanisms proposed in the paper. We will be accepting submissions on the discussion paper, as well as on the paper on discrimination law reform released in early August, until 8 November 2019.