Skip to main content

President Speech: The role of human rights education in realising the vision of social justice

Commission Commission – General

The role of human rights education in realising the vision
of social justice

The Honourable Catherine
Branson QC

Centre for Research in Education Annual

24 March 2011

Watch video: 

Acknowledgement and thankyou

I would like to begin
by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Kaurna
people, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

thank Dr Robert Hattam and the Centre for Research in Education at the
University of South Australia for the invitation to address you all this
evening. It is a great honour to deliver the Centre for Research in
Education’s Annual Oration.

Introduction and Comparative

This evening I want to talk about human rights education and
the role it can play in advancing social justice. I’d like to do so by
first drawing a comparison between one area of social justice in which Australia
has certainly progressed over recent decades and other ones in which, I believe,
human rights education can help us make significant inroads towards more
socially just terrain.

Early in my career I rushed into my financial
institution of choice to conduct some banking over my lunch hour. Many others,
it seemed, had conceived a similar notion and the queue was a sizeable one.
Rather than being met with a helpful smile as I triumphantly neared the teller,
however, I was met with a request to step aside and make way for those
hardworking men behind me who had to do their banking in their lunch hours and
needed to get back to their places of employment.

Clearly, the
assumption at play was that, as a woman, I had no job to get back to; indeed,
nowhere of particular importance to be. The teller was somewhat surprised, then,
when I explained that I, too, had to return to work and that I would appreciate
their immediate help with my banking. Not to be disheartened, however, the same
bank later valiantly exercised similar sorts of assumptions when - my account
having become overdrawn, as I later learned, through the fault of the bank - it
chose to contact my husband, rather than me, and asked him to
rectify the situation. The bank was equally astonished when I expressed my
displeasure at this approach. Needless to say, I soon changed banks.

Obviously nobody would suggest that Australia has since dismantled every
barrier to women’s equality or eliminated every form of discriminatory
treatment. Clearly many hurdles – some quite insidious – remain.
Nevertheless, most Australians would be shocked if these scenarios occurred
today. In other words, this area of social justice – being direct
discrimination against women by financial institutions – is one in which
public attitudes have undergone a seismic cultural shift.

however, public attitudes have not advanced as dramatically in other spheres. In
fact, some may even suggest that they have retreated over recent decades
in areas such as the treatment of asylum seekers and our approach to children in

For it is arguable that, 30 years ago, most Australians would
have found the concept of children in long term immigration detention a fairly
shocking one – relatively welcoming, as we then were, of the wave of
refugees arriving from war-torn South East Asia. Yet, over the past year I have
personally visited several detention centres, including on Christmas Island, in
Darwin and Villawood in Sydney – and what I saw and heard there provided
confirmation that Australia can and must do better.

One story, in
particular, sticks in my mind. In Darwin I met the parents of two young girls,
each of whom had a congenital condition which made her particularly vulnerable
to injury. Because of the simple fact that barely anyone else at the facility
spoke their language, this family could not explain to the other children there
that they needed to avoid rough play around their daughter. Consequently, the
girls were confined to their room virtually all day – with no access to
education, or to the simple physical and social benefits of play that are so
essential to children’s well being and development.

Australians would see their own children as fundamentally entitled to education
and to play. Similarly, most Australians would see a child’s rightful
place as with their family, yet there are currently children as young as 13 in
detention on their own – without family and sometimes with limited access
to others who speak their language. How, then, do we reconcile the experiences
of people associated with this other, more contentious, alleged
‘queue’ with Australia’s concept of itself as a nation
concerned with social justice?

I do not seek to use this evening as a
platform for comment on immigration policy, although the Australian Human Rights
Commission has been working to promote the rights of asylum seekers detained in
immigration detention for almost a decade.

I do use it, however, to
highlight why we may not have progressed as far down the road to social justice
in this and related areas as we might like. We can immediately see, of course,
that this stems in part from our collective incapacity to relate directly to the
experiences of an asylum seeker – our relative lack of information; and
our feeling of powerlessness to achieve change.

