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Annual Report 06-07: Chapter 2 - Human Rights Education and Promotion

Chapter 2: Human Rights Education and Promotion

A central function of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is to undertake education programs that increase public awareness and generate discussion of human rights and anti-discrimination issues within Australia.

HREOC’s legislative responsibilities are:

  1. To promote an understanding and acceptance of, and compliance with, the relevant Act:
    • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act section 11(1)(g)
    • Racial Discrimination Act section 20(1)(b)
    • Sex Discrimination Act section 48(1)(d)
    • Disability Discrimination Act section 67(1) (g)
    • Age Discrimination Act section 53(aa)
  2. To undertake research and education programs for the purpose of promoting the objects of the relevant Act:
    • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act section 11(1)(h)
    • Racial Discrimination Act section 20(1)(c)
    • Sex Discrimination Act section 48(1)(e)
    • Disability Discrimination Act section 67(1)(h)
    • Age Discrimination Act section 53(ac)

Human rights education is also an international obligation which Australia has consistently supported. In the earliest international articulation of universal human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly proclaimed:

every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect of these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.

All work undertaken by HREOC has a human rights educative base, from the handling of individual complaints of discrimination or harassment to the conduct of National Inquiries which involve important human right issues.

2.1 Education and communications strategy

HREOC uses a range of strategies to communicate its key human rights messages to the community including:

  • Regular media engagement by the President and Commissioners with metropolitan, regional and specialist press, radio and television outlets.
  • The Commissioners and staff holding consultations with a range of NGOs (including peak bodies), community groups, parliamentarians, business and industry groups, academics and government officers.
  • The development of an extensive and accessible website which includes human rights education materials for students, teachers, employers, government, community groups and interested individuals.
  • Curriculum-linked human rights education materials for teachers and students.
  • Preparation and distribution of plain English publications on human rights and discrimination, and translations of essential Commission information into 14 other languages.
  • Organisation of promotional events such as the annual Human Rights Awards.

HREOC’s Education Manager updates and revises the education modules and promotes these materials at education/teaching conferences, workshops and forums around the country. HREOC has also engaged education partners such as Dare to Lead and Wakakirri to further promote the resources.

HREOC has liaised with the federal and state governments regarding the implementation of Australia’s response to the World Programme on Human Rights Education. HREOC has also had practical involvement with the Department of Education, Science and Technology’s (DEST) Civics and Citizenship program.

Specific human rights educational and promotional programs conducted by individual Commissioners are detailed later in this Report.

2.2 Media engagement

HREOC’s communication strategies are predicated on the desire to target all Australians wherever they live and whatever their background, age or gender. HREOC uses the mainstream and specialist media to disseminate human rights messages and works with peak business and community groups in the development and delivery of informational and education material.

Engagement with the media is a crucial aspect of HREOC’s public education function. Wherever possible, HREOC engages in public debate via the print and electronic media to provide information to the public via journalists and editors.

HREOC also uses community announcements and niche or specialist media such as ethnic and Indigenous radio and press, as well as country and regional media outlets, to provide general information on HREOC’s work and work of the President and the Commissioners.

In 2006-07, HREOC issued 172 media releases and alerts and the President and Commissioners have had 18 opinion pieces published in major metropolitan newspapers throughout Australia and have conducted approximately 800 media interviews resulting in a significant range of press, radio and television coverage. Thousands of media enquiries were received.

Commissioners have contributed to public debate on human rights, equality and discrimination issues, including: federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples in financial and work related entitlements and benefits; sex and age discrimination; Indigenous health; terrorism legislation; refugees and asylum seekers; racial vilification and discrimination; Indigenous social justice; native title; paid maternity leave; work and family balance; and disability discrimination.

The Commissioners and President also issued a joint statement on the government’s planned Emergency Response measures in the Northern Territory.

HREOC promotes the Human Rights Medal and Awards, which includes categories to recognise the outstanding contribution to human rights through the print media, radio or television.

