frequently asked questions
What’s this all about?
The very concept of human rights – that we should all treat each other with basic decency and respect – is not something we can take for granted.
Australians overwhelmingly believe that we should be all treated fairly and equally – that who you are, where you’re from or what you look like shouldn’t determine your opportunities in life. But without a Charter of Rights, we have to put our blind trust in politicians to do the right thing. And we know from our history that governments don’t always do the right thing!
Now is the time for all of us to make sure the values we believe in – like fairness and equality – are properly protected. We need an Australian Charter of Human Rights so that everyone’s rights are protected and people have the power to hold governments to account when they violate our basic human rights.
So we’re asking people to stand up, speak up and get involved in making it a reality. Democracy is more than ticking a box once every four years. This is a chance for everyone – no matter where we’re from or who we vote for – to come together to build a strong Charter of Human Rights for Australia, to shape the future we want.
Does Australia need a Charter of Human Rights?
Yes. Australia is the only western democracy without a national Human Rights Act, Bill of Rights or Charter of Rights.
We need a Charter of Rights to protect all of us from the Australian Government crossing the line and breaching our human rights.
In 2009, the largest ever nationwide consultation on human rights protections was conducted, with almost 9 out of 10 Australians consulted supporting a Charter of Rights. An independent panel of experts headed by Father Frank Brennan recommended that Australia adopt a Charter of Human Rights (read the report summary and recommendations).
What will a Charter of Human Rights do?
A Charter of Rights will do two vital things:
Firstly, the government will have to properly take into account our human rights when creating new laws and policies and delivering services – like aged care, Medicare, Centrelink disability services, and education funding.
Secondly, people will have the power to hold the government to account if it does cross the line and violate our rights.
What kind of rights would it protect?
An Australian Charter should protect all of our fundamental human rights – everything from our right to see a doctor when we’re sick, to ensuring all kids get a good education whether their parents are rich or poor, and for the government not to intrude in our private lives.
Concerned citizens should be able to come together and speak out on the issues we care strongly about, so free speech and the rights to gather together and protest also need to be protected. And our right to be treated equally and to be free from discrimination needs stronger protection, as does freedom from torture to stop our government ever playing a part in unforgivable human rights abuses.
The Australian Charter of Rights that the Human Rights Law Centre is currently drafting would protect in law all of the fundamental human rights set out in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What form would the Charter take, what’s the model?
The most effective protection for our human rights would be a Charter of Human Rights in our Constitution – similar to Canada or South Africa after apartheid.
Changing our Constitution would require a referendum. However, the Australian Parliament can create a legislative Charter of Human Rights at any time. A legislative Charter could be changed by the Parliament at any time without needing a referendum.
Governments have held various consultations and inquiries, and there are number of ways to get it done, but the Human Rights Law Centre says the two key points are:
The Charter should protect all human rights and all of us – politicians can’t pick and choose which rights or who deserves human rights protections.
It must be enforceable – people must have the power to take action if their rights are violated, because there’s no point saying you have a Charter if you can’t do anything to protect your human rights when the government breaches them.
What are the chances of achieving a Charter of Rights in the current political climate?
The Australian Parliament has the power to pass legislation to create a Charter of Human Rights at any time. Our task is to convince enough MPs that this is something people feel strongly about and want to see happen.
The good news is that both the Labor Party and the Australian Greens are already supportive. The Greens have a policy to create a Charter of Rights and Labor’s policy platform includes a commitment to consider whether Australia’s human rights framework “could be enhanced through a statutory charter of rights”.
So with a Federal election due to be held in the first half of 2019, we want to be ready to build on these promising policies and put this issue firmly on the political agenda.
Together we can transform Australia’s human rights landscape.
How can people get involved?
We want to bring together people from all walks of life. People who – despite differences – are all united in our shared belief that our communities are better when we all treat each other with respect.
We’ve got a range of community activities planned and will be unveiling the text of our Charter of Human Rights later in the year. The best thing you can do right now is to sign up via our petition to stay informed or help us build the campaign by making a donation today. Thanks!
WHY DO WE NEED A CHARTER OF RIGHTS?
The Human Rights Law Centre’s executive director, Hugh de Kretser, delivered RMIT’s 2018 Higinbotham Lecture, where he put forward the case for an Australian Charter of Human Rights.
The full transcript of the lecture is available to download here.
We’ll be developing a series of resources for any organisations or individuals who want to learn more about how a Charter of Rights would protect human rights in our law and give people the power to hold governments to account. We’ll also be sharing notes and a checklist for anyone keen to visit their local MP about this issue.
So stay tuned and if you haven’t already make sure you sign up for our updates!
Victoria’s charter of human rights & responsibilities
Victoria’s Charter of Rights came into effect in 2008 and protects 20 human rights.
Over the years the Human Rights Law Centre has produced a number of resources about Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights including a compilation of 101 case studies of how the Charter helped people protect and promote their human rights in its first five years. You’ll also find guides about using the Charter in advocacy work. Click here to visit the Human Rights Law Centre’s collection.