After all, most of us can
relate to my experiences with the bank, simply because the vast majority of
Australians would have had dealings with a bank at some point in their lives. We
can also relate to it because it is a story of an individual, rather than an
apparently unquantifiable mass. It is the story of a person with whom we can
largely identify - someone we can see and hear, rather than someone whose story
we simply hear about, usually only in passing. I imagine that everyone
here can see themselves in that queue. It is therefore the story of an every day
Australian, which is why, over the years, this particular story has changed.

Today, then, I want to talk to you about how we might transform other
stories – how we might steer other scenarios further towards real social justice and how, with leadership and with a focus on building skills,
on changing attitudes, and inspiring action, human rights education is the
vehicle which might take us those extra miles.

Social Justice and
Australian Values

But first, what do we mean by social justice?

Whether it be moral theologian John Ryan’s idea of a ‘living
wage’ – the minimum hourly wage necessary for an individual to meet
basic needs; or the idea of liberal political philosopher John Rawls: that
social justice is ‘about finding institutional arrangements ... a system
of rules that would result in fair equality of opportunity and would be to the
advantage of the least well
off’,[1] the term generally
refers to the creation of a society or institution based on the principles of
equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that
recognizes the dignity of every human

It’s not a
great stretch, then, to suggest that, at its core, the concept of social justice
mirrors the beloved Australian value of the ‘fair go’. Equally,
social justice requires the manifestation of other Australian values, such as a
democratic system of government; an independent judiciary; the rejection of
violence; and equality before the law.

Though they may not always be
articulated as such in the national or political lexicon, these values are all
close equivalents of universally recognised human rights and, certainly,
research has found that Australian NGOs commonly understand the concepts of
social justice and human rights as either interdependent or
interchangeable.[3] The relationship
between the two was consistently described as one where human rights are a step
toward, or a way of achieving social justice - social justice being seen as the
larger goal, while human rights standards were a statement of a part (perhaps a
large part) of what constitutes social justice.

If this is the case, then
we need to harness these tools – bringing rights, as well as education
about rights, to bear in those areas that challenge our ability to reach our
goal of social justice.

Challenges to a Cohesive Society – the
reality and effects of racism.

Certainly, one such area is that of
immigration policy, while another is the related area of racism and

Recently, the University of Western Sydney released
research, in which the Commission was a partner, into racism in Australia that
found that 10% of people in Australia believe that some races of people are
inferior; 41% of people believe that Australia is weakened by people of
different ethnic origins sticking to their old ways; and 41% of people believe
that there are some cultures that do not fit into

Around 20% per
cent of respondents, meanwhile, had experienced forms of race hate talk which
included racial slurs, verbal abuse and name calling; with around 85% per cent
of respondents believing that racism is a current issue in Australia.

For a nation that has long laid claim to a proud multiculturalism, these
figures are sobering – not just on a theoretical or ethical level, but
because of the very real effect that racism has on the daily lives of
individuals and communities.

We now know that racism has been linked to
reduced productivity, reduced life expectancy, and to morbidity. In fact, there
are clear links between self-reported race discrimination and poor health
outcomes - from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and
substance misuse to peer violence, and low birth

There is also clear
indication of the tangible links between discrimination and the disadvantage
experienced by particular groups, with Indigenous Australians and some
culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities continuing to fare
poorly on a number of social and economic indicators, including home ownership,
employment, representation in the justice system and educational
attainment.[6] Given that
discrimination can limit people’s access to vital resources such as
employment, health services and education, this is no great

inequality and social exclusion, then, are all closely
connected,[8] with evidence suggesting
that exposure to discrimination can erode community cohesion and, at worst, lead
to individual and community

Impact of
international events on Australia – Examples from Isma-Listen

How are we at this point though in 21st century Australia? The answer is obviously a complex and layered one and, to
develop a better understanding of the discrimination and vilification being
experienced by various communities, the Commission launched a project called Isma-Listen.[10] Through this project, the Commission heard anecdotal evidence about a rise in
anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice following the attacks of 11 September, 2001
and the October 2002 Bali bombings, with the majority of participants reporting
various forms of prejudicial treatment because of their race or religion. Most
experiences were unprovoked ‘one off’ incidents from strangers on
the street, on public transport, in shops and shopping centres or on the roads.

