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Building understanding and respect for human rights - Annual Report 2009-2010: Australian Human Rights Commission

The year in review

Building understanding and respect for human rights

We all share human rights. We all have the right to enjoy them and we all have a responsibility to respect and protect the rights of others.

Our aim is to make this a reality. To that end we strive to build understanding in the Australian community about what human rights are and their relevance for everyday life. We have made good progress on our journey, but we know we have more work to do.

The Australian Government recognises this too. Ongoing community education was the primary recommendation of the government’s recent National Human Rights Consultation, which heard from tens of thousands of people around the country. It is also a fundamental element of the Australian Human Rights Framework, released in April 2010, which committed $6.6 million to the Commission over four years to allow us to expand our community education role and programs.

During the year we reorganised our policy work to facilitate this. The fresh funding will support a new team specifically set up to develop strategies that promote community engagement.

Meanwhile, as we have always done, we continue to focus special attention on vulnerable groups, providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to address discrimination and unfair treatment.

Education – our prime priority

Education lies at the heart of the Commission’s work. Indeed everything we do, from resolving individual complaints to holding national inquiries, contributes to human rights education and communication.

The aims of our education and communications program are to:

  • raise awareness about human rights and responsibilities
  • stimulate discussion around key human rights issues
  • promote community engagement with human rights issues
  • promote awareness of our complaint process and rights protected under its laws
  • provide information about human rights to the widest possible audience in a range of accessible formats.

As part of our activities, we have prioritised engagement with the broader Australian community on rights and responsibilities.

Another vital part of our program has been work with education providers, local councils, police and student associations to enable vulnerable groups to respond appropriately to discrimination and violence. We aim to achieve this chiefly through education, and by connecting them to legal and community support and complaints processes.

In 2009 the Australian Government gave its support to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, underlining the importance it has placed on forging a constructive partnership with the First Peoples of this country. Through a variety of educational resources, the Commission helps build awareness of the declaration in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations.

Human rights education in schools

Designed to introduce human rights concepts into schools in an engaging and relevant way, the nine rightsED resources are guided, over more than 450 pages, by a clear set of education principles and learning outcomes.

We believe a coordinated and consistent approach to teaching human rights in schools is a necessary if rights and responsibilities are to be protected. Practical discussion of rights and responsibilities applied to real-life scenarios promotes awareness and helps young people become engaged citizens. For this reason, too, we continue our advocacy to integrate human rights into the national curriculum.

rightsED Understanding Human Rights cover

In particular, our Human Rights Education Program helps students develop an understanding of human rights and responsibilities, as well as the attitudes, behaviours and skills through which they can apply this understanding in their everyday life.

Our approach supports the goals and direction of the World Programme for Human Rights Education.

The second phase (2010–2014) of this program focuses on human rights education for higher education and on training programs for teachers and educators, civil servants, law enforcement officials and military personnel.

We promote our education resources nationally at conferences, forums and lectures. In addition the President and Commissioners often deliver keynote addresses or speeches at educational conferences.

We work closely with education authorities and schools, having linked our resources with curricula from education departments across Australia. In addition we conduct ongoing lobbying to ensure human rights is covered in curricula and school policies.

Our education resources for teachers include resource sheets, worksheets and interactive activities along with links to useful Australian and international websites.

Of special note is our range of new, comprehensive interactive human rights education resources for teachers, rightsED. Designed to introduce human rights concepts into schools in an engaging and relevant way, rightsED is a clear set of education principles and learning outcomes comprising more than 450 pages of worksheets, activities, videos and audio clips. Each of the nine resources in rightsED is searchable by Key Learning Area.

These resources and activities have been developed mainly for secondary students, but many are also suitable for younger pupils. A complimentary rightsED DVD, containing all the resources, has been mailed to secondary schools in Australia (and high schools from K–12) as well as libraries, TAFEs and universities.

Specifically for secondary schools, our online education resource Information for students is designed to help pupils gain awareness and understanding of human rights issues internationally and at home.

Over the past year we have developed and updated nine resources for inclusion in our education program. Our education resources received 431,124 page views.

