Advocates call on new government to adopt human rights charter
6 June 2022 at 3:33 pm
The Albanese government has promised to review the implementation of a national human rights charter. The Human Rights Law Centre is now campaigning to hold the government to its word, hot on the heels of a new report.
The Human Rights Law Centre is calling on the Albanese government to create an Australian charter of human rights, after its latest report shows state charters are making concrete improvements to people’s lives.
The Charters of human rights make our lives better report, released on 1 June, outlines 101 cases in Australia where state-based human rights charters have successfully helped individuals secure their democratic rights and freedoms.
For example, a woman in Queensland was able to avoid eviction from her home following a domestic abuse case using the Queensland’s Human Rights Act 2019.
In another success story, residents were able to use the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) to show the hard lockdown of public housing towers in 2020 breached human rights.
Executive director for the Human Rights Law Centre Hugh de Kretser said the charters of human rights in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT have had a clear positive impact on people’s lives.
“Despite the success of these laws in three jurisdictions, Australia is the only western democracy without a national charter of human rights or similar law,” he told Pro Bono News.
“The Human Rights Law Centre is [now] calling on the Albanese government to move swiftly to introduce a national charter of rights.”
The latest push for a national charter follows Labor’s commitment in its national platform to adhere to Australia’s international human rights obligations and to seek to incorporate them into Australia’s laws and administrative decision-making.
Labor also committed to a review into whether to introduce a charter of human rights or similar legislation.
“We want that review to happen quickly,” de Krester said.
“We think the review will receive evidence as to the need for a charter in human rights and we feel [the Albanese government] will take action.”
de Krester also highlighted that the international human rights treaties that Australia has signed up to are not currently reflected in Australian law.
“An Australian charter of human rights would remedy this. The closest we came was in 2009 and 2010 when Frank Brennan led a national consultation that made a number of human rights recommendations, however the Rudd government did not act on those recommendations,” he said.
“An Australian human rights charter, using the international human rights treaties as a guide, would provide a level of dignity and respect to people that they really have come to expect as Australian citizens.”
Public support for a national charter is growing
The Human Rights Law Centre CEO added that Australians were more aware now of their rights following restrictions under the Emergency Pandemic Laws over the past two years.
“People are now actively looking at gaps in protection not just regarding pandemic laws but those that allow journalists’ homes [to be] raided as with the frightening news that ABC journalists’ homes were ransacked by federal police in 2019,” he said.
“Of course Australians are now very aware of human rights law in a way they perhaps weren’t in the past, following the curfews that were put in place during the height of the pandemic.”
Last June an opinion poll run by the Human Rights Law Centre found 83 per cent of Australians believed there should be a document setting out in clear language the rights and responsibilities that everyone has here – up from 66 per cent in 2019.
The poll of over 1,000 people across Australia also found that 74 per cent agreed that a charter of human rights would help people and communities to make sure the government does the right thing, compared to 56 per cent two years earlier.
A litmus test for human rights
de Krester said a national human rights charter would help politicians when creating laws and restrictions in an emergency environment, such as a pandemic.
“An Australian charter of human rights will help ensure that shared values like freedom, equality, dignity and respect are at the heart of laws, policies and government services. It will mean that if someone’s rights are violated, they can take action to seek justice. It will help to realise a fair go for all,” he said.
“In his victory speech, the prime minister spoke of a government that is caring. A society that leaves no one behind. An economy that works for the people and a nation in which no matter where you live or where you come from, the doors of opportunity are open to us all. A charter would play a key role in realising this vision.”