For example, one participant stated: ‘My Aunty was walking on the
street in Granville and this guy drives past in his car and threw stones at her
and she fell to the ground...That happened right after September 11 and till
this day she is afraid of leaving the house....It’s scary because you
don’t expect to get stones thrown at

stated: ‘It is common that people who used to be nice to you before
September 11 changed the way they react to you after. Before September 11 and
after September 11, we are the same Muslims, we haven’t

What had changed, quite obviously, was the new ‘information’ some
people felt that they possessed about Muslim Australians – that is, the
‘information’ that some Muslims – isolated and extremist
though they might be – were, accurately, laying claim to responsibility
for terrorist attacks. Similarly, what had developed was an acute feeling of
powerlessness to do anything about this new perceived reality. Consequently, to
some, Muslim Australians were people with whose values and behaviours they could
identify even less – they had become more ‘other’ than perhaps
they had been before.

Clearly, our ambition for social justice means that
these perceptions and behaviours need to change. The Federal Government has
certainly identified multiculturalism and cultural diversity as an area in need
of renewed attention. To my mind, this suggests it is an area ripe for human
rights education. This is because of the capacity of human rights education to
impart information and develop skills; to change attitudes and build empathy;
and to motivate a sense of agency and participation – active citizenship,
if you like. All of these can help to realise our shared vision for Australian
social justice, particularly when we begin to get a better grasp of the way in
which attitudes and behaviours change over time.

Human Rights
Education As a Solution - Changing Attitudes and Behaviours

An early
step along the path to change is taken, of course, when we defy conventional
wisdoms and stereotypes. Just as women confronted the assumptions of banks about
our employment and financial status, human rights education is about learning to
challenging the myriad of assumptions which we regularly fail to question.

Obviously we can do this on an individual basis, though it would take
considerable time to dismantle all stereotypes in this way! On an organisational
level, however, we can debunk myths by providing the community with relevant
information and one of the ways that the Commission does this is through our
publication Face the

Focusing on
information about Indigenous Australians, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees,
it details current research that shows, for example, no evidence of a causal
connection between crime and ethnicity. In reality, the crime rate of the
overseas born population has been lower overall than that of the Australian born
population, with Face the Facts revealing that unemployment, education,
socio-economic disadvantage and lack of access to services have more bearing on
crime rates than ethnicity.

Meanwhile, almost a century of public health
research and decades of health promotion programs have demonstrated the
relationship between community education and behaviour change. One only needs to
consider the ‘SLIP SLAP SLOP’ skin cancer campaign and the extent to
which this has become common parlance in Australia; while cervical and breast
cancer screening, Quit smoking, and Sudden Infant Death education campaigns have
similarly resulted in increased awareness, attitudes altered and lives saved.

When people are exposed to the facts in this way, we can then proceed to
more fruitful debates about how to address the particular challenges before us.
Some of these debates occur, of course, during the development and passage of
legislation; law reform being another way in which we can bring about

The introduction of the Federal Sex Discrimination Act in
1984, for example, made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex, marital
status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy in many areas of public life. It also
prohibits sexual harassment and dismissal from employment on the basis of family
responsibilities. Consequently, we now have basic equal employment opportunity
requirements, with agencies and business now generally aware of - and trained in
- their obligations.

As a combined result, then, of assumptions being
challenged on an individual and organisational level; and of legislation both
leading and cementing that change, my experiences with that particular bank all
those years ago would now be seen as wholly unacceptable. The assumptions now
built into our culture, our economy and our legal framework are different
– the vast majority of Australians now recognised as equal to all others
in that interminable, lunch hour queue.

