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Building understanding and respect for human rights - Annual Report 2011-2012: Australian Human Rights Commission

The year in review

Building understanding and respect for human rights

In order for us to realise the Commission’s vision of a society where
human rights are for everyone, everywhere, every day, we have made building
understanding and respect for human rights one of our two key policy priorities.
We are seeking to lift the level of consciousness within the Australian
community of the importance of human rights to the maintenance of our free,
democratic, inclusive and peaceful society.

Building human rights knowledge in communities

Working with the public sector

There are new requirements for all proposed legislation in the federal
Parliament to be considered through a human rights lens. This makes it important
that the public sector has a comfortable working knowledge of human rights in
practice. To this end, we have worked closely with the Attorney-General’s
Department in the design and development of a range of educational initiatives
and resources for the Commonwealth public sector.

In September 2011, Commission President, Catherine Branson, launched the
Australian Public Service Human Rights Network, which provides a forum for
Australian public servants to come together and discuss how human rights relate
to their work.

The Network provides an informal setting for discussion and dialogue about
human rights. It uses the priorities set in Australia’s Human Rights
Framework as a foundation from which to foster human rights awareness in the
Commonwealth public sector. After less than 12 months, the network consists of
over 600 public servants.

Network events have considered how public policy can improve gender equality
and women’s rights by incorporating a gender-conscious approach into
policy development processes, and the critical role of the APS in respecting,
protecting and promoting rights of people with disabilities, including through
employment in the APS.

Working with educators

The Commission has worked collaboratively with the Australian Curriculum and
Assessment Reporting Authority (ACARA) to identify how human rights can be
reflected in all learning areas of the national curriculum.

In 2012, we made submissions to ACARA on the draft Geography curriculum and
on the Health and Physical Education curriculum. We also participated in
national consultation forums on the development of the Civics and Citizenship,
and the Economics and Business curricula.

We are continuing to advocate for a greater understanding of human rights
principles through formal and informal education channels. In May 2012, we
hosted an NGO roundtable on human rights education.

Complaint of disability discrimination by teacher

The complainant is a teacher with the respondent education authority. The
complainant has
a back injury and said that because of this, he is unable to
travel long distances to work. The complainant said that he needed to be placed
at a school within a particular travel distance from his home but his employer
said they could not accommodate this and so he had been off work for some

On being notified of the complaint the respondent authority indicated a
willingness to try
to resolve the complaint. The matter was resolved with an
agreement that the education authority would locate a position for the
complainant that met his medical requirements regarding travel. The authority
also agreed to provide the complainant with re-training options in other subject
areas, provide him with a statement of regret in relation to some aspects of his
complaint and pay him $2,500 in general damages


Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

We are committed to improving community and government understanding about
the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In
2010, we published a set of resources that provided information about the
Declaration. This year we have distributed over 25,000 copies of the posters,
community guides and summary guides to educators and communities across

We have also developed a guide on the Declaration for use by other National
Human Rights Institutions (NHRI). This guide was developed in partnership with
the Asia Pacific Forum of NHRIs, United Nations Development Program and the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Commission has continued to host the Indigenous Peoples’
Organisations Network (IPO). The IPO brings together Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander organisations nationally and coordinates their engagement in
international processes, such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The IPO has an important youth leadership component and has provided
international experience and support to many emerging leaders.

‘This course has empowered us to be agents of change in strategic
ways and to mobilise our communities through education about rights and
responsibilities so that they can make changes in their own lives.’

(Certificate IV participant)


Working with Australian Muslim communities

In May 2012, we completed a pilot project developing a Certificate IV in
Human Rights Education and Advocacy. The Certificate IV was designed
specifically for community development workers who engage with Muslim women,
although it has a high level of transferability across the community development

The project was designed and piloted in a partnership with community
organisations, including Information and Cultural Exchange and the Bankstown
Area Multicultural Network. Certificate level accreditation was provided through
Sydney Outreach (TAFE).