All resources can be ordered free online at:

Ensuring information reaches the community

The Commission uses a range of strategies to engage and inform the community about human rights and issues of discrimination – from producing and distributing plain-English reports, discussion papers, brochures and other resources to liaising with the media, holding consultations with stakeholders and hosting seminars, forums and events. We also produce specialist resources that educate and inform about our complaint process.

Our website: a vital tool at the heart of our work

Our website ( is a vital tool and instrument of record. Established in 1998, the site has become one of our main means of disseminating information. It is widely used by government, the media, students and teachers, lawyers, employer organisations, NGOs and others to access information about human rights and responsibilities and anti-discrimination law and practice. The site is updated daily.

All our reports, submissions, speeches, media releases and other publications are available online in a variety of formats, including accessible formats. Resources available through the website include an online complaints form, information for complainants and respondents, curriculum linked education resources for schools (see above), information for employees and employers, a legal section with relevant legislation and other legal issues, and information on the work of the President and Commissioners and their policy areas.

Our web statistics system tracks the number of visitors to the site and the pages they interact with, allowing us to identify materials that are especially successful or popular. During 2009–10, the site received around 12 384 839 page views, equating to 110 975 516 hits on the site in total and 4 646 881 unique visits. (See summary table in Appendix 1).

The Commission manages subscription electronic mailing lists for communicating up-to-date information about current human rights issues via e-alerts and monthly e-bulletins. We maintain ongoing regular communication with teachers and education bodies in this way. At the end of the reporting period, we had 21 371 subscribers. To subscribe, please visit

In addition, we use Web 2.0 technologies and social networking sites: we have established Commission pages on MySpace, Facebook, and have a YouTube channel. During the year under review, Commissioners Broderick and Innes have also used their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to communicate important announcements.

Producing and distributing publications and other resources

Each year, we produce a broad range of hard copy publications and resources in a number of formats. These include fact sheets, posters, brochures, booklets, community guides, CDs, DVDs, discussion papers and reports tabled in Parliament such as national inquiry reports or the Annual Report.

In 2009–10, we sent out 85 104 of these publications by post in response to 1910 requests. This represents an increase in the number of publications distributed in 2008–09. The figures do not include resources distributed by Commissioners and Commission staff in consultations or at seminars and other public engagements.

Apart from resources that deal with specific human rights issues, we produce specialist information about the complaint process. These include the Concise Complaint Guide, the Get To Know Your Rights poster, which is produced in 15 community languages, and the captioned Pathways to Resolution DVD which provides information about the conciliation process.

These publications can be viewed and downloaded from the website in accessible formats. Wherever possible, we ensure the CDs and DVDs we produce can be provided in formats that are accessible to people with disability. Requests for publications in large print, Braille or audio are dealt with on a case by- case basis.

A list of publications is available at:

Speaking to the community

Seminars and speaking engagements are important in the promotion of, and education about, human rights.

We provide information sessions about the law and the complaint process, which are either held on Commission premises or in other locations around the country, including the offices of various organisations. During the year in review, a range of organisations, such as community legal centres, professional associations and unions, legal and advocacy services for women, youth, people with disabilities and older people, multicultural organisations and colleges and universities attended these sessions or were visited by staff members.

The Commission hosted two events as part of its Human Rights Law Seminars series: ‘Improved protection for the rights of people with disability’ on 16 August 2009, and ‘The right to a discrimination free workplace’, held on 30 March 2010.

Aside from speaking at Commission launches and events, the President, Commissioners and some members of staff spoke at conferences, seminars, universities and other events held by external parties. A selection of these speeches are available on the Commission website at:

Engaging with the media

A crucial element of our education function is fulfilled through engaging with the media. Interviews with the President and Commissioners and extensive coverage of our major reports have been vital in drawing public attention to many human rights issues and bringing about change in attitudes, laws and policies.

During the year, we received over 1220 enquiries from print, radio, television and electronic media journalists, the majority of which resulted in interviews with the President or Commissioners. In addition, we sent out 128 media releases and had 21 opinion articles published in newspapers and journals around Australia. All of our media releases, opinion pieces and speeches are available at

Through the media, the President and Commissioners contributed to public debate on a diverse range of human rights, equality and discrimination issues.

