Australian Human Rights Commission
Q. Is the Commission open and do anti-discrimination laws still apply?
Anti-discrimination laws continue to apply and our National Information Service phone line and our complaints functions remain open. If you have concerns about discrimination or other breaches of human rights, we are ready to assist you. Contact us on 1300 656 419 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between the hours of 11.30am to 1.30pm EST or email us at any time on firstname.lastname@example.org
To lodge a complaint, go to https://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints
To look after our staff and the public we have closed our physical offices until further notice, with staff working remotely. However, we continue our hard work to help safeguard the human rights of all people in our community.
Our Commissioners continue to engage with key stakeholders and communities to uphold and advance human rights.
- Q. What is the Commission doing in response to COVID-19?
Q: How can I contact the Australian Human Rights Commission during this time?
A: If you have concerns about discrimination or other breaches of human rights, we are ready to assist you. You can contact our National Information Service phone line on Monday - Friday between the hours of 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM AEST on 1300 656 419 04, or email us at any time on email@example.com. To lodge a complaint, go to https://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints.
For more information visit https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/commission-general/covid-19-information.
Q: Where can I find out more about human rights and COVID-19?
You can read a message from the Australian Human Rights Commission President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, here: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/news/covid-19-message-president.
Keep up to date with the latest information on the Commission’s work on human rights, including any work we do relating to COVID-19, by signing up to our newsletter at https://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/mailing-lists.
You can stay in touch with us on:
- Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/aushumanrights/,
- Twitter at https://twitter.com/AusHumanRights,
- LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/australian-human-rights-commission,and on
- Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/aushumanrights/.
Discrimination and impacts of Covid-19 on particular groups
Q. Who can I contact if I have experienced racism or discrimination?
The Commission has heard reports of discrimination against people of Chinese and other Asian backgrounds. Discrimination on the grounds of race can never be tolerated.
The Commission can investigate incidents of racism or discrimination, but if you have experienced abuse of a violent or criminal nature, you should contact the police.
If you have experienced racism or discrimination, we are ready to assist you. Contact us on 1300 656 419 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between the hours of 11.30am to 1.30pm EST or email us at any time on firstname.lastname@example.org
To lodge a complaint, go to https://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints
Q. Where can I access information about COVID-19 in accessible formats?
The Department of Social Services has put together accessible information about COVID-19 and have set up a disability information hotline. You can access these resources here
An Auslan version of the Government’s COVID-19 accessible resources can be found here
People with Disability Australia has a COVID-19 Hub dedicated to advocating for the needs and rights of people with disability during the pandemic.
Q. Where can I find information about the NDIS or getting disability support?
The NDIS has a webpage dedicated to providing COVID-19 information and support which can be found at https://www.ndis.gov.au/coronavirus
The Department of Social Services has a Disability Information Helpline which provides information and referrals for people with disability who need help because of COVID-19. You can call on 1800 643 787 or visit the website here.
Economic Justice Australia has produced a factsheet on COVID-19 payments for people receiving the Disability Support Pension which can be found here.
Q. I receive a disability pension, can I access additional financial support?
In response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has announced a range of financial support measures. Complete details are available from Services Australia.
Recipients of the Disability Support Pension (DSP) will be eligible for two additional one-off payments of $750 during this period. The first from late April and the second in July 2020. These payments will be made automatically and will be in addition to the DSP and any additional payments (eg Energy Supplement).
The financial support available for recipients of income support payments other than the DSP (eg the JobSeeker Payment) may be greater as a result of the financial support measures introduced by the government. Services Australia has outlined a number of factors that individuals should take into account before making any decision to switch from the DSP to another form of income support payment as outlined here
Q. I live in an aged or disability care facility what are my rights?
The Australian Government has issued guidelines stating that residential aged care facilities could allow residents to have up to two visitors per day if they followed physical distancing recommendations.
The Commission has heard reports that some facilities have implemented restrictions beyond those recommended by the Government, with the intention of protecting residents and staff from an outbreak of COVID-19. These include reports of residents being locked in their rooms.
