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The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (Committee) has released its “Inquiry into Australia’s Human Rights Framework” report (report). The Committee examined whether Australia should pass or ratify a federal Human Rights Act and scrutinised, amongst other things, the scope and effectiveness of Australia’s Human Rights Framework.

The report made a number of key recommendations including the introduction of a Human Rights Act, consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in relation to Indigenous peoples’ right to culture in a manner that is consistent with international human rights laws, recommendation that the government commit to funding ongoing human rights education for the community and in schools, and ensuring that the Australian Human Rights Commission is adequately funded to perform its educative and other functions.

Australia does not have a Human Rights Act and although there are some sections that aim to safeguard certain civil and political rights, the Constitution does not contain a bill of rights. Previous efforts to incorporate a Human Rights Bill have all failed.

At a state level, some jurisdictions such as Queensland, Victoria and the ACT have enacted human rights legislation. The ACT was the first Australian jurisdiction to pass human rights legislation and passed the Human Rights Act in 2004. Victoria ratified the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act in 2006 and Queensland passed the Human Rights Act in 2019. New South Wales does not have human rights legislation.

According to Law Council of Australia President, Greg McIntyre SC, “The report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on its inquiry into Australia’s Human Rights Framework reflects that all persons – Australian citizens, non-citizens, ordinary and marginalised people – are equal before the law and are afforded human rights.

“Unfortunately, under our current patchwork of laws, there is inadequate protection for many rights and when people’s rights are breached, there may not be a means through which they can seek effective remedy,” he says.

“… [T]he Law Council has been advocating the adoption of a federal Human Rights Act for many years, as set out in our Human Rights Charter Policy. The introduction of a comprehensive federal Human Rights Act is long overdue.

“Such an Act would not only better implement Australia’s international human rights obligations in a coherent way, but also bring the country into line with other Western democracies that provide much-needed legal remedies for those whose rights have been breached,” McIntyre says.