During the federal government’s National Human Rights Consultation, President Branson advocated strongly in media interviews for better human rights understanding and protections.

In her role as Human Rights Commissioner, President Branson also contributed through interviews to the examination of the human rights issues facing asylum seekers when they arrive in Australia.

As Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination, Commissioner Broderick was in demand for media interviews about discrimination faced by mature-age workers. This interest was sparked after she gave a speech on the subject at the Institute for Family Studies in August 2009, declaring that employees are considered to be mature-age workers once they turn 45.

In her role as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Commissioner Broderick devoted a significant amount of time to engaging with the media as a high profile advocate in relation to the successful campaign for paid parental leave. She has also been in demand by the media as a spokesperson on issues such as sexual harassment, the importance of increasing the number of women in leadership positions and pay equity.

Since his appointment as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner in February 2010, Commissioner Gooda has granted interviews to the media about issues such as justice reinvestment, the Prime Minister’s second report card on Closing the Gap, the government’s bills to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory and the decision by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission to be the body investigating Indigenous deaths in custody.

As Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Commissioner Innes provided comment on a number of news issues such the responsibilities of schools to children and students with disability, Virgin Blue’s announcement in September 2010 that they would provide unaccompanied travel for certain people with a disability, the tabling of Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards in Parliament and the passage of amendments to the Electoral Act which will ensure Australians who are blind or have low vision have a secret ballot in federal elections.

Among other issues, as Race Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Innes spoke to the media in relation to the Cyber Racism Summit hosted by the Commission in April 2010, racism in sport and the launch of In our own words, the Commission’s review of human rights and social inclusion issues faced by African Australians.

Working with the community to increase understanding and respect for human rights

Though disseminating information is an essential part of our work, the Commission is also committed to everyday, real-life interaction with people and communities to enhance understanding of human rights.

To this end, we are involved in partnering with and funding other organisations in a host of different human rights initiatives, initiating programs that involve specific communities and community members and undertaking activities and events that encourage members of the community to become active in building awareness and understanding in various ways.

Increasing awareness of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This project aims to increase the use of the 2009 UN declaration to frame the work of NGOs and Indigenous community members advocating for improved human rights for Indigenous peoples. (For example, the Northern Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance and the Goldfields Land and Sea Council have both developed policies that are framed by the declaration.)

Specifically the project builds on the Social Justice Reports of 2006 and 2008 which argue that an ‘information gap’ exists in Australia that inhibits the use of a human rights framework for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations.

To address this, we have identified the provision of appropriate educational materials as an important step forward. With the backing of the Christensen Fund and Oxfam Australia, we will release a range of education materials on the declaration. These will include posters, a plain-English guide and an introductory DVD to explain what the declaration is, how it works and the practical difference it can make. Dissemination and launch of the first-phase materials is scheduled to start in September 2010.

We encourage all those working in policy or decision-making roles in government or nongovernment sectors to use the language in the declaration when dealing with Indigenous peoples’ rights. Talking through the language of human rights is one way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can have a public voice and influence laws and policy in Australia.

Increasing awareness of the declaration among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and stimulating a desire to learn about it is likely, in turn, to lead to a greater knowledge of human rights in these communities and greater protection. The project can also assist NGOs campaigning for the implementation of the declaration standards into domestic law.

Creating a one-stop-shop for Indigenous human rights: Indigenous Human Rights Network Australia (IHRNA)

The IHRNA is hosted by the Commission, with financial support from Oxfam Australia and other backing from the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP). Its aim is to develop and provide a website and network specifically targeted at Indigenous human rights. The website was launched on 12 April 2010, bringing human rights advocates together to share advice and best practice in an online forum, and to provide a one-stop-shop for information on international human rights treaties relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It provides access to the information that experts and advocates may need in addressing human rights violations.

