Government shouldn’t sacrifice human rights for short-term political gain

The Federal Government is slashing funding for human rights education and rule of law initiatives for short-term political gain, says a leading human rights organisation. As part of its political commitment to delivering a budgetary surplus in 2012/13, the Government has said that it will not fund any new projects under either the ‘Human Rights Education Grants Scheme’ or the ‘Grants to Australian Organisations Program’ this year.

“The Government is cutting crucial investment in human rights – which are essential for a healthy, participatory and productive society – for short-term political gain,” said Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

“Respecting and protecting human rights is never more important than in times of uncertainty and austerity,” he said.

The Human Rights Education Grants Scheme supported a range of non-profit organisations to provide education and training about human rights. The Scheme was established after a major national inquiry in 2009 found that education should be the “highest priority” in promoting respect for human rights in Australia. At the time, the Government fully endorsed this recommendation, while rejecting another key recommendation that Australia enact a Charter of Human Rights.

“According to the Government’s human rights policy, called ‘Australia’s Human Rights Framework’, education is the ‘centrepiece’. “The decision to cut funding for human rights education is a repudiation of the Government’s own policy and promise,” said Mr Lynch.

The Grants to Australian Organisations Program (‘GAOP’), which has also been cut for 2012/13, provides funding to community organisations to strengthen access to justice and the rule of law. Both the Human Rights Education Grants Scheme and GAOP are administered by the Attorney-General’s Department.

“Just weeks ago, the Federal Government was spruiking its commitment to human rights and the rule of law as part of the successful pitch for a seat on the UN Security Council,” said Mr Lynch. “It is deeply disappointing that with the seat now secure, the Government is cutting funds to valuable programs designed to actually deliver on this commitment.”

In recent months, a number of high ranking UN experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have warned that reduced investment in human rights in response to economic crises risks inflaming social tensions and impacts most adversely on the poor and vulnerable.

“While delivering a paper-thin budgetary surplus may provide a short-term bump in opinion polls, investing in human rights over the long-term promotes security, peace and prosperity,” said Mr Lynch.


For further information or comments, please contact: Phil Lynch, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre – 0438 776 433 or