A group of leading community and legal organisations has today urged the Victorian Government to change Victoria’s Human Rights Charter to ensure it is more accessible, more effective and simpler to use. To coincide with the report of an independent reviewer being provided to the Attorney-General, the group has issued a Briefing Paper that outlines seven key priority recommendations that have the unanimous agreement between organisations that have significant experience and expertise in relation to the operation of the Charter.
“The eight-year review of the Victorian Human Rights Charter is an ideal opportunity to enhance the protection of human rights for all Victorians,” said Ben Schokman, the Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre. “The Andrews Government has committed to uphold and strengthen the Victorian Charter and to make the development of a human rights culture in Victoria a key priority. Now is the time to turn those commitments into action.”
The Charter’s independent reviewer, Mr Michael Brett Young, will provide his report to the Attorney-General today with his recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the Charter and improve its operation.
“It's clear from the submissions to the independent reviewer and the LIV's Charter Case Audit that the Charter is delivering increased human rights protections to Victorians – but it can be made better,” said the Law Institute of Victoria’s President, Katie Miller. “There are many things – some small, some big, some legislative, some cultural – that can be done to make the Charter simpler and more accessible and to embed a human rights culture in Victoria."
The Briefing Paper prepared by the group recommends a number of priority reform areas, including the ability to take human rights claims directly to court, the inclusion of social and economic rights, and embedding a human rights culture in Victoria.
The proper protection of human rights requires access to a remedy where rights have been infringed, says Liana Buchanan the Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres. “The Andrews Government has the ideal opportunity to give the Charter some teeth. Victorians whose rights have been breached must be able to take meaningful action including in the courts to address their problems,” said Ms Buchanan.
"The ability to take human rights claims directly to court is a necessity,” explained Professor Sarah Joseph, Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. “The current process where victims have to artificially ‘piggyback’ their human rights claim on another claim is unnecessarily complex. Rights risk becoming meaningless if they can’t be enforced.”
The group has also called for clarity about what agencies or authorities are covered by the Charter. “There remains ongoing uncertainty about whether public authorities, such as community housing providers, are covered by the Charter,” explained Lucy Adams, Manager and Principal Lawyer at Homeless Law. “Measures should be taken to provide certainty for both public authorities and members of the community.”
Emma King, CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service, said that the Charter should also be expanded to cover important social and economic rights, such as the rights to housing, health and education. “These are the rights that Victorians have clearly indicated are the most important to them,” said Ms King. “Protecting and promoting these rights is an important part of creating a fair and just Victorian community.”
Liberty Victoria’s Jamie Gardiner said the Charter is working well by increasing human rights considerations throughout the public service and by improving service delivery to the public, but that more could be done. “Developing a human rights culture is a long term project. A range of approaches, including increased education and training for the public sector and the community, are vital for the Victorian Government to make good on its commitment to build a stronger human rights culture in Victoria,” Mr Gardiner said.
A copy of the Briefing Paper is available here and background information about the Victorian Charter is provided below.
Castan Centre for Human Rights Law – Professor Sarah Joseph ph: (03) 9905 3327
Federation of Community Legal Centres – Liana Buchanan, Executive Officer ph: (03) 9652 1500
Human Rights Law Centre – Ben Schokman, Director of Advocacy ph: 0403 622 810
Justice Connect Homeless Law – Lucy Adams, Manager and Principal Solicitor ph: 0409 664 883
Law Institute of Victoria – Katie Miller, President ph: (03) 9607 9367
Liberty Victoria – Jamie Gardiner, Vice-President ph: 0412 795 491
Victorian Council of Social Service – Emma King, CEO ph: 0418 127 153
About the Briefing Paper
The Briefing Paper has been developed by key human rights, community and legal organisations with significant experience and expertise in relation to the operation of the Charter, and who represent the views of many marginalised and disadvantaged members of the Victorian community. The paper outlines recommendations that have unanimous agreement between these organisations and identifies seven key priority areas for reform of the Charter.
What is the Victorian Human Rights Charter?
The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the “Victorian Charter”) is legislation in Victoria that protects and promotes human rights. The Victorian Charter establishes a number of different mechanisms to ensure that human rights are taken into account when developing, interpreting and applying Victorian laws and policies. These mechanisms include:
- an assessment by Parliament of all new legislation to ensure compatibility with human rights;
- a legal obligation for all Victorian Government departments and agencies to act compatibly with human rights and to give proper consideration to human rights when making decisions;
- the ability of Victorian courts and tribunals to review acts and decisions of Government departments and agencies where they may not have respected human rights.
The Victorian Charter has been in operation for eight years.
Background to the Review
In March the Attorney-General, the Hon Martin Pakula MP, issued the terms of the reference for the eight year review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). Mr Michael Brett Young was appointed as an independent reviewer and is required to report to the Attorney-General with his recommendations on the Charter by 1 September 2015. Public submissions to the review were due by 4 June 2015.
Further information, including copies of public submissions, is available at: https://myviews.justice.vic.gov.au/2015-review-of-the-charter-of-human-rights.
The Law Institute of Victoria has prepared an infographic which provides an overview of these key recommendations aimed at clarifying, simplifying and making the Charter more accessible.