President von Doussa has engaged in public debate on a range of human rights issues including anti-terrorism laws, work and family balance, paid maternity leave, age discrimination, the impact of Workchoices, the death penalty, and the federal government’s ‘emergency response’ in the Northern Territory.

President von Doussa and Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes have given interviews about the National Inquiry into Discrimination against People in Same-Sex Relationships: Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits. A number of these were undertaken prior to the launch of the final report in Sydney and following launches held around the country.

In addition to multiple interviews about the Same-Sex:Same Entitlements Report, as Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Innes has commented on access issues in relation to transport and buildings, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, DVD captions, employment and the unlawfulness of guide dogs being denied access to taxis.

Prior to her departure in November 2006, then Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward engaged in media debate on issues related to the Sex Discrimination Unit’s work/life balance project. She also spoke about sexual harassment, the ‘glass ceiling’ for women in work, gender pay issues and working women and their children. Following the release of the Its About Time: Women, men, work and family final paper, the Acting Sex Discrimination Commissioner conducted forums around the country to promote the recommendations of the project, and engaged and gave media interviews in relation to those forums.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma’s 2006 Social Justice Report and 2006 Native Title Report were tabled in federal Parliament on 14 June. Mr Calma also helped officially launch the Close the Gap Indigenous Health Campaign in April in Sydney with Olympic athletes Ian Thorpe and Catherine Freeman.

Commissioner Calma contributed to much debate around the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 10th anniversary of the Bringing them home Report.

He has engaged in media debate about other significant issues such as administrative arrangements for Indigenous affairs, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, alcohol management plans, the findings of the Inquest into the death of Mulrinji on Palm Island, Aboriginal home ownership and Native Title.

As acting Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma did a range of interviews about the Voices of Australia education module, the federal government’s proposal for a Citizenship Test and provided opinions on cyber racism.

2.3 Community consultations

Community consultations are an important part of HREOC’s human rights education program and provide a valuable exchange of information. The President, Commissioners and their staff met with a very wide range of peak bodies, community groups, NGOs, parliamentarians, business and industry groups, academics and government officers during the year.

2.3.1 NGO consultations

HREOC held a series of community/NGO fora around Australia to coincide with Commission meetings in each State and Territory. The purpose of these meetings was to share with key community organisations HREOC’s current work and to form networks that will enhance cooperation on national issues of human rights and equal opportunity.

Other consultations include:

  • The Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner and staff were involved in more than 80 meetings with community organisations, advocacy groups, academics, employers and employer groups, federal and state ministers, and other members of parliament.
  • The Sex and Age Discrimination Commissioner Goward and Acting Commissioner von Doussa and staff were involved in approximately 50 meetings and made over 70 speeches. These consultations have been with community organisations and activists, academics, employers and employer groups, unions, federal ministers and other members of parliament.
  • The Race Discrimination Commissioner and staff held approximately 137 meetings, including 30 meetings with key organisations and individuals in Victoria, and 30 in New South Wales as part of the Muslim Women and Human Rights Forum. Also included was the Unlocking Doors Forum which was attended by various members of Victoria Police, the Islamic Council and NSW Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney. In addition, a member of staff attended the New Zealand National Diversity Forum and met with staff from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and New Zealand Police Service to discuss issues of common concern, including those in relation to the Muslim community projects.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Social Justice Commissioner and staff held approximately 100 meetings including meetings with key organisations and individuals in relation to Indigenous health issues and the related campaign, and meetings following the workshop on ‘Women in corrections and post release issues project’. Also, meetings were held in relation to community-focused projects to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Bringing them home Report.
  • The Human Rights Commissioner and staff held approximately 45 meetings, which included consultations with community forums attended by key organisations and individuals in all states as part of the Same Sex: Same Entitlements National Inquiry process.
  • Over 100 organisations throughout all states and territories either attended information sessions on the law and the complaint process run by Complaint Handling Staff (CHS) or were visited by CHS. These organisations included community legal centres; professional associations and unions; Aboriginal legal centres; multicultural organisations; youth organisations and legal centres; neighbourhood centres and disability groups. Locations visited included: Perth and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia; Melbourne, Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong in Victoria; Sydney, Taree, Lismore.