What, though, of the assumptions
made about those associated in the public mind with that other alleged
‘queue’ to which I’ve referred? I’ve spoken already of
our collective inability, on the whole, to identify with those seeking asylum
– of our deficit of imagination and therefore empathy for those whom we
consider different; those from whose experiences we remain distant and seemingly
powerless to change.

Yet, when images of Seena, a 9 year old Iranian boy
orphaned by the tragic ship wreck on Christmas Island were released to the
media, public support swung noticeably towards the needs of children in
detention. This, then, is human rights education in action. These images altered
public opinion in a way that the words of public figures or politicians could
not. The public put a face to the experience and saw their own child - perhaps
even themselves – looking back.

Attitudes change, then, as a
result of law reform, of disseminating accurate information, of challenging
assumptions and raising awareness. Generally, they alter as a result of a
combination of all of the above. I now want to turn, however, to more formal
approaches to human rights education.

Formal Human Rights

Following the National Human Rights Consultation in 2009,
the Committee recommended that the highest priority be given to human rights
education as the path for improving and promoting human rights in Australia.
Consequently – and very positively - education about human rights is the
centre-piece of Australia’s Human Rights Framework announced by the
Attorney-General in April 2010.[14]

In the Framework, the Government commits to strengthening human rights
education in primary and secondary schools. It also commits to investing in
education and training programs for the Commonwealth public sector.

Before turning to examine these areas, however, I’d first like to
explore what is generally meant by ‘human rights education’.

In 1948 the United Nations affirmed in the preamble to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms are to be advanced through teaching and
education.[15] More recently, the
United Nations World Programme for Human Rights Education stated that
‘human rights education aims at developing an understanding of our common
responsibility to make human rights a reality in every community and in society
at large...’[16].

is, the UN declared, ‘a long-term and lifelong
process...’[17], one not only
about providing knowledge about rights and the mechanisms that protect them, but
also about imparting the skills needed to promote, defend and apply rights in
daily life.

Broken down further, there are three major elements of human
rights education: [18]

  • first, the acquisition of knowledge and skills,
  • second, the development of respectful values and attitudes and changed
    behaviour, and
  • third, the motivation of social action and empowerment of active

(a) Knowledge and skills

Imparting knowledge about human rights is certainly an important first step,
yet it needn’t be academic and abstract. In fact, as helpful as a solid
theoretical grounding in any discipline may be, the challenges of all educative tasks is to make that theory resonate – to make the
information real to the relevant audience.

This is particularly
essential in the area of human rights – a topic still seen by too many as
the province of the academy; as spoken of by the elite and as exercised for the
benefit of minority or special interests.

Those conveying information
about human rights, then, also need the skills to translate them into the
everyday – to explain a particular point of view while exhibiting a
willingness to listen to others; to analyse a situation to determine whether or
not it is just and fair; and to demonstrate how to live and work cooperatively
with others from diverse

(b) Values, attitudes and behaviours

Similarly, human rights educators must be capable of testing their own
values, as well as those of others. A useful way of expressing it is that human
rights education must make us look within and
without[20] - encouraging us to
critically examine our own attitudes and behaviours so that we may encourage
others to do the same. Being mindful of the values within and around us, then,
we can consciously employ them to advance respect for the rights of

(c) Active citizenship and taking action

The third element of a human rights education strategy is that it should
promote action. The mid-term global evaluation of the United Nations Decade for
Human Rights Education (undertaken by the OHCHR and UNESCO) found, in fact, that
one of the major obstacles to the effective implementation of human rights
education was that an emphasis on awareness often came at the expense of

The goals of
human rights education, then, must also be about inspiring action in the
protection and promotion of human rights. Once we know what human rights are and
where they come from, we can use a human rights framework to analyse a
situation, to discuss it with others, and to build a coherent argument for
change. Equipped with human rights knowledge and skills, and motivated by human
rights values and attitudes, individuals and communities can find the confidence
to lay claim to their own rights, as well as to defend the rights of others.

