Free and Equal: An Australian Conversation on Human Rights
The Commission’s major, five-year-long project, Free and Equal: An Australian Conversation on Human Rights, proposes a Human Rights Framework to ensure all people are treated with dignity, justice and respect.
Over the five years, the project examined Australia’s existing human rights and anti-discrimination laws, and after extensive research and consultation with government, stakeholder groups and civil society, outlined how the Australian Government can better protect and fulfil human rights.
The proposed Human Rights framework first and foremost benefits ordinary people. It means that all of us, no matter who we are, will have a better understanding of our human rights and will be empowered to take action to get justice when rights have been violated by the government and people that work for it.
Report: Revitalising Australia’s Commitment to Human Rights
The report, Revitalising Australia’s Commitment to Human Rights, is the culmination of the five-year inquiry and proposes a major reset of Australia’s human rights framework, so that the rights of all people can be better understood and properly protected. It sets out a reform agenda to modernise protections and meet the challenges of 21st century life.
The report makes 12 recommendations that focus on large, structural reforms at the national level to be advanced through the introduction of a revitalised National Human Rights Framework. At its heart is a Human Rights Act, a powerful new tool not only to protect ourselves and our communities, but to get justice when governments fail us.
Next Steps into the Future
The Federal Government is currently conducting a parliamentary inquiry into overhauling Australia’s human rights framework, including the possible introduction of a Human Rights Act for Australia.
Broad support for the proposed Human Rights Framework has been expressed during the parliamentary committee’s hearings as well as in submissions from legal experts, civil society organisations, and community members.
The inquiry concludes in March 2024 and it is anticipated that the Australian Government will introduce reforms following this.
The ‘Free+Equal’ Conference on Human Rights 2024
To mark the conclusion of the 5-year project, and the parliamentary inquiry, the Commission will hold a national Free and Equal Conference in Sydney. A once-in-a-decade event, we will hear from human rights experts, community leaders and those with lived experience on how we can better protect human rights and foster a culture of human rights across Australia.
This follows on from our first Free and Equal conference, which was held on Tuesday 8 October 2019 in Sydney. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Her Excellency Dr Michelle Bachelet AC, delivered the keynote speech where she commented on Australia’s system of human rights protections.
Looking back: How We Got Here
A. Discussion Papers
To kickstart the national conversation back in 2019, the Commission wrote four preliminary papers that explore different parts of our system of human rights protections. One of these papers, the Issues Paper, is more general and looks at our human rights system as a whole.
The Discussion Papers are more technical and lay out specific options for reform of our existing legislative and policy frameworks.
You can read our technical discussion papers here:
- Discussion Paper: Priorities for federal discrimination law reform
- Discussion paper on a model for positive human rights reform in Australia
- Discussion Paper: Ensuring effective national accountability for human rights in PDF (6.1 MB) and here in Word (2.1 MB).
B. Position Papers
Following extensive consultation, the Commission released its two Free and Equal Position Papers.
The First Free & Equal Position Paper, A Reform Agenda for Federal Discrimination Laws, makes 38 recommendations across four major reform areas:
- Building a preventative culture
- Modernising the regulatory framework
- Enhancing access to justice
- Improving the practical operation of laws
The Second Position Paper, A Human Rights Act for Australia, proposes a model for a national Human Rights Act, how it could function and what it could do.
Through the project, we spoke to people across the nation to identify what makes an effective system of human rights protection for 21st century Australia, and what steps Australia needs to take to get there.
These were the Terms of Reference (PDF, 164 KB).
The purpose of the National Conversation is to:
- Promote awareness of the importance of human rights to 21st century Australia
- Identify current limitations and barriers to better human rights protections
- Identify what key principles should underpin the reform of human rights in Australia
- Build agreement across the Parliament, government and the community about what we can do collectively to better promote, protect and fulfil human rights
- look at Australia's whole human rights system and how all the pieces fit together.