2.4 Commission website –

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's website is a major educative tool and is used widely by government, legal, community and employer organisations, the media, schools and individuals to obtain information about human rights and responsibilities, and anti-discrimination law and practice.

HREOC's website is maintained to ensure that the most up-to-date information is posted daily, and all reports, submissions, media releases and other Commission publications are available online.

Web resources include an online complaints form and information for complainants and respondents, a range of curriculum-linked human rights education resources for schools, information resources for employers, a legal section which provides full details of legislation and other legal issues, and information on the work of the President and Commissioners.


2.4.1 Major additions and improvements in 2006–07

  • Online information sheets published including: Work Out Your Rights, Guide to the RDA
  • Updates and additions to curriculum-linked human rights education resources published online including:
    • Voices of Australia
    • Youth Challenge: Human Rights and Responsibilities (20007 update)
  • Online publication of Commission reports and publications including:
    • Social Justice Report 2006
    • Native Title Report 2006
    • It’s About Time: Women, men, work and family
    • Same-Sex: Same Entitlements
    • Get the facts, Know your rights
  • Publication of speeches and other presentations by the President and Commissioners.
  • Human Rights Medal and Awards website published to promote HREOC’s annual Human Rights Awards competition.
  • Publication of a range of legal submissions made to the Parliament and other bodies by HREOC.

2.4.2 Statistics

HREOC uses a web statistics system which tracks the number of visitors the site has and how visitors are using the site. This allows HREOC to identify materials that are particularly successful or popular and where we have room for improvement.

Usage of the site has increased significantly over the year with approximately 12 612 942 page views on the server during 2006–07. This equates to approximately 85 281 017 hits on the site in total. This is an increase of 50 percent on website usage since the previous financial year.

A summary of statistical information is provided below:

Section Home / Index
page views
Section page views
HREOC Homepage
473 853
99 926
901 278
32 986
202 748
111 140
1 705 260
Human Rights Homepage
67 690
1 061 411
Legal Information Homepage
26 507
231 137
Racial Discrimination Homepage
62 112
413 167
Sex Discrimination Homepage
229 351
723 756
Information for Employers Homepage
30 823
215 584
27 827
Media Releases Index
35 604
618 295
50 905
60 847
Human Rights Education Resources
1 140 587


2.4.3 Human rights education for teachers and students

HREOC has developed a range of human rights education modules specifically for use in upper primary and secondary schools. These modules were developed in consultation with education experts and are linked to the curriculum of each state and territory education system.

The philosophy that guides HREOC’s approach to human rights education is based on a critical methodology which balances the learning needs of students with the curriculum requirements of relevant subject areas.

The modules that make up the human rights education program draw students into real-life situations relevant to their own experiences, which can then be explored in the context of Australian and international law.

Such programs have the capacity to develop values of respect and tolerance and encourage young people to consider ways in which they can take an active role to address intolerance and discrimination in the communities in which they live.

Human rights education is promoted through:

  1. Knowledge: provision of information about human rights and mechanisms for their protection;
  2. Values, beliefs and attitudes: development of values, beliefs and attitudes, which uphold human rights; and
  3. Action: encouragement to take action to defend human rights and prevent human rights abuses.

The broad goal of HREOC’s human rights education program is to develop in students an awareness of their human rights and responsibilities as members of the community in which they live.

A central aim is to assist young people in their development as informed, active citizens and to encourage values of tolerance, respect and empathy.

Each human rights education module developed by HREOC is linked to the curriculum framework that exists in each state and territory. These curriculum links are clearly outlined in the supporting documentation of each module.

