The Australian Human Rights Commission will today launch its proposed model for
a national Human Rights Act, to ensure legal protections for the basic rights of all Australians and provide avenues for redress where people’s rights are breached.
Australia is the only liberal democracy that does not have an act or charter of rights at the national level, and there are currently very few legal protections for the fundamental rights of Australians.
Commission President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM will launch the model for a Human Rights Act at an event hosted by law firm Gilbert and Tobin this evening that will feature an expert discussion panel and will be available to view online.
“The starting point for a national Human Rights Act is to recognise that everyone’s rights matter, all of the time,” Professor Croucher said. “We should expect that Parliament and public servants will actively consider the human rights impacts of decisions they make.
“A Human Rights Act sets out the basic rights of Australians, requires proactive consideration of how these rights are being protected, and provides avenues for redress if people’s rights are infringed.
“A Human Rights Act is the central missing piece of government accountability in Australia. It will increase transparency and trust in governments by requiring them to fully consider human rights in their decisions, laws, policies, and practice.”
The Commission’s Human Rights Act proposal is detailed in a comprehensive position paper. In this model, people with human rights complaints could endeavour to reach a solution through conciliation or administrative appeal, supported by the Commission, and then refer the matter to the Federal Court. This replicates the current process for discrimination complaints.
“The proposed model builds on the experience of the Commission over 30-plus years in managing discrimination law complaints – in short, it is an evolution not a revolution,” Professor Croucher said.
This model would also realise the original design of the Commission when it was permanently established in 1986, which was designed around an Australian Bill of Rights.
The proposed model also includes pathways to review administrative decisions that are incompatible with human rights and provisions for enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of laws and policies, to ensure they are compatible with human rights.
Professor Croucher said: “Presently, neither the Constitution nor common law rights established by courts can be relied upon for sufficient or comprehensive protections. A Human Rights Act would close that gap.”
The Commission’s position paper cites examples that demonstrate how a Human Rights Act would have helped protect many Australians in situations where their rights have been infringed, both recently and historically.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lack of clarity about the rights of Australians and how to balance them with public safety measures. A Human Rights Act would have helped navigate those challenges,” Professor Croucher said.
Evidence from the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme about administrative decision-making indicates a Human Rights Act would have provided much-needed safeguards. “A Human Rights Act would have meant public servants had a legal duty to consider the human rights impacts of the scheme,” Professor Croucher said.
A Human Rights Act would not require constitutional change. It would be an ordinary Act of parliament. “Australia has committed to various international human rights obligations, telling the world those rights matter. We have an obligation to legislate domestically to ensure these rights are protected for all Australians,” Professor Croucher said.
The Commission’s position paper is the second major report released in its project, Free + Equal: An Australian conversation on human rights. In developing the proposed model, the Commission consulted with civil society groups, legal and constitutional experts, and human rights advocates. The paper will be followed later this year by a final Report that will be tabled in Parliament.
You will be able to find more about the Commission’s proposed model for a Human Rights Act and read the position paper in full on our website after the launch.
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