Human rights education, however, cannot be reduced to the simple
introduction of human rights content in an already over-burdened
curriculum.[23] Instead, it requires
a profound reform of education including textbooks, methodology, classroom
management, and all aspects of school
life.[24] n the community at large,
it requires making human rights relevant to people’s day to day reality.
When human rights values are embedded in content and in pedagogy, this is
when they will translate into our attitudes, behaviours and

Human Rights
Education in different learning environments

(a) Schools

How does this apply, though, in different learning environments? This
audience knows well that our mindset, attitudes and behaviours are set early in
life, which demands that we engage children in discussion around their rights
and the rights of others at a very young age.

In fact, children have a
great capacity to engage in and understand human rights. Very young children can
learn that it’s not acceptable to pick on the child who is different
– be that in colour, race, religion or ability. They are open to
difference and to concepts of fair play until they are taught to be otherwise,
which is also why it is not sufficient to teach children about respect for human
rights in the abstract, if what they witness around them is a disrespectful

Children can smell disingenuousness a mile away, just as
they will sense inherent injustice if their own rights to voice their opinions
and participate in decisions are not respected. In other words, it is just as
essential that the methods and processes of education are conducive to learning
about human rights. As human rights educators, then, it is our job to use
practical examples and activities to instil an understanding of what human
rights values mean in children’s daily lives – and to make rights a
part of their own lived experience.


In just one example of the benefits that this approach can
bring, in the United Kingdom, UNICEF has been pioneering a program called the
‘Rights Respecting Schools Awards’
(Program).[26] The Program uses the
Convention on the Rights of the Child to award schools that have incorporated it
into their planning, practice and ethos. This includes teaching and learning
about the Convention; creating a rights-respecting culture and empowering
children to become active citizens.

The Program has helped children to
understand the consequences of their actions and how those consequences might
affect the rights of others. It has taught them more than just to recite the
articles of the Convention; it has shown them how those rights are relevant to
their lives and experiences. In doing so, it has improved self-esteem, behaviour
and relationships; reduced bullying and discrimination; increased discussion and
engaged children in planning and reviewing their own learning. Moreover, it is
has provided schools with a framework of common values.

many ways, this is simply common sense. We all teach our children about fair
play from an early age, while ‘values’ are touted as a crucial
aspect of our public discussions around education, though arguably with a
different agenda. Until recently, however, a formal understanding of these
concepts has not been sufficiently addressed in what our children learn at

In 2008, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for
Young Australians affirmed education as an essential element in the building of
a democratic, equitable and just
society.[27] By this Declaration,
all Australian Education Ministers made a commitment to ensuring that Australian
students are active and informed citizens, who act with moral and ethical
integrity, are committed to national values of democracy, equity and justice,
participate in Australia’s civic life and are responsible global and local

While all these values are essentially human rights values,
regrettably, the Declaration makes no specific reference to human rights. What
is lost, then, is the opportunity to infuse in young people those values and
attitudes that will prevent bullying, discrimination and build a human rights
respecting culture in Australia.

I believe that the current development
of a national school Curriculum is a unique opportunity to ensure that all young
Australians develop an understanding and appreciation for human rights. That is
why the Australian Human Rights Commission is working with the Australian
Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, education departments, and
teachers associations to integrate human rights education into the national
school curriculum.

Meanwhile, the Commission is also seeking to work
with teacher training institutions and professional teacher associations to
identify ways in which we can support teachers in shaping human rights promoting
environments in the classroom.