Links have been established to subjects across a range of Key Learning Areas, including:

  • Studies of Society and Environment (especially subjects such as History, Aboriginal Studies, Australian Studies, Civics and Citizenship);
  • English;
  • The Arts.

The education modules also include detailed teaching notes and resources to help teachers deliver an effective teaching and learning program on human rights.

They also provide significant flexibility in how they are delivered – teachers can incorporate individual activities into an existing program or teach the module as a whole.

HREOC has developed a range of human rights education resources, which focus on issues included in HREOC’s area of statutory responsibility. These include:

Voices of Australia: An education resource for Australian secondary school teachers
Voices of Australia: Education Module allows for the different stories of Australian people to be heard and celebrated in the classroom. Students will increase their awareness about experiences of diversity, discrimination, race relations, friendship, and respect.

Youth Challenge: Teaching Human Rights and Responsibilities
The Youth Challenge program comprises four units of study:

  • Human Rights in the Classroom provides an accessible overview of human rights: what they are, how they have developed and where they apply.
  • Disability Discrimination - but what about Doug’s rights? explores the issue of how competing rights can be resolved in a school community environment.
  • Young People in the Workforce examines issues of race and sex discrimination, as well as the legal rights and responsibilities of employees and employers in Australia.
  • Tackling Sexual Harassment addresses the issue of sexual harassment and how students can identify and address the issue, regardless of whether it happens to them or another student.

Bringing them home
This education module introduces students and teachers to some of the key issues in HREOC’s Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. It gives students the opportunity to research issues and engage in debate in an informed way.

Face the Facts: Questions and Answers about Refugees, Migrants and Indigenous People
This education module provides teaching notes, student activities and worksheets, plus a range of recommended online resources and further reading, to research, analyse and debate the issues facing different groups in Australian society.

Paid Maternity Leave: Activities on Gender Equality in the Workplace.
This education module draws on comprehension and oral/written composition skills to develop an understanding of gender and the workforce. It includes a fact sheet, a case study, teaching notes, structured activities and a student interview with the Commissioner.

In addition, HREOC’s website features links to a comprehensive collection of national and international human rights education resources.

Electronic mailing lists
HREOC maintains ongoing communication with teachers and education bodies through an electronic mailing list. HREOC provides regular updates about:

  • the most recent set of human rights education activities;
  • reviews and links to human rights education resources;
  • reviews of particular sections of HREOC’s website which are useful for educators;
  • upcoming human rights education events.

HREOC delivers information to teachers about human rights issues and resources nationally at conferences, forums and university pre-service lectures.

The modules are delivered direct to teachers via HREOC website at

HREOC also advertises in teacher magazines and other education press to let teachers know about the resources. HREOC sends CD Roms/DVDs and other hard copy education materials to all schools together with order forms. All of these resources are provided free of charge.

We have also developed partnerships with educational groups/institutions who distribute information and resources to teachers and students (including Wakakirri, Dare to lead and Professional Teacher’s Associations).

Information for Students Webpage
Information for Students is an online education resource for secondary school students to help them gain an awareness and understanding of human rights; their origin and history; the development of international human rights norms and contemporary human rights issues in Australia.

It is a multi-layered website that draws students through a range of human rights issues. It includes a ‘plain English’ guide to what human rights are; common questions and answers on human rights; an explanation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and more detailed information on issues such as Indigenous social justice, ‘stolen children’, refugees and asylum seekers, children in immigration detention, sexual harassment and discrimination; and human rights in other countries.

Information for Students is also linked to other areas of HREOC’s website that may interest students including:

  • Human Writes essay competition and the national youth dialogue
  • Youth Challenge modules
  • Voices of Australia
  • The Face the Facts publication
  • Bringing them home module
  • Information for Employers kit

The site can be found at

Human Rights Explained
This is an online resource for tertiary students. It was first published in 1998 and remains one of HREOC’s most accessed sections.

