Australia needs a Human Rights Act now

May 13, 2024 |

Our society is one where every child should have a great education, regardless of their postcode, and where every individual has quality healthcare and a safe and secure place to call home, regardless of their bank balance. But that isn’t a reality for everyone. 

One reason for this is that we don’t have a requirement for human rights standards to be considered when governments are making laws and running services. Instead, people and communities have to navigate a complicated patchwork of rights when they are being breached. 

For these reasons, the Federation of Community Legal Centres is standing with our member Community Legal Centre, Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), and other organisations across the legal, human rights and community sectors, in campaigning for an Australian Human Rights Act to be enshrined in federal law. 

A national Human Rights Act would require the government to consider human rights in its decisions, policies and services. It would give people a legislative tool with which to take action when their rights have been violated. But whilst there is widespread support – three in four Australians were in favour of a national Human Rights Act according to the most recent opinion poll – getting it over the legislative line is no easy feat.  

One of the challenges is a lack of general understanding of what a Human Rights Act is, and why we need one. The same poll that found three in four Australians support an Act also found that 51 per cent of Australians think that one is already in place.  

To make this a legislative priority, and to demonstrate to the Federal Government that there is both need and enthusiasm for an Australian Human Rights Act, we urge the social and community sectors to speak out and be heard on this important issue. 

The benefits 

In Victoria, public advocacy and political will led to a Victorian Human Rights Charter since 2006. Community lawyers in Victoria use the Victorian Human Rights Charter to help people have their rights respected. They use our charter to defend the rights of minority groups, such as children and young people, and people with disability.  

Let’s look a real-life example. In Bendigo, racially motivated protests broke out surrounding the building of a mosque. When the protestors took the issue to court, the proponents of the mosque were able to leverage the Victorian Human Rights Charter to uphold their human right to religious freedom. Without the Victorian Human Rights Charter, Muslims in Bendigo may not have had a place of worship in which to exercise this right. 

There are 100 other examples of how the Victorian Human Rights Charter and the Human Rights Acts in Queensland and the ACT has been used to uphold human rights on the HRLC’s 101 cases website. 

But in states where human rights are not recognised in the state legislation, and at the federal level, these wins would not have been possible. 

The bottom line? 

An Australian Human Rights Act would have a preventative effect on human rights violations, and would provide a powerful tool to challenge injustice, and will help give our community a better understanding of their human rights and freedoms. 

But it needs civil society’s support. 

Get involved 

A Federal Parliamentary inquiry into whether Australia should have a Human Rights Act is due to report on 30 May 2024. 

At this critical moment, we’re asking supporters to: 

  • Write to your Federal MP demanding a Human Rights Act now. 
  • Share your examples of using the Victorian Human Rights Charter with the media. 
  • Raise awareness of the issue with friends, family and colleagues in the lead up to 30 May. 
  • Join the campaign here. 

You can find out more here. 

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