For more information please visit:

Preventing discrimination in sport: The Play by the Rules forum

Play by the Rules is a unique partnership between the Commission, the Australian Sports Commission, all state and territory sport and recreation and anti-discrimination agencies and the Queensland Commission for Children, Young People and Child Guardian. It provides information and online learning for community sport and recreation organisations about how to prevent and deal with discrimination, harassment and child abuse, and develop inclusive and welcoming environments.

The Commission recently signed a memorandum of understanding to support the project for another year. We are represented on the steering committee (at quarterly teleconferences) and meet annually to discuss web-based content, how to improve the website and emerging issues in sport.

Improving access to commercial buildings: Local government partnerships for better access

The good the bad and the ugly CD cover

Burgeoning partnerships between the Commission and local councils are helping to improve access to public buildings for people with disability.

The initiative began with the 7 August 2009 announcement of a partnership project, between the Commission and Marrickville Council in New South Wales, intended to alert designers and building certifiers to the need to vigorously apply technical requirements for access. Throughout 2009–10 we have developed similar partnerships with 10 other councils around Australia.

The project involves provision of a free CD, The good the bad and the ugly, which was developed by the Commission, to everyone who makes an application to council for an approval to construct or renovate a public building. It explains why it is vital to comply with the technical specifications for access accurately and covers 14 of the most common mistakes when applying access design specifications.

Encouraging anti-racism initiatives: the StepOne website

In March 2010 we signed a Research Service Agreement which provided for funding of $5000 for StepOne, a website that provides guidance and practical resources to councils and community groups interested in implementing community cohesion initiatives in their areas.

Administered by Macquarie University, the website features downloadable best-practice case studies relating to a range of issues, especially those which reduce racism, intolerance and negative stereotypes. The site’s primary aims are to get communities interacting and working together, and to build positive and sustainable relationships.

Working with Muslim communities – The Community Partnerships for Human Rights Program

This three-year undertaking, comprising eight different projects, began in 2007 and will be completed by the end of 2010. The origins of the program can be traced back to 2006 when we were one of several government agencies funded to contribute to the National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security (NAP).

The program’s central goal has been to increase social inclusion and counter discrimination and intolerance towards Australia’s Muslim communities by:

  • increasing awareness of human rights and responsibilities in both the broader community and in Muslim communities
  • increasing awareness in Muslim communities of different ways of responding to discrimination and vilification
  • raising awareness in the broader Australian community of the moderate profile of Islam and the human rights issues Muslim communities face
  • increasing the skills and facilitating opportunities for groups and individuals to help reduce the impact of marginalisation
  • facilitating relationships and opportunities to build trust between Muslim communities and law enforcement agencies
  • increasing social connectedness in order to build social capital and empower Muslim communities.

A wide range of resources and tools were developed through the program, which has engaged over 15 500 community members and stakeholders. Many participants believe it has helped to empower them and has increased their feelings of social connection.

The following pages provide a summary of the status of these eight projects at the close of the year under review.

  1. The Adult English as a Second Language, Human Rights Curriculum Resource for New Arrivals Project, which developed a set of new education resources for use by English-as-a-second-language teachers, was completed in June 2009.

  2. The African Australians Project addressed the human rights and social inclusion experiences of African people as they settle in Australia.

    A review of these experiences entitled, In our own words – African Australians: A review of human rights and social inclusion issues, was released by Race Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes in Melbourne on 18 June 2010. It documents the results of three years of consultation with African Australian communities around the country.

    In our own words presents issues, solutions and best practice initiatives, identified by over 2500 African Australians throughout these consultations, as well as observations and suggestions from over 150 government and non-government stakeholders and service providers. It considers a number of barriers to the settlement and inclusion of African Australians. It also highlights the need to develop effective and targeted strategies to address discrimination, prejudice and racism and to include African Australian communities as genuine partners in the development and delivery of services for them. The review also identified a need to engage and support these communities in developing initiatives that will address areas of special concern, such as child protection and family violence.

    The project had a particular focus on gathering the views and experiences of young African Australians, African Australian Muslim communities and African Australian Muslim women. ‘Women only’ and ‘young people only’ consultations were held to ensure participants could express their views freely.

