Human Rights Act outlined
A proposed new human rights model includes new obligations for public servants.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has proposed a draft Human Rights Act that will require new laws, policies, and programs to be considered for bureaucrats.
The aim is to integrate human rights considerations into the culture of public administration in Australia, including a requirement for public servants to consult with directly affected people, such as First Nations Australians, children, and those with disabilities.
AHRC President Rosalind Croucher says the ongoing conversation about Australia's human rights protection system has been developing over the past three years with the objective of creating an inclusive and robust legal framework.
She believes that it is essential to introduce better human rights protections at the federal level, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Croucher, the robodebt royal commission has revealed the need for a more rigorous system of accountability for human rights concerns in public administration.
Decision-makers should be obligated to consider the impact of their actions on human rights, she added.
The proposed law reforms will affect the way federal court judges decide cases, requiring judicial officers to interpret legislation consistently with human rights.
In its position paper, launched as part of the Free + Equal campaign, the commission suggested a process for its officeholders to conciliate complaints about alleged breaches of human rights and consider whether these rights have been met.
The commission claims that the proposed reforms would create a clearer path for legal remedies in Australia, should people feel their human rights have been violated.
The AHRC argued that a national framework is needed to create obligations for the federal government to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights.
According to the commission, human rights are relevant to all aspects of government and public life.
Despite having anti-discrimination laws and some protections of rights in common law and the constitution, Australia has limited protection under its law for rights such as free speech or freedom from torture. Furthermore, most of Australia's international commitments to protecting human rights have not been translated into its national laws, creating a hole in its legal architecture.
The AHRC noted that Australia is the only liberal democracy in the world without a national act or charter to protect human rights.
Some states and territories, such as Queensland, Victoria, and the ACT, have passed their own human rights acts.
However, this patchwork of protections means that human rights are not consistently protected across the nation.
The AHRC will publish a final report for its Free + Equal campaign later this year.