A diverse group of fifteen participants completed the 10 week course and were
trained in human rights complaints processes, using social and digital media for
social change and developing rights based approaches in their workplace and with
the communities they work with. The course aimed to train participants to think
critically and deeply about human rights and advocacy, as well as to learn how
to apply human rights approaches to and in their work.

Working with African Australian communities

Over the past year the Commission delivered workshops on human rights
education and advocacy on particular human rights issues facing African
Australian communities. Roundtables were held
in Western Sydney (July 2011)
and Perth (September 2011). A copy of the report on these proceedings is
available on the website at:

We also contributed to the development to the draft Programme of Action for
the International Decade for People of African Descent (2013-2023). In March
2012, we provided a response to a questionnaire circulated by the UN Working
Group of Experts on People of African Descent that looked at national
initiatives taken with regard to the promotion and protection of the rights of
people of African descent. It is available at:

Human rights education in communities

Under the Australian Human Rights Framework, the Australian Government
established the Human Rights Education Grants Scheme which funds community
organisations to deliver practical, grassroots, human rights education projects.

The Commission has collaborated with the Attorney-General’s Department,
and community organisations that received grants in 2010 and 2011, to better
understand what leads to effective human rights education in community settings.

Many participants in both roundtables also indicated a strong interest to
remain in contact with others (particularly new contacts) that they met at the
event for seeking ways of addressing issues raised in the Report. In WA, some
leaders of African Australian communities committed (verbally) to organise their
communities around the issues in the Report for the purpose of advocating for
the enjoyment of their human rights as equal citizens in Australia. This was
said to be the most viable way to strengthen their partnership with government
and service providers. One participant noted that there is:

‘...consensus among all African Australians to lead and be part of the
solution in collaboration with service providers’.

(Evaluation of the African Australian Communities Project report –
January 2012)


Complaint about sexual harassment and discrimination on the grounds of sex,
age, race and religion in employment

The complainant, a young Muslim woman, was employed by the respondent company
as a retail assistant. She claimed her manager sexually harassed her by conduct
which included touching her in a sexual manner and making sexually explicit and
suggestive comments which included such things as lifting her dress and saying
“look how hot the slappa looks”. The complainant also claimed her
manager discriminated against her because of her age, race and religious beliefs
including by calling her a ‘dirty Arab’, making degrading comments
about her religion and referring to her as “just a 19 year old
girl”. The complainant resigned from her employment before lodging the

The respondent company said the complainant’s former manager no longer
worked for the company and that senior management was unaware of the alleged
conduct until advised
of the complaint.

The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the company write to the
complainant expressing its regret for any distress, sadness or anxiety she felt
as a result of the events giving rise to her complaint, pay her $30,000 as
general damages and introduce anti-discrimination and equal opportunity training
throughout the company.

Informing and engaging Australians

Using online technology

The Commission uses a range of media platforms and technologies to
communicate to different sectors of the community.

In December 2011, we launched two websites aimed at increasing community
engagement and understanding and respect for rights. Something In Common and its facts-driven microsite Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,
are designed to make human rights meaningful and accessible, and to provide an
online space for people share their stories about every day and extraordinary
human rights action.

Information posted to these sites is pushed through to Twitter and Facebook. Something in Common enables direct engagement with issues, not only by
providing information, but by giving users the opportunity to add their own
stories and contributions to the site, respond to polls and commit to taking a
number of online and offline actions. It is now integrated into our project
planning as a means of diversifying the way in which we engage with the

In September 2011, we launched the Age Discrimination Commissioner’s Age Positive microsite on the Commission’s website, which aims to
challenge the negative stereotypes that exist about older people in the
community and, in particular, in the workplace.

Featuring authentic stories submitted by older people themselves, or their
family or friends, Age Positive is intended to show that older people continue
to be dynamic and active contributors in their community regardless of age
( We have since added an Age Positive
Facebook page from which we share other stories about positive ageing and age
discrimination issues from the media and wider community.

Our YouTube channel, on which we share video highlights of our major events
and projects, has proven successful with over 45,000 video views. We have 28,
984 subscribers for our electronic mailing lists and our online
‘Podrights’ podcasts, which are released to our website every second
Monday, continue to attract strong audiences.

The Commission is also committed to engaging with the community through Web
2.0 technology, using and sharing real stories to raise awareness and
communicate with people through social media. We have also begun a significant
upgrade of the technical capabilities of our website, which we expect will go
live in late 2012. During 2011-2012 our website received 17,854,567 visitors.
This represents an increase of 23.7 percent increase in visits over the previous
year. A summary of website statistics is provide at Appendix 3.

The media

This year we have expanded our promotional channels for information delivery
so that our media releases are linked to Facebook and Twitter. We also began
featuring news stories on the front page of our website to promote initiatives,
events, publications and other matters of significance to the Commission. We had
19 opinion pieces published in newspapers, journals, magazines and online

The addition of two new full-time Commissioners has meant an increase in the
amount of media interaction in which the Commission is involved. During 2011-12,
the President and Commissioners received approximately 1005 requests for
interviews from print, radio, television and online journalists.


Every year, we prepare a broad range of materials, from plain-language
brochures and community guides to major reports and submissions. These resources
are all available on our website in accessible formats and most are also
published in hard copy format. With differing audiences in mind, we also produce
DVDs and CDs.

During 2011-12, we distributed 31,285 publications and resources in response
to 656 requests. In addition, resources were also distributed by Commissioners
and staff at community consultations and public events.

Presentations and education

Over the last 12 months, the President and Commissioners addressed a broad
range of conferences, seminars and public events. A selection of these speeches
is available on our website at

Our staff delivered information sessions about current projects, federal
human rights laws and the Commission’s complaint process to audiences in
all states and territories, including legal and advocacy groups, professional
associations, unions, multicultural organisations and universities.

We also provide training in statutory investigation and conciliation for
Commission staff, and staff of other relevant organisations. A number of
in-house training courses were held in the past 12 months.

Keep informed about human rights and Commission activities:


Recognising Australia’s human rights champions

We present the Human Rights Awards every year in celebration of Human Rights
Day, 10 December. The awards acknowledge the exceptional work being undertaken
in our community, businesses and media in relation to human rights issues.

Our 24th Awards ceremony was held on 9 December 2011. The prestigious Human
Rights Medal was awarded to The Hon Ron Merkel QC for his work as a human rights
advocate, particularly with Aboriginal communities, and for his human rights
work as a legal practitioner, particularly in relation to ensuring access to
justice for marginalised people. The Young People’s Human Rights Medal was
awarded to Tshibanda Gracia Ngoy, who, through her work with youth from refugee
backgrounds, international students and the general community, strives hard to
better the lives of people around her.

We are grateful for the support of our major sponsors Rio Tinto, the
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, iHR Australia, the Law Council of
Australia, The Co-op Bookshop, Vibe Australia, Avant Card, the David Unaipon
College of Indigenous Education and Research, Network Printing Studios, On Line
Opinion and TrophyLand.

A full list of Award recipients is available at:

‘The Australian Human Rights Medal encourages people that they are on
the right track, that their efforts are worthwhile, that what they are doing
matters to others, that they are in fact making a real difference. At least,
that’s what it did for me. The Australian Human Rights Medal says that, in
our country, human rights matter, that they are precious, that they need to be
nurtured and expanded and put into effect.’

(Thérèse Rein, reflecting upon winning the 2010 Human Rights

Complaint of discrimination in employment on the basis of religion

The complainant is Christian and does not work on Sundays for religious
reasons. The complainant said she worked for the respondent organisation on an
informal understanding that she would not work on Sundays. The complainant
claims that after two years of employment the respondent told her it would
roster her to work on Sundays. The complainant claimed she was left with no
option but to resign.

The respondent denied any discrimination. The respondent claimed it did not
actually roster the complainant to work on a Sunday and was in the process of
considering a flexible working arrangement with the complainant when she
resigned. The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the respondent pay
the complainant $4,000 in compensation for any pain and suffering and write to
the complainant to apologise for the distress and upset the complainant
experienced as a result of the events giving rise to the complaint.