Keeping Human Rights Charter a Win-Win Decision - Not for Profits
15 March 2012 at 9:36 am
A Victorian Government decision to keep and strengthen its Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has been welcomed by the Not for Profit Sector.
The Public Interest Law Clearing House Vic (PILCH) says the decision is a win for Victorians.
"As a service that provides free legal services to some of the state's most disadvantaged people, we have seen first-hand that the Charter has led to better quality public services and fairer outcomes for our clients," said PILCH executive director Fiona McLeay.
Senior Lawyer of the PILCH Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic, Lucy Adams, also welcomed the decision. "We have used the Charter to prevent 42 people including 21 children from being evicted into homelessness. In the absence of the Charter, these people would have been put at greater risk of joining the 20,500 Victorians who are homeless each night," she said.
The Government's decision is part of its response to a Review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Premier Ted Baillieu says the Government is strongly committed to the principles of human rights and considers that legislative protection for those rights provides a tangible benefit to the Victorian community.
Almost 4,000 submissions were made by individuals and organisations to the parliamentary committee – 95 per cent of these supported keeping or strengthening the Charter.
"The Government has taken community feedback on board and has come to the right decision," McLeay said.
"Our experience shows that the Charter has led to better practices and policies within public bodies in Victoria. It has provided a clear framework for public servants making difficult decisions in the face of limited resources.
“The Government's response recognises that there is an "ongoing place for courts in protecting rights" under the Charter and the Government has committed to seeking further advice on how courts and tribunals can best fulfil this role."
"The role of courts and tribunals in assessing human rights compliance is essential. In the HPLC's work we have seen that enforceable rights encourage negotiation and promote accountability," Lucy Adams said.
The Victorian Council of Social Service says the State Government’s commitment to retain and potentially strengthen the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities is a valuable step for justice, particularly for vulnerable Victorians.
"The decision to retain the Charter and to look at expanding it to include international human rights considerations shows the Government is committed to the principles of human rights and recognises the value human rights protections provide to all Victorians," said Cath Smith, chief executive of VCOSS said.
"The evidence from five years of operation shows that the Human Rights Charter has supported better results for people who are homeless, people with disabilities, Aboriginal Victorians and people experiencing mental illness, and has encouraged better and more accountable provision of services by both government and community sector organisations."
The Acting Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Karen Toohey says that “by indicating that it will retain – and even strengthen – key aspects of the Charter, the government made a clear statement to all Victorians that it values human rights and will take the opportunity to improve the protection of these rights by making the Charter clearer, simpler and more accessible.”
Chairperson of the Commission’s Board, John Searle, said: “As the human rights regulator, the Commission’s experience through evidence, is that the Charter plays an important role in protecting and promoting the rights of all Victorians and we congratulate the government on its commitment to maintain Victoria’s position as a leader in human rights protection in Australia."
“It is pleasing to note that many of the recommendations made by the Commission have been supported in the government’s response, such as the addition of other rights under the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the development of a framework to understand the benefits of the Charter to the community,” he said.
Read the Government’s response to the Review.