Setting the Human Rights Agenda: HRLRC Policy Papers

The Human Rights Law Resource Centre has prepared a series of policy papers to inform and advance the human rights agenda in Australia.  Each brief identifies a human rights problem or opportunity, discusses the imperative for action, analyses relevant evidence, and makes concrete recommendations for Australia to advance the agenda at the international and national levels. The following Policy Papers are available:



Policy Paper on Strengthening the UN Human Rights Council: Actions for Australia (released 21 September 2010)

The work, functioning and status of the UN Human Rights Council will be reviewed in 2011.  An open-ended working group established by the Council to discuss this review is scheduled for 25 to 29 October 2010.

Coincidentally, Australia will participate in the Council’s Universal Periodic Review process from early- to mid-2011.

Both the Council review and the UPR provide an opportunity for Australia to engage with the Council in an active, constructive and principled manner and to further contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground.

To this end, the Centre has prepared a Policy Paper on Strengthening the Human Rights Council which outlines concrete proposals as to how Australia should contribute to strengthening the work and functioning of the Human Rights Council, both through:

  • best practice engagement with the Council and its various mechanisms; and
  • proactive participation and leadership in the review of the Council.


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Policy Paper on Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific: Australia's Role and Responsibilities (released 28 June 2010)

As the Federal Government prepares its response to the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, ‘Human Rights and the Asia-Pacific: Opportunities and Challenges’, this policy brief on 'Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific: Australia’s Role and Responsibilities' contends that Australia should develop a comprehensive policy on human rights in the region.  The brief makes 21 concrete recommendations for action in the following areas:

  • Human Rights as a Key Instrument and Aim of Australian Engagement in the Region
  • Adopting a Human Rights-Based Approach to Aid and Development Assistance
  • Adopting a Human Rights-Based Approach to Military and Security Cooperation
  • Empowering Communities and Supporting NGOs
  • Human Rights Treaty Ratification and Implementation
  • Strengthening Human Rights Institutions
  • Enhancing Parliamentary Engagement with Human Rights
  • Human Rights Envoys and Ambassadors


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Policy Paper on an Agenda to Promote Equality and Address Discrimination in Australia (released 24 May 2010)

The policy paper on ‘Promoting Equality and Addressing Discrimination in Australia’ identifies that the law can and should play a central normative and educational role in advancing meaningful equality for all Australians.  This requires a shift away from an outdated and ineffective complaints-based, remedial model of anti-discrimination laws.  Instead, Australian law should promote a rights-based model of substantive equality which emphasises equal outcomes and addresses structural causes of inequality.  This would contribute to a more fair, cohesive and productive society.

The brief makes 7 concrete recommendations for action, including that:

  1. The Government should release an exposure draft for a single, comprehensive Equality Act which promotes and enshrines a legal right to substantive equality.
  2. The federal Equality Act should include a provision mandating that, after four years of operation, an inquiry be held into a constitutional amendment aimed at enshrining the right to equality.
  3. The Federal Government should require public bodies to consider equality in policy development, spending and service delivery.
  4. The Federal Government, its agencies and public authorities should use public procurement to promote equality and assess suppliers on the progress that they are making in reducing inequality.
  5. The Federal Government should show political leadership and support for the equality agenda by appointing a Minister for Human Rights and Equality who should hold a seat in cabinet.
  6. All public bodies should produce and publish annual equality reports.
  7. The Australian Human Rights Commission Act should be amended to provide that all Commissioners are to submit a report, to be tabled in Parliament, regarding the status of human rights in Australia within their areas of responsibility and containing concrete recommendations to enhance human rights in these areas.  Further, the Commission should be adequately resourced to discharge this function.


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Policy Paper on Protecting Privacy while Responding to Terrorism (released 3 May 2010)

The policy paper on 'Protecting Privacy whilst Responding to Terrorism' contends that the Australian Government should become a world leader in protecting the rights of its people to be safe from both terrorism and from undue interference with privacy.  Governments have a duty to protect the rights, lives and safety of people within their territory from legitimate threats of terrorist attacks.  However, protecting the community from terrorism and protecting human rights are not mutually exclusive.

The brief sets out the steps for the Australian Government to take to implement the approach to privacy protection recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism.  In particular it sets out important steps to be taken domestically, in both law and policy, and also opportunities to lead international developments such as a global declaration on data protection.


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Policy Paper on Foreign Policy and Human Rights (released 6 April 2010)

The policy paper on 'Foreign Policy and Human Rights' contends that human rights should be both a key goal and a key instrument of Australian foreign policy.  It sets out that, despite identifying ourselves as a ‘principled advocate of human rights for all’, and demonstrating significant commitment to human rights in practice, Australia has not developed a comprehensive, consistent and coherent policy on human rights and foreign affairs.  Such a policy could integrate human rights in all areas of Australian foreign affairs and capitalise on the benefits of doing so.

The brief maintains that Australia’s approach to human rights and foreign policy should be progressive, principled and persistent.  It sets out 14 concrete recommendations for action at the international, regional and domestic levels under the headings of:

  • a principled approach to universal human rights and accountability;
  • multilateralism and engagement with the United Nations; and
  • empowering communities and supporting NGOs.


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Policy Paper on Business and Human Rights (released 22 March 2010)

The policy paper on ‘Business and Human Rights’ contends that the further development and operationalisation of the business and human rights agenda presents a significant opportunity and responsibility for Australia, both at the international and domestic levels.  It contains 15 recommendations for Australian action at the international and local levels.

The brief makes 6 concrete recommendations for Australian action at the international level, including explicitly adopting the Special Representative’s framework as a basis for Australia’s approach to corporate human rights law and policy, and conducting conduct human rights impact assessments of proposed multilateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements, together with major public-private projects.

The brief makes 8 recommendations for Australian action at the local level, including using public procurement to reinforce the responsibility of business to respect human rights and to promote socially and environmentally responsible governance, and amending the Corporations Act 2001 to require (or at the very least explicitly permit) directors to consider human rights issues as an aspect of their duty to act in the best interests of the company.


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