Australians would benefit from a Charter of Rights and Freedoms says UN High Commissioner

Addressing the #FreeAndEqual conference in Sydney this week, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, highlighted Australia’s lack of a national Charter of Human Rights & Freedoms.

“Australians would benefit greatly from a comprehensive human rights law to systematically protect all their rights,” Ms Bachelet said at the conference organised by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

She noted how Australians currently have to rely on a patchwork of laws that address different forms of discrimination, but pointed out that many of the laws desperately need updating and that too many gaps exist in the protection framework.

“In many ways, I think Australians have looked outwards to the international human rights mechanisms because of the lack of a comprehensive national human rights legislation or charter,” said Ms Bachelet.

Photo credit: UN Photo / Cia Pak

Photo credit: UN Photo / Cia Pak

Ms Bachelet – who is a former President of Chile and also sought refuge in Australia in 1975 following the capture, torture and death of her father during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile – expressed surprise about how conservative commentators here often moan about attention from the UN and its focus on international human rights laws.

“It is based on international standards that Australia has helped to create; which successive Australian Governments have voluntarily adopted; and which Australians themselves – people like you – have sought to engage and leverage, in your efforts to make Australia a better, more inclusive and humane place,” Ms Bachelet explained.

Tom Clarke, the Director of Campaigns at the Human Rights Law Centre, said  the push for creating an Australian Charter of Human Rights was picking up steam with thousands of people adding their name to the call for a Charter.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have in one place a clear list of all of the rights and freedoms that people in Australia should be able to enjoy and benefit from? A Charter of Human Rights is something that would ensure everyone – from school kids to new Australians – can learn what their rights are and what to do if they are violated,” said Mr Clarke.

He said Australia was at its best when our decisions and actions are guided by the values we all share – like fairness, respect and compassion.

“Human rights laws are about recognising that everyone, regardless of who you are or where you’re from, can live a decent, dignified life. Creating an Australian Charter of Rights is about things like making sure all children get a quality education regardless of their postcode and ensuring that if we get sick we can see a doctor regardless of our bank balance,” said Mr Clarke.