(b) Training of Public Service – State and
Local Government Examples

Traditional educational environments, however, are just one forum in
which to conduct human rights education. Public authorities, after all, make
decisions every day that impact on people’s lives, which is why respect
for human rights should also be incorporated into public sector practices and

This is occurring in Victoria where, under that
state’s Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, public servants across the
state are receiving ongoing training in human rights that then informs the
development of policy, the provision of services and the making of decisions. A
human rights-based approach means that public servants must design and implement
policies which demonstrate that the needs of real people have been considered,
rather than expecting that all individuals will fit within an immutable
administrative system.

As previously mentioned, the Australian Human
Rights Framework commits the Government to investing in education and training
programs for the Commonwealth public sector. I am pleased that the Australian
Human Rights Commission is able to work with the Attorney General’s
Department to ensure that the development and delivery of the human rights
education and training program for the Commonwealth public sector is of the
highest quality and creates a public service that puts people

This need not be
limited, of course, to state or Commonwealth level. Local Government is often
the level at which most people have contact with authority – and the one
which is most likely to make a difference to their daily lives. In this spirit,
in 2005 the City of Hume in Victoria supplemented its existing Social Justice
Charter with a Citizen’s Bill of Rights – building, as we have
previously examined, on its articulation of social justice through a recognition
of the value of human

Through the
development of a framework for decision making, Action Plans to provide
information and encourage participation from certain target groups; and through
the establishment of accountable governance indicators, a human rights-based
approach has been a catalyst for all kinds of change.

For example, Hume
City Council funded the Banksia Gardens Community Centre, a neighbourhood centre
operating in a public housing estate, to deliver a human rights project Stand
Up And Be Counted.
[30] The project aimed to educate, inspire, empower and work towards creating a
strong culture of human rights education and, through it, young people were able
to explore the negative effects of discrimination and develop strategies to
address the injustices they experienced in their daily lives – in turn,
building a stronger and more resilient community.

Motivating Action
– Bystanders and Technology

These, then, are just some of the
ways in which human rights education can develop knowledge and skills, and
encourage respectful attitudes and behaviours.

As I indicated, however,
human rights education is not complete without also motivating action or
empowering active citizenship. An exciting avenue through which the Commission
is seeking to do this is our recent focus on bystanders – one which offers
a chance to translate values into behaviour – to convey a message that
human rights are a shared language and responsibility.

For, if we cannot
relate to the perpetrator or the victim of an injustice – if we are too
far removed, for whatever reason, from that person in the queue – we can
still find agency as a bystander. Focusing on the role of the bystander allows
us not only to say that we have the right to be treated fairly, but also to help
ensure that others are treated fairly too, like the community nurse who used
human rights arguments to ensure that a directive stating all asylum seekers
were to be given free medical services was implemented. Previously, the hospital
had been turning away refugees and asylum seekers who did not have access to
Medicare and could not pay.[31]

There are many safe ways in which, as bystanders to discriminatory or other
unfair behaviour, we can all act to protect and promote a culture of respect for
rights. We can challenge stereotypical judgments and discrimination in our
workplaces; we can show respect in the face of disrespect in all sorts of

It is the Commission’s hope that, by identifying a role that everyone can play in defending human rights, we can turn this defence
into a collective human task.
What do we mean, though, by ‘bystander
action’? If we define a bystander, as the Oxford Dictionary does, as
someone present at, or witness to, an event, we know that there are different
ways in which a bystander can
respond.[32] In order to develop
effective strategies, we need to understand these responses. Consequently, the
Commission is examining recent
studies[33] which have considered
precursors to action or inaction when bystanders witness bullying. The studies
divide these witnesses into four

  • Assistants as those who join the ring leader bullies
  • Reinforcers who provide positive feedback to bullies (laughing
    or cheering)
  • Outsiders who withdraw from bullying situations
  • Defenders who comfort and support

Although this work is still at a preliminary stage, the
Commission is using it to examine the role that ‘bystanders’ to
cyber-bullying can play when they offer cyber support to those targeted and show
their rejection of bullying tactics.