    A variety of partner organisations contributed their knowledge, expertise and financial resources to the project, including the Australian Red Cross and government departments and agencies.

    The review is also supported by a compendium which details the outcomes of the community and stakeholder consultations and interviews and public submissions. The project resources also include a literature review and three background papers.

  3. The Human Rights and Cultural Diversity e-Forum Project is an initiative of the Commission in partnership with the Institute for Cultural Diversity. It was launched on 16 October 2009 with 90 people in attendance.

    A specially formed steering committee and technical advisory team developed the navigation, design and content of the website, designed to create an electronic forum and ‘clearing house’ for communication of human rights issues across the community, government, service provision, non-government/advocacy, academic and other relevant sectors. It enables registered users to choose how they wish to engage with cultural diversity issues – from blogs and closed or open forums, to formal consultation processes – and has a particular focus on issues relevant to the Muslim community.

    Objectives included increasing the Commission’s reach to individuals and groups (particularly those without a previous history in human rights) and increasing a reciprocal flow of information, expertise, advice and commentary. In particular it sought to boost awareness of issues that affect Muslim communities across professional sectors and in the broader community (such as media uptake of issues, public awareness and understanding).

    By April 2010 the site had 426 registered users. From 16 October 2009 to 16 April 2010 there were 18 740 visitors to the e-forum. Of these, 71.52% were new visitors. We have continued to support the development and maintenance of the e-form since its launch. In late 2010 the Commission will hand the intellectual property back to the Institute for Cultural Diversity, and the site will continue to function.

  4. The Community Language Schools Human Rights Curriculum Resource and Campaign Project, conducted in partnership with Community Languages Australia (CLA), developed a bilingual-language-other-than-English (LOTE) curriculum resource about discrimination and human rights for use by school authorities.

    CLA represents over 1000 school authorities that operate community language schools, or after-hours ethnic schools, teaching over 77 languages throughout Australia to over 100 000 students. It provides an effective platform for reaching these communities via young people learning a language.

    The curriculum resource is aimed at 11-to-15-year-olds enrolled in after-hours community language schools. Its main aim is to help deliver a better understanding of human rights, particularly freedom from discrimination, to these students as they acquire language skills.

    The activities are also designed for students to facilitate discussion of human rights with their families, thereby introducing human rights messages into ‘hard -to-reach’ communities. At the end of the curriculum, students and their families participate in a culminating event, at which each student presents a human rights message to their community in a creative way.

    The resource incorporates a teacher’s manual, student workbook and home-learning book, a parent guide and resource leader handbook. The latter is used in conjunction with a two-day professional development training workshop for resource leaders, who are nominated from community language schools to receive training in how to deliver the resource to students. They then take the knowledge they have learned in the workshop and train other teachers in their schools in how to use it.

    When developing the resource, we established a project advisory group (PAG) and Muslim reference group to provide the project with expert advice. They identified Arabic as the language for resource translation. A master English version will be available for additional translations.

    The resource will be launched at the Victorian State Community Language Schools Conference on 3 July 2010.

  5. The Community Policing Partnership Project (CPPP) was a collaboration between the Commission and the Australian Multicultural Foundation. Its aim was to address discrimination and vilification by increasing dialogue between Australian Muslims and police.

    Under this initiative, police services and community groups were invited to form partnerships. Their purpose was to propose community-based projects that would ‘build bridges’ between police and Australian Muslim communities that aspire to establish local networks, build trust and facilitate stronger social participation, particularly among young people.

    By the end of the year under review, all 19 projects funded in the initial round of CPPP funding had been completed. Over 7000 participants were involved in the various projects. Another 18 projects will conclude by the end of 2010, with one granted an extension until June 2011.

    The Centre of Excellence for Policing and Security has been engaged to draft a report, which will showcase some best-practice examples and be launched by the end of 2010.

  6. A Community Arts and Culture Initiative with Muslim Australia is a partnership between the Commission and the Australia Council of the Arts, which will conclude in late 2011.