Usage of Online Education Resources
HREOC’s online human rights education resources are widely used by educators, both nationally and internationally. During the 2006-07 financial year, the resources received 1 140 587 page views. This is an increase of 25 percent on usage of the online education resources since the previous financial year.

Human Rights Education Resources
Voices of Australia
34 875
Youth Challenge Education Module
108 850
Bringing them home Education Module
269 192
Information for Teachers
207 951
Information for Students
125 140
Face the Facts Education Module
74 451
Face the Facts Publication
141 984
Human Rights Explained
131 802
A last resort? Teaching Resources
12 232
A last resort? Summary Guide
34 110

2.5 Commission publications

In addition to all Commission publications being made available on HREOC’s website, around 100 000 publications were dispatched in hard copy format during 2006–07.

The most popular publications were Face the Facts, Voices of Australia (magazine and CD), Good Practice, Good Business CD and The Complaint Guide.

A list of publications released during 2006–07 can be found at Appendix 2 of this Report.


HREOC produced a new DVD titled ‘Respecting, Protecting and Promoting Human Rights’. It was produced to highlight HREOC’s main functions and powers and describe the role that it plays in resolving anti-discrimination complaints and breaches of human rights under federal law.

The DVD includes the following translations: English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Laotian. It also features captions (English only) and audio description (menu only).

Copies of the DVD have been distributed to government departments, state equal opportunity commissions, Asia Pacific Forum members, foreign embassies in Australia and federal members of Parliament.

2.6 2006 Human Rights Medal and Awards

The Human Rights Medal and Awards were established in 1987 to recognise individuals and organisations that have made a significant contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and equal opportunity in Australia.

The 19th Human Rights Medal and Awards ceremony was held at Sydney’s Sheraton on the Park hotel on Thursday, 7 December from midday to 3pm. The Human Rights Day address was delivered by Commission President, the Hon. John von Doussa QC, and Julie McCrossin was the MC.

A field of quality entries in the seven categories - Law, Community (Individual and Organisation), Arts Non-Fiction, Print Media, Television, Radio and the Human Rights Medal - showcased the tireless work undertaken by a range of individuals and organisations in the fields of disability and Indigenous rights, race discrimination, refugees and asylum seekers, gay rights, legal advocacy, young people, law reform and a range of community work.

The judges of the 2006 Human Rights Medal and Awards who gave their time and expertise on a voluntary basis included: Professor Christopher Newell, Bain Attwood, Professor Sally Morgan, David Vadiveloo, Jody Broun, Jenny Earle, Voula Messimeri, Romlie Mokak, Maurice Corcoran, Kevin Cocks, Professor Larissa Behrendt, Ian Kiernan AO OAM, David Marr, Alan Kennedy, Patricia Karvelas, Tom Fayle, Cath Dywer, Stephen Crittenden, Peter Mares, Helen Grasswill, Ned Lander, Justice John Sulan, Justice Virginia Bell and Nicholas Cowdery QC.

HREOC congratulates all the winners, highly commended and shortlisted entries for their achievements, and thanks all of those who nominated for their support of the Awards, and their commitment and dedication to promoting human rights in Australia. The winners can be found below. Further details can be found on HREOC’s website at:

2.6.1 Human Rights Medal

The Human Rights Medal is awarded to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of human rights in Australia.

Joint Winner: Phillip Adams AO
Joint Winner: Father Chris Riley AM

Mr Adams co-founded the sub-titling service that made television accessible to the hearing impaired, and has won international awards for his ‘Break Down the Barriers’ campaign for the International Year of Disabled Persons and for the International Year of the Child with the ‘Care of the Kids’ campaign. More recently he helped establish Australians for Just Refugee Programs, funding the venture with support from the readers of his newspaper columns. This organisation evolved into A Just Australia and Mr Adams is now Chair of Rights Australia - an organisation intended to tackle a wide range of human rights issues. For decades he has also focused on national and international human rights issues in his radio program Late Night Live.