Though there have been positive examples in the media of residential care using technology and other novel approaches to facilitate communication between residents and their friends and family, there must be a uniform minimum guarantee of access to care and support.
The Commission understands that this is a complex issue and there is ongoing discussion between aged and disability care provider peak bodies and the Australian Government about developing a minimum guarantee of standards.
Q. What support is available for people experiencing elder abuse?
Elder abuse can take various forms, including: financial, physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse, or neglect. No older person should be subjected to any form of abuse.
If you are concerned that you are or someone you know is experiencing or at risk of experiencing elder abuse please contact the national free-call helpline on 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374).
Q. Can an age limit be applied to access to intensive care or other services?
All lives are of equal value irrespective of age and it is important that neither direct nor indirect age discrimination become the unintended consequences of the COVID-19 response.
Should it become necessary to make decisions about the allocation and prioritisation of scarce medical resources, these must be made on the basis of medical and scientific evidence and not on non-medical grounds, such as age or disability. This will support an ethical and more efficient public health response for all affected by this disease.
Q. I am at risk of domestic violence, where can I go for support?
The requirements of physical distancing and home-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic mean that people experiencing domestic and family violence are at greater risk.
If you are experiencing domestic violence and require support, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.
Q. What are potential gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 does not discriminate, but the social and economic impacts will affect men and women differently.
Women make up 79% of health care and social assistance workers, and the majority of pre-primary, primary and secondary school teachers.
The majority of casual workers are women and more women than men already live below the poverty line in Australia.
Women in Australia continue to undertake an unequal amount of unpaid caring work. Emergency measures mean the amount of unpaid caring work will likely increase yet further. This could make it harder for many women to undertake paid work.
The social and economic impacts of COVID-19 risk exacerbating existing gender inequalities.
Any economic response measures must take into account the existing economic inequality of women in Australia.
Q. How will the pandemic affect Indigenous peoples and communities?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have higher levels of pre-existing illness than other population groups due to relative social and economic disadvantage. This means they may be susceptible to more severe impacts from COVID-19.
There are also concerns about maintaining food security for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in remote communities during the pandemic.
The Australian Government must continue to make the health, safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders a priority in its response to COVID-19.
Q. Where can Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people go for health support?
The Department of Health has an up-to-date webpage dedicated to resources on COVID-19 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, which can be found here.
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) has compiled a series of useful links and resources here.
- Q. Where can I access translated information about COVID-19?
Q. Is testing for COVID-19 available to everyone?
Please visit the website of your local state or territory health authority to find information on current testing criteria for COVID-19. A number of states and territories have expanded the criteria you must meet before you are able to be tested.
Regardless of the criteria in your state, everyone must be able to access necessary health and medical care.
Q. Where can I access support for my mental health during the pandemic?
The Department of Health’s ‘Head to Health’ website provides digital mental health resources. This includes a page on mental health and COVID-19 which can be found here.
Beyond Blue has a Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service which includes online forums, online counselling and telephone counselling. Visit https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/ or phone 1800 512 345
Suicide Callback Service - 1300 659 467 https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
Lifeline - 13 11 44
Q. Where can children and young people access support for their mental health?
Along with the resources laid out in the question above, there are services able to support children's mental health during this potentially challenging time.
Headspace also has resources for young people on how to cope during the pandemic. They can be found here.
Police, detention and justice
Q. What additional powers do police have and what are my rights?
Some states and territories have made different rules about what you can and can’t do during the emergency and are using different methods to enforce those rules, including by giving police new powers. You can find more information about the rules in your state or territory at the following links:
- New South Wales
- Australian Capital Territory
- South Australia
- Western Australia
- Northern Territory
Regardless of what rules are in place, you have the right to be treated with respect and dignity in all interactions with Police.
You have the right not to be discriminated against for any reason, including on the basis of sex, age, race or disability.
You also have the right to be informed what the police powers are during this time, and to expect they will be applied fairly and consistently.
The powers must be proportionate and used by police only to the extent necessary to prevent the virus spreading.