    It was developed on the basis of evidence which indicates that involvement in cultural activities is a valuable way to promote community cohesion and that community cultural development (CCD) arts projects help build harmonious communities, particularly among people who are marginalised. These projects can also bring disparate sections of communities together in a way that shatters stereotypes and prejudices.

    The initiative supported four arts projects around the country, with two completed during the year in review and two others ongoing. A fifth has been in development during the reporting period and will be launched in July 2010.

    The Arab Film Festival Australia – the National Tour Project will run until 2011 in partnership with Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) in NSW. As a result of being supported under the initiative, a touring program of the most popular films from the annual four-day Arab Film Festival, held in Sydney in July 2009, toured Australia’s east coast for the first time in November 2009. In July 2010 the festival will take place in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane We anticipate that it will expand to more states and territories in years to come.

    The Frontline Project, a partnership with Darwin Community Arts (Northern Territory) in the Malak area, will operate until 2011. This is a community arts intervention in which Muslim, African and Indigenous young people take part in ‘locative’ media activities. These include an Amazing Malak project (like ‘The Amazing Race’), virtual murals, laser tagging and graffiti, computers-in-the-wall displaying Malak video blogs, sensored space installations, social mapping, wayfaring, Second Life Malak, songwriting and hip hop.

    The Islamic Spectrum of Australia Project was a partnership with Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre devoted to staging events that would explore the many faces of Islamic culture in Australia in art, architecture, food, religion, history and music. The second program of events under this project was hosted at the Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre in Adelaide from 29 July 2009 and featured a symposium on the cultural aspects of Islam in Australia, an Islamic youth forum, music and an art exhibition which ran through to 4 September.

    The Young Muslim Women’s Short Animation Film Project was a partnership with the Bankstown Area Multicultural Network which brought ethnically-diverse young women together to develop skills in digital animation. This project enjoyed an unanticipated outcome when the animated film Huriyya and Her Sisters, developed by the participants, was featured in the Arab Film Festival Australia in Sydney and subsequently toured nationally.

  7. Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century: For this project, the Commission partnered with the Australian Multicultural Foundation in association with RMIT and Monash universities to consult and prepare a major report on this subject.

    The project worked with Islamic faith and other communities and organisations to record concerns and propose solutions for building a more socially cohesive and harmonious society. It built on our earlier report Article 18: Freedom of Religion and Belief released in 1998, and the 2004 report Religion, Cultural Diversity and Safeguarding Australia, by the (then) Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.

    Its objectives included evaluating the response to Article 18: Freedom of Religion and Belief, modelling a cooperative approach to responding to issues of freedom of religion and belief and assessing whether ‘war on terror’ laws have impacted upon freedoms of religion, belief or cultural identity.

    A report is due to be released in the 2010–11 reporting year.

Highlighting promotion of human rights from within the community: The Human Rights Medals and Awards

The Human Rights Medals and Awards honour the achievements of people who champion human rights in their everyday lives and are presented to winners on Human Rights Day each year.

The Commission believes that the achievements of people who champion human rights in their everyday lives should not go unrewarded.

For this reason, the Commission has, since 1987, called for everyone in Australia to consider these people and their achievements and nominate them for an annual list of human rights awards and medals. Once nominations have been received, they are judged by expert panels of people who work in the human rights arena and awarded during a gala ceremony to which the public are invited on 10 December each year, Human Rights Day.

The prestigious Human Rights Medal and Young People’s Human Rights Medal recognise individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, social justice and equality in Australia. Awards also recognise achievements in the areas of community (individual), community (organisation), print media, television, radio, non-fiction literature and law.

On 10 December 2009, 350 people attended the Human Rights Medals and Awards ceremony at the Sheraton on the Park Hotel in Sydney, at which President Catherine Branson delivered her second Human Rights Day Oration.

Winners of the Human Rights Medals and Awards, as well as highly commended nominees from a strong field for each of the categories, were announced at the ceremony and presented with trophies and prizes. The ceremony attracted a number of sponsors, including Lexis Nexis, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Law Council of Australia, iHR Australia, the Co-Op Bookshop and Vibe Australia.

Further information about the awards, including audio of acceptance interviews, is available on the Commission website at: