Free and Equal: An Australian conversation on human rights – QAI Submission

QAI made a submission in October 2019 to the Australian Human Rights Commission on Free and Equal: An Australian conversation on human rights.

QAI’s Recommendations:

  1. The Australian Human Rights Commission should support introduction of a federal Human Rights Act which protects the fundamental civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights contained in the United Nations treaties Australia has signed and ratified.
  2. QAI submits that a federal Human Rights Act should protect all civil and political rights, as well as a broad range of economic, social and cultural rights.
  3. In the initial period of operation of a Human Rights Act, court access could be limited to breaches of civil and political rights only, with the remaining rights progressively realised by becoming actionable after a designated period.
  4. A federal Human Rights Act should include an accessible enforcement mechanism and remedies for breach.
  5. QAI supports a model akin to the ‘dialogue mode’ of human rights protection implemented through the Queensland and Victorian human rights legislation, under which human rights are taken into account when developing, interpreting and applying the law and a dialogue between the different arms of government (legislature, executive and judiciary) is facilitated.
  6. The right to life, the right to freedom from torture and slavery, freedom from forced work, the right to liberty and security of person, humane treatment when deprived of liberty, and the right to a determined period if liberty is deprived, the right to a fair hearing and the rights of children in the criminal process should be absolute or non-derogable (not able to be denied, limited or restricted in any way). Other human rights are not absolute and can be subject to reasonable and proportionate limitations.
  7. A federal Human Rights Act should recognise the equal, inalienable human rights of all human beings and explicitly acknowledge that the exercise of one person’s human rights must respect the human rights and dignity of other humans.
  8. A federal Human Rights Act should include an independent cause of action for breaches of the human rights protected in the Act, the ability to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission and for the complaint to be heard and reconciled by the Commission. It should include the full range of judicial remedies for breach, including declarations, injunctions, orders to cease the offending conduct and damages, and should protect complainants against adverse costs orders, except in exceptional circumstances. A federal Human Rights Act should include provision for class actions to be brought, in recognition that human rights are often of special significance to a particular group, with standing given to appropriate representative organisations in the position to support or represent individuals and groups of people whose human rights have been breached and who have specialised skills or knowledge that is helpful for a particular group(s).
  9. The federal Government should provide a broad program of education to increase Australia’s literacy about human rights.
  10. Government must take the lead in modelling progressive change, such as by imposing and honouring quotas for the employment of persons with disability in government departments and requiring all government schools, social welfare, health and other services to be properly accessible and inclusive.
  11. The government should call on the Australian corporate sector and community organisations to pledge their commitment to protecting human rights and developing a human rights culture in Australia.
  12. The Australian Human Rights Commission will have a pivotal role in educating individuals, the community and government departments and agencies on their rights and responsibilities under the human rights legislation and international law and supporting attendance at United Nations conferences and sessions.
  13. QAI submits that a federal Human Rights Act should include provision for statutory review of the legislation within designated timeframes. Review must be authentically undertaken, with action in response to recommendations monitored, including review of relevant case studies, reports by NGOs and reporting by the United Nations.
  14. It is vital that adequate resources are committed to realise human rights law, policy and practice.

You can read the full submission here.