Q. Who should I contact if I have concerns about my treatment by police?
Particularly during times of crisis and when police have been granted increased powers, processes for handling complaints when there is police misconduct must be independent, impartial, timely and must hold police misconduct to account.
You can find more information about where to make a complaint about police misconduct in your state or territory at the links below:
Q. What are the risks to people in detention at this time?
Adequate physical distancing may not possible in crowded detention facilities, such as immigration detention facilities, prisons, police lockups and jails. Many people in detention are also vulnerable due to existing chronic health conditions.
The Commission acknowledges the work of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee in providing advice to the Government on preventing and managing a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in detention settings.
Public health experts, including the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) and the Australian College of Infection Prevention and Control (ACIPC), have advised that an effective response to protect the health of people in immigration detention and the broader community requires the release of people who do not pose significant security or health risks into the community. In March, the Human Rights Commissioner wrote to the Department of Home Affairs to request urgent action to implement this advice.
While people remain in detention, they must have access to adequate healthcare and hygiene facilities.
The Human Rights Commission supports the advice of Australia’s health experts. It is critical that the health and human rights of vulnerable people in detention are protected.
Q. Who can I contact about mistreatment or conditions in detention?
If you have concerns about your own or someone else’s treatment or conditions in prison or youth justice centres, you can contact the Ombudsman in your state or territory:
- New South Wales
- Australian Capital Territory
- South Australia
- Western Australia
- Northern Territory
If you have concerns about your own or someone else’s treatment or conditions in detention please contact The Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between the hours of 11.30am to 1.30pm EST or email us at any time on email@example.com. You can also contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman at https://www.ombudsman.gov.au/contact or on 1300 362 072.
People in immigration detention can also contact the Australian Red Cross via the information on their website here.
Q. I am currently in detention, what rights do I have regarding visitors?
To help stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure vulnerable members of the prison population are protected, many states and territories have stopped allowing social or family visitors to their detention facilities.
The Commission welcomes reports of initiatives to ensure people in detention can maintain social and family connections via video and phone.
In detention, you have the right to be treated with respect and dignity and must not face unreasonable restrictions on corresponding with your friends and family.
Q. I’m in quarantine in a hotel, what are my rights?
Some people are currently being quarantined in hotels for 14 days after returning from overseas to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Other than restrictions on movement necessary to ensure public health, you should be able to access all other rights as you would if you were quarantined in your own home.
You should still have enough nutritious food, access to hygiene facilities and the ability to contact your friends and family.
You are also entitled to full information about why you are being detained and how long for. You are still entitled to seek independent legal and medical advice.
You are still entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
Q. My court hearing has been moved to a virtual format. What are my rights?
Some Australian courts have begun conducting virtual hearings to help stop the spread of COVID-19. These include hearings using audio and audio-visual software.
There is evidence that virtual hearings can have a disproportionately negative impact on people with a disability, particularly those with a cognitive impairment, mental health condition and/or neurodiverse condition, and their ability to seek justice.
There are also concerns about privacy, confidentiality and the ability of defendants to privately communicate with their legal representation.
Courts must continue to ensure participants in virtual court proceedings have accessible information about their rights, including their right to raise concerns about their participation.
Q. My jury trial or hearing has been moved to judge only. Is this allowed?
The Commission is concerned that measures introduced by courts in some states and territories to help stop the spread of COVID-19 may affect the right to access a fair trial. This includes measures to halt all new jury trials and have trials presided over by a judge alone.
In many states and territories, protections are in place to ensure the consent of all parties, including the accused, before a trial by judge alone can occur. All states and territories must ensure appropriate protections are in place to protect the right to access a fair trial.
The Commission will continue to monitor developments in this area.
Employment, Housing and Business
Q. What rights do I have to safe work environments during the pandemic?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, and always, employees have the right to be free from discrimination. These rights are protected under Australia’s anti-discrimination laws.
Understandably, there are concerns about potential risks to the safety and wellbeing of frontline workers, including those working in health, education, transport, food and retail. All employees, regardless of their occupation, have the right to healthy and safe work environments. There must be accessible avenues for employees to raise concerns about unsafe practices or environments and employers must work in consultation with employees to identify and implement measures to address risks.
Employers can alter an employee’s duties during the COVID-19 pandemic but only to the extent that employees are qualified for the task.
Q. I lost my job due to impacts from COVID-19, what support is available?
The Australian Government has announced a range of measures to provide additional financial support to Australian citizens and permanent residents during this crisis.
The Commission welcomes the introduction of:
- the JobKeeper Payment, which supports businesses to continue to pay their employees some or all of their regular wages if a number of criteria are met
- the temporary COVID-19 supplement to the JobSeeker (formerly ‘Newstart’) Payment, Youth Allowance JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance, Special Benefit and the Abstudy, Austudy and Youth Allowance for Payments for full-time students
- the one-off stimulus payments for veteran income support recipients and eligible concession card holders
To see what support you may be eligible for, visit Services Australia who provide information on all payments available for individuals and families affected by the pandemic here.
Social supports must be made available to everyone living in our communities, including those on temporary visas. The Human Rights Commissioner has written to the Home Affairs Minister and the Minister for Families and Social Services to request they use new discretionary powers under the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 (Cth) to extend the safety net to all people in Australia.
The Commission commends initiatives from many states and territories to provide financial and other support to international students and those on temporary visas.
Other financial support resources include:
- The Money Smart website which has helpful information for people affected financially by COVID-19, including insurance, financial hardship provisions and financial counselling. Their website is https://moneysmart.gov.au/covid-19
- The National Debt Helpline provides free community-based financial counselling, you can call them on 1800 007 007
- The Australian government has also recently announced new provisions for people who have been financially affected by COVID-19 to access their superannuation funds early. Please refer to the Australian Tax Office’s website to find out more about this, and whether these provisions could extend to you
Q. I rent my home, what are my rights and what rental support is available?
At the end of March, all Australian states and territories agreed to a six-month freeze on all evictions. You should not be facing eviction from your rental property during this time.
This freeze has been implemented in different ways in different states and territories. There have also been different approaches to the type and nature of support available for residential tenants and landlords facing financial hardship during the pandemic.
Services with information about other support available in your state include:
- The Tenants Union of NSW (which has put together a series of frequently asked questions about your rights as a tenant in NSW at here)
- Tenancy Advice Service ACT
- Tenants’ Advice Service NT
- Tenants Queensland
- Tenants Information and Advisory Service South Australia
- Tenants Union of Tasmania
- Tenants Victoria
- Tenancy WA
If you are at risk of homelessness, you may also wish to seek help from a homelessness support service. You can find a national directory at: https://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/are-you-experiencing-homelessness
Q. Do businesses have to respect human rights during Covid-19?
The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) are the recognised global standard for preventing and addressing business-related human rights harm. The UNGPs provide that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, including in times of crisis. Meeting this responsibility means businesses take steps to assess and address the human rights harms they may cause or contribute to though their activities, or are directly linked to through their supply chains.
COVID-19 has elevated the risk of certain business-related human rights breaches, including failure to provide a safe and healthy work environment or work practices, or unlawful discrimination against employees in relation to conditions or termination of employment. Globally COVID-19 is also disproportionately affecting vulnerable and precarious workers due to factory shutdowns, order cancellations, workforce reductions and supply chain disruptions. Australian Border Force has prepared a factsheet for businesses reporting under the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) about how to reduce the risk of vulnerable workers in their operations and supply chains becoming exposed to modern slavery as a result of COVID-19.
For information on how business can meet their responsibility to respect human rights in their activities and supply chains in the COVID-19 context, see:
- The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Covid-19 Portal
- The United Nations Development Program, Human Rights Due Diligence and Covid-19: Rapid Self-Assessment for Business
- OECD, Covid-19 and Responsible Business Conduct
- Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, Business and Covid-19: Supporting the Most Vulnerable
- SOMO, ECCHR and Pax, Responsible disengagement in the time of corona