It’s hard to imagine better terrain, after all, than the realm of new
technology to consider the role of the bystander. Cyberspace makes us all
bystanders – exposed, as we are, to more information than ever before;
observing, at least in passing, and aware of more than any previous generation.
This is the largest arena for active citizenship we have ever had at our
disposal and we need to make it work in the interests of social justice and
human rights. In cyberspace lies the capacity to meet all the goals of human
rights education – to disseminate and clarify information; to change
values and build empathy; to inspire action as both necessary and possible.

We’re all familiar with those first hand images or stories that have
‘gone global’ in a matter of hours or days – prompting public
support or outcry in a way that traditional media cannot. For example, we
recently witnessed the capacity of mobile phone technology to disseminate images
and stories from Egypt and Libya. Closer to home, Vindaloo Against Violence, for
example, was a campaign designed to show support for Australia's Indian
community in the wake of a series of racially motivated attacks. From humble
beginnings as a 100-person event on Facebook, this grassroots campaign went
viral and had over 17,000 people eating out at Indian restaurants.

We must seize the potential to reach the geographically and demographically
diverse audience of the internet. Research indicates that social media such as
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are used by 97% of people in the 18 to 30 age
range, 81% for 31 to 50 and 56% for people over
50.[35] Further, between 1998 and
2008, household access to the internet quadrupled, making web-based platforms a
tool of choice.[36]

That is
why the Commission joined with Government agencies and state human rights
commissions to create Play by the
[37], an online
resource for sporting coaches, parents and teachers which uses audio-visual
scenarios and problem-solving to build the necessary understanding and skills to
address discrimination and create an inclusive sporting environment. As at 30
June 2009, over 7000 people had voluntarily completed the Play by the Rules online courses, while the website had received more than 3.5 million hits
and 110 000 visitor sessions.[38] The website has since been significantly redeveloped to include new resources,
content and interactive elements, which makes its potential to influence
positive change even greater.

Where to from here?

sporting arena and cyberspace, then, are two useful contexts in which to conduct
human rights education. We must continue to identify and explore other avenues
for making these connections, for helping rights to resonate, for helping us to
build greater social justice into other spheres.

Certainly, the momentum
is there, with a more formally developed interest from Government than at any
other time; and the Commission duly charged with a very tangible task. The
challenges are great and our years of experience mean that the Australian Human
Rights Commission does not for a second underestimate their size. Experience
also tells us, however, that human rights education can take us a considerable
way towards our goals – imparting information, developing skills, building
empathy, changing values and making action seem not only necessary but possible.
By completing each of these steps, we can, I believe, cover that ground that
lies between our ability as a nation to relate to my experience in the bank
years ago, and the experience of those in other, less familiar,

After all, we know that a lack of information contributes to
discrimination against certain cultural or ethnic groups; as well as to fear of
the unknown. Distribution of factual information can help erode this fear, as
can the development of empathy for individual stories. Similarly, the new
articulation of the role of an active bystander can help those who previously
felt disengaged to step up and take some sort of action.

Human rights
education can help us make connections – with that elderly woman on the
street in Granville; with the new kid in the class; with the recent arrival
seeking medical services; with those young girls in Darwin just wanting to go
out to play.

Put another way, human rights education is about making two
collective mental shifts – finding the everyday within the theory; then
finding the ‘everyone’ – as well as ‘the
everywhere’ - within the everyday. That is the task of the Commission and
I invite each person here to join with us in meeting it.