Father Riley has established a variety of programs to assist in breaking the cycle of poverty, disadvantage and marginalisation of young people. His Youth off the Street (YOTS) programs and services have helped over 60 000 young people since they were first established in 1991.

2.6.2 Law Award – sponsored by the Law Council of Australia

Winner: Peter Siedel
Peter Siedel’s efforts advising charitable, not-for-profit and Indigenous organisations have been recognised with the 2006 Human Rights Law Award.

Head of Arnold Bloch Leibler’s public law practice, Peter Siedel works tirelessly with a range of organisations advising on elements critical to their viability, such as corporate governance.

A major player in social and environmental issues for Indigenous people, Peter has represented the Yorta Yorta people for more than 10 years in their native title claim before the Federal and High Courts. He also negotiated ground-breaking agreements between Indigenous groups and government bodies, such as the Yorta Yorta 2004 Co-operative Management Agreement with the Victorian Government.

2.6.3 Community Award

Community Award (Organisation) Winner: Edmund Rice Centre
Edmund Rice Centre has a long history fighting for the rights of Indigenous people and those involved in the horror of people trafficking, but its work on the Asylum Seeker Returnees Program won them the 2006 Community (Organisation) Award.

Community Award (Individual) Winner: Virginia Walker
Virginia Walker co-founded the Bridge for Asylum Seekers in 2003 by rustling together a group of friends when she realised those released from Villawood Detention Centre were cut adrift with no rights or access to Medicare services. Since then, Virginia has built up a network of friends and supporters who have raised and allocated more than $500,000 to provide a basic living allowance to families in Australia on bridging visas.

2.6.4 Arts Non-fiction Award

Winner: Quentin Beresford's Rob Riley: An Aboriginal Leaders Quest for Justice

Rob Riley: An Aboriginal Leaders Quest for Justice, charts the journey for justice of a man who did much to confront two of Australia’s most complex contemporary issues – the position of Indigenous Australians and refugees. Known for his humility, clarity, sense of humour, capacity for friendship and above all for his courage, Rob Riley’s life as portrayed in the book is described by the judging panel as “very moving” and one needed by the Australian community at this time. The book focuses on racism and social inequality and explores the way Rob Riley worked both within and outside government to raise and fight for key issues for Indigenous people.

2.6.5 Television Award

Winner: Central Australia Series by Suzanne Smith, Tony Jones, Brett Evans and Bronwen Reed from ABC TV’s Lateline program
A series on the challenges and tragedies facing Indigenous people in Central Australia won this year’s Human Rights Award for Television. The Central Australia Series exposed the heartbreaking incidence of child abuse and consequences of petrol sniffing and family violence in Central Australia.

2.6.6 Radio Award

Winner: Being Deaf Pt 1: Time Lost and Pt 2: Deaf and Proud by Kirsti Melville, ABC Radio National, Street Stories
A radio series about the grief, challenges and complexities for hearing parents who are raising deaf children has won this year’s Human Rights Radio Award.

The series Being Deaf Pt 1: Time Lost and Pt 2: Deaf and Proud by Kirsti Melville of ABC Radio National’s Street Stories program, focussed on the hurdles and highlights of deaf babies who are born to hearing parents throughout Australia every year. Offering a valuable insight into the politics of deaf culture, the series captured the grief of hearing parents who know nothing of deafness and are unprepared for the challenges ahead. Described by the judges as a “very sophisticated and moving insight” into the deaf world, the series was original and thought-provoking radio that made listeners think about deafness in a different way.

2.6.7 Print Media Award

Winner:Australia’s War Crimes Fiasco by Sydney Morning Herald journalists Debra Jopson and Lisa Pryor

Australia’s War Crimes Fiasco by Sydney Morning Herald journalists Debra Jopson and Lisa Pryor, shocked readers by revealing that dozens of men suspected of horrific atrocities overseas were living freely in Australia courtesy of loopholes in the asylum seeker system – the very system set-up to protect the human rights of their victims.