The review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities announced by the Attorney-General, the Hon Robert Clark, today is a significant opportunity to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in Victoria says a leading human rights centre. The review, which is to be conducted by the parliamentary Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, will consider ‘options for reform or improvement of the regime for protecting and upholding rights and responsibilities’. The Committee is due to report by 1 October 2011.
According to Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, “The review of the Charter is an opportunity for the Baillieu Government to strengthen the law to better protect human rights and make Victoria a fairer, stronger and more inclusive community.”
“Respect for human rights is essential for a community that is fair, just, inclusive and cohesive,” said Mr Lynch. “There is strong evidence that comprehensive and effective legal protection of human rights is an important factor contributing to their practical realisation.”
According to Mr Lynch, “The legal promotion and protection of human rights should be a key priority for the Baillieu Government in delivering on its commitment to a ‘fair and just’ Victoria and enhanced transparency and accountability in government.” Mr Lynch said that “The comprehensive legal protection of human rights is particularly important for vulnerable or disadvantaged groups, including people who are homeless, people with mental illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people with disability.”
According to the Human Rights Law Centre, while the Charter, which was enacted in 2006, has not been a panacea to disadvantage or remedied or prevented every human rights breach, there is strong evidence that it has had a positive impact on:
- legislative and policy development, including through enhanced scrutiny and by integrating human rights considerations and safeguards into laws and processes; and
- public service delivery and outcomes, both in effecting systemic reform and in individual cases concerning the rights and dignity of vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
Mr Lynch said that while the Charter may not be the “be-all and end-all of justice and fairness for Victorians” it is a “valuable and necessary law and assists to fill gaps in human rights protections in an efficient and cost-effective way.”
The Human Rights Law Centre said that while the review is welcome, it is imperative that it:
- focus on the operation and impact of the Charter, not on whether Victoria needs a human rights act, which was the focus of widespread community consultation in 2005 and affirmed through the extensive National Human Rights Consultation in 2009;
- commit to strengthen the legal promotion and protection of human rights or, at least, not abrogate or limit existing human rights; and
- be evidence-based and involve consultation with key stakeholders, including the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and members and representatives of disadvantaged communities and groups.
“It is critical that the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee hears first hand from Victorians who work with the Charter and disadvantaged groups who have benefited from its protection”.
The terms of reference are at http://www.gazette.vic.gov.au/gazette/Gazettes2011/GG2011S128.pdf.