A Fairer Australia: Key Human Rights Priorities for the Gillard Government

On 14 September 2010, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre wrote to the Attorney-General, the Hon Rob McClelland, urging that the promotion and protection of human rights be a key aim and instrument of the Gillard Government. The Centre set out ten policies which the Government should commit to and implement as a matter of priority and urgency for a fairer Australia.

  1. The Gillard Government should proceed with its commitment to consolidate and strengthen anti-discrimination laws.  The Consolidation Project provides a unique opportunity to strengthen and modernise our anti-discrimination regime and improve our laws to ensure that they promote equality, provide comprehensive protection against discrimination, and establish effective reporting and measurement frameworks.  Strengthened equality laws would have a normative and educative impact and contribute to social cohesion, higher productivity and participation, and improved outcomes in areas including education and health.
  2. The Gillard Government should strengthen parliamentary engagement with human rights, including by re-introducing and enacting the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010.  This Bill requires the preparation of reasoned Statements of Compatibility for all proposed legislation, and establishes a Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee to scrutinise legislation for human rights compatibility and to conduct human rights inquiries.  The Committee’s functions should also include monitoring and reporting on Australia’s implementation of international human rights obligations, including the recommendations of UN human rights bodies.
  3. In genuine partnership with Indigenous Australians, the Gillard Government should proceed to a referendum to amend the Australian Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s First Peoples.  The Government should also commit to and undertake an inquiry into modernising the constitution to enshrine the right to equality and non-discrimination, and a due process guarantee.
  4. The Gillard Government should undertake a comprehensive review of Australia’s counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices.  Such laws, policies and practices should be amended as required to ensure that they are consistent with international human rights standards and are reasonable, necessary, proportionate and effective.
  5. The Gillard Government should immediately ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.  The Government should also expedite the establishment of mechanisms to ensure independent monitoring of all places of detention, including prisons, immigration detention centres, juvenile justice facilities, police cells, psychiatric hospitals and disability institutions.  The humane treatment of detainees contributes to rehabilitation, reduced recidivism, and safer and more cohesive communities.
  6. The Gillard Government should re-introduce and enact the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2009 to provide complementary protection to asylum seekers in accordance with Australia’s refugee and human rights law obligations.  The Gillard Government should also re-introduce and enact the Migration Amendment (Immigration Detention Reform) Bill 2009 and move to abolish mandatory immigration detention and off-shore processing, increase Australia’s humanitarian intake, and ensure access to adequate housing, health care, education and work rights for refugees and asylum-seekers.
  7. The Gillard Government should implement and institutionalise the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the basis for Indigenous affairs, including in relation to: the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples; the commitment to ‘Close the Gap’; the amendment of the Northern Territory Intervention and native title legislation; the provision of reparations to the Stolen Generations; the repayment of Stolen Wages; and Treaty negotiations.
  8. The Gillard Government should ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in line with the principle that all human rights are inter-dependent and indivisible.
  9. The Gillard Government should develop and implement a comprehensive, whole-of-government poverty alleviation and social inclusion strategy, with holistic, concrete and measurable programs and targets, including in the areas of Indigenous disadvantage, mental illness, violence against women and homelessness.
  10. The Gillard Government should further consider the development of a comprehensive federal Human Rights Act which provides legal recognition and protection of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and establishes mechanisms to promote human dignity, good government and accountability.

Together, these policies would strengthen Australia’s framework of laws and institutions, deepen our democracy, enhance social inclusion, promote good government, and contribute to the alleviation of poverty and disadvantage and the advancement of human dignity.