[1] D Arthur, ‘Hayek and
Rawls: An Unlikely Fusion’ Evatt Foundation Paper 191 (2007). At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[2] J
Zajda, S Majhanovich and V Rust, Education and Social Justice (2006).
[3] S Rice and S Calnan, Sustainable Advocacy: Capabilities and attitudes of Australian human rights
(2007), p 69. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[4] University of Western Sydney, Challenging Racism: The Anti-Racism Project. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[5] Victorian Health
Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the Victorian Office of Multicultural
Affairs, More than tolerance: embracing diversity for health (2006) p 28. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[6] Victorian
Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), Building on Our Strengths: A
framework to reduce race-based discrimination and support diversity in Victoria,
A Summary Report
(2009) p 10. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[7] Victorian Health
Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the Victorian Office of Multicultural
Affairs, More than tolerance: embracing diversity for health, A
Summary Report
(2006) p 19. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[8] United Nations
Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Expert Group Meeting: Promoting
Social Inclusion,
Draft Aide Memoir (2008) p 5. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[9] Victorian Health
Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), Note 6, p
[10] Australian Human Rights
Commission, Isma-Listen (2004). At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[11] Australian Human Rights Commission, note 10, p
[12] Australian Human Rights
Commission, note 10, p 43.
[13] Australian Human Rights Commission, Face the Facts (2008), p 34. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[14] Commonwealth of Australia, Australia’s Human Rights Framework, 21 April
2010. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[15] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Resolution 217A(III), UN Doc
A/810 (1948), preamble. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[16] General Assembly, Revised draft plan of action for the first phase
(2005-2007) of the World Programme for Human Rights Education
, UN Doc
A/59/525/Rev.1 (2005), Introduction. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[17] United Nations General Assembly,
[18] United Nations Human
Rights Council, Draft plan of action for the second phase (2010-2014) of the
World Programme for Human Rights Education,
A/HRC/15/28, 27 July 2010. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[19] M
Stobart, Deputy Director of Education, Culture and Sport (Council of Europe) as
quoted in C Lohrenscheit ‘International Approaches in Human Rights
Education’ Centre for South-North Cooperation in Educational Research and
Practice (2000). At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[20] Equitas International Centre for Human Rights Education, International Human
Rights Training Program, Training of Trainers: Designing and Delivering
Effective Human Rights Education

Training Manual Resource Manual (2007). At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[21] Equitas International Centre for Human Rights Education Play it Fair: Human
Rights Education Resource for Children,
(2008). At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[22] K
Frantzi ‘Human Rights Education: The United Nations Endeavour and the
Importance of Childhood and Intelligent Sympathy’ in International
Education Journal,
Vol 5, No 1 (2004) p 3. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[23] C
Newell and B Offord ‘Introduction’ in Activating Human Rights in
Education: Exploration, Innovation and Transformation
(2008) p 12.
[24] C Newell and B Offord,
[25] Equitas International
Centre for Human Rights Education, note
[26] UNICEF United Kingdom,
at (viewed 21 March 2011).
[27] Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians,
December 2008. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[28] Commonwealth of Australia, note
[29] Hume City Council, Social Justice, (viewed 21 March 2011).
[30] Banksia Gardens Community Centre, Stand up and be counted! – Human
rights innovation project
, (viewed 21 March 2011).
[31] Human Rights Law Resource Centre, Case Studies: How a Human Rights Act can
Promote Dignity and Address Disadvantage
. (viewed 21 March 2011).
[32] Oxford Dictionary Online, Bystander, (viewed 21 March 2011).
[33] C
Salmivalli ‘Bullying and the Peer Group: A Review’, Aggression and
Violence Behavior 15 (2010) p.113. At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[34] C
Salmivalli, above.
[35] The
Australian Psychological Society, ‘The Social and Psychological Impact of
Online Social Networking’ National Psychology Week Survey (2010).
At (viewed 21 March 2011).
[36] For
example, ABS statistics reveal that between 1998 to 2008-09, household access to
the internet at home has more than quadrupled from 16% to 72%, while access to
computers has increased from 44% to 78%. Of the 2.0 million children accessing
the internet at home in 2009, educational activities (85%) and playing online
games (69%) were the most common activities Australian Bureau of Statistics,
‘Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2008-09’. At
(viewed 21 March 2011).
[37] Play
by the Rules, (viewed 21 March 2011).
[38] Australian Sports Commission, Annual Report 2008-2009, p 34. At (viewed 21 March 2011).