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Human Rights Act proposed by Committee, rejected by Government

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The Government says it won’t establish a Human Rights Act, despite a recommendation from a Parliamentary Committee.
human rights act

The Government says it won’t establish a Human Rights Act, despite a recommendation from a Parliamentary Committee.

The proposal was one of 17 suggestions included in a review of Australia’s human rights framework, handed down on Thursday. Later that day, the Federal Government rejected the Committee’s key recommendation.

Human rights are standards based on basic principles of dignity, equality and respect.

Here’s the latest.

What is a Human Rights Act?

A Human Rights Act (HRA) is a comprehensive set of laws outlining a country’s human rights protections. Australia is the only Western democracy with no Human Rights Act or Constitutional Charter.

Instead, it relies on civil rights protections outlined in the Constitution, international treaties and some national laws relating to human rights, like anti-discrimination legislation.

A recent global Human Rights Watch report flagged concern about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and First Nations deaths in custody.

Federal Government

A Parliamentary Committee recommended the Federal Government establish an HRA in 2009, but this was not implemented.

The Government at the time said it was concerned that such laws wouldn’t lead to better outcomes.

The following year, the Government released a Human Rights Framework to improve human rights education and strategies.

However, it did not have the same legislative power as a proposed HRA.

Human Rights Act proposal

The Government established an inquiry in 2023 to re-examine the potential for a national Human Rights Act.

Last week, the Parliamentary Committee handed down its final report. It formally recommended the Government draft a new HRA, based on a model offered by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The report said: “We need a comprehensive and effective national human rights framework to
tackle some of the difficult challenges facing Australia.”

Recommendations

The proposed HRA would integrate international human rights commitments into Australian law and ensure human rights are considered before new legislation is passed.

It would specifically protect the right to take part in public life and freedom of expression.

Some submissions to the Committee argued an HRA could have prevented the illegal Robodebt scheme or reduced its consequences, because it would have forced the then-Government to consider the debt-collection scheme’s human rights impacts.

Response

Labor and independent Commitee members supported an HRA.

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, however, said the Government has “no plans to introduce a federal Human Rights Act”.

The Government is expected to examine the report in full before it releases a formal response. It said it’s committed to protecting and enhancing “the human rights of all Australians… and Australia’s human rights framework”.

Federal Opposition members also opposed the HRA, claiming it would be “unnecessary, divisive and dangerous”.

They argued it could undermine Parliament’s ability to balance different rights through legislation and complicate legal processes involving human rights issues.

They claimed the HRA could potentially give too much power to the courts.

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