Government must seize the moment for a National Human Rights Act

A new parliamentary report recommending a National Human Rights Act as part of a revitalised Human Rights Framework brings Australia closer than ever before to establishing the basic legal protections that Australians need.

The report, tabled in Federal Parliament today, includes an example of legislation for a National Human Rights Act, building on decades of work and reinforcing recommendations from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark Free + Equal report.

The Commission’s President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, welcomed the Committee’s report and urged the Government to act on its recommendations.

“Human rights are not adequately protected at the national level. Whenever laws are made, their impact on people’s rights and wellbeing should be front of mind. We have before us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to anchor the protection of basic rights in law. The time is right to strengthen Australia’s human rights framework.

“We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who we are or where we live. A Human Rights Act would embed these values into public life and promote better understanding of human rights. It would give people access to justice if their rights are violated and make governments more accountable for protecting human rights – no matter which party is in power,” Professor Croucher said.

The report, published by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, concludes the Committee’s Inquiry into Australia’s human rights framework. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus initiated the Inquiry in March 2023, in response to a Position Paper by the Commission, which outlined a model for a National Human Rights Act.

The Commission will host a major national conference next week examining Australia’s human rights framework, where key figures from the Australian and international legal and human rights community will back calls for the Federal Government to legislate a National Human Rights Act.

“Australia’s current human rights framework is outdated, ineffective, and in desperate need of reform. In addition to a Human Rights Act, we need to strengthen federal anti-discrimination laws, ensure greater parliamentary oversight of human rights, and educate the community and policy makers about human rights,” Professor Croucher said.

“The Commission strongly supports the Committee’s recommendations for a renewed National Human Rights Framework. These reinforce the recommendations we made in our Free and Equal report to Parliament last December.

“Policy failures like Robodebt and evidence from the Disability Royal Commission have focused community attention on the need for better human rights protections.”

Labor MP Josh Burns, who chaired the Parliamentary Inquiry, spoke in Parliament when he tabled the report this morning, along with other members of the Committee.

Civil society has strongly supported calls for a National Human Rights Act, and many groups – including the Human Rights Law Centre, Amnesty International, Civil Liberties Australia and the Australian Council of Social Services – made submissions to the Inquiry.

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