Ten Human Rights Policies for a Fairer and Stronger Victoria

On 2 December 2010, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre, wrote to the Hon Robert Clark MP, Attorney-General for Victoria in the new Baillieu Government,  setting out ten policies which the Centre considers the Victorian Government should implement as a matter of priority for a stronger, fairer and safer Victoria.

Respect for human rights is one of the foundations of a community that is fair, just, cohesive and inclusive.  In our view, the promotion and protection of human rights should be a key aim and instrument of the Baillieu Government.

  1. The Baillieu Government should proceed with a review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 in accordance with section 44 of that Act. 
    The review presents an opportunity to conduct an evidence-based assessment of the operation of the Charter and the ways in which it could be reformed to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in law and practice.  In accordance with the commitments and statements of the Liberal-National Coalition, including your column in the November 2010 edition of the HRLRC Bulletin, this review should consider ways in which the Charter could be to strengthened to:
    (a) enhance transparency, scrutiny and accountability of government;
    (b) ensure compliance with international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and
    (c) provide more ‘accessible, affordable and effective remedies for genuine injustice’. 
    The review should be conducted by an independent review team, including at least one member with significant expertise in human rights law and practice, with the secretariat support of the Department of Justice Human Rights Unit.  The review should be evidence-based and involve consultation with key stakeholders, including advocates and representatives of marginalised and disadvantaged communities and groups.
  2. The Baillieu Government should ensure that Victoria Police are provided with comprehensive training regarding human rights-compliant policing and particularly human rights-compliant use of force. 
    The inquest into the death of Tyler Cassidy has heard evidence as to systemic failings in police training, including with respect to engaging with people who are experiencing mental health crises or are otherwise vulnerable.  Better resources and training are required to equip Victoria Police to ensure the safety and uphold the rights of their members and the broader community.
  3. The Baillieu Government should ensure that Victoria’s integrity and anti-corruption system includes appropriate institutions and procedures for the investigation of police-related deaths. 
    The current system, whereby police-related deaths are primarily investigated by Victoria Police, undermines public confidence and weakens police accountability.  The investigation of police-related deaths should be undertaken by a body that is hierarchically, institutionally and practically independent of Victoria Police.  The independent body must have all the features necessary to ensure that investigations are independent, effective, adequate, prompt, subject to public scrutiny and involve the family of the deceased.
  4. The Baillieu Government should establish an independent, statutory, publicly accountable, adequately resourced monitoring and oversight body for places of detention. 
    Victoria’s Ombudsman has published a number of recent reports highly critical of detention conditions and practices, including in youth detention facilities, police cells and the Melbourne Custody Centre.  The reports have variously described conditions as ‘appalling’, ‘disgraceful’ and incompatible with basic human rights.  An independent inspectorate, similar to that established under the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2003 (WA), could examine systemic issues in detention, provide independent and expert advice to the government and parliament, and enhance community confidence in the correctional system.  The current Office of Correctional Services Review, an internal business unit within the Department of Justice, is not sufficiently independent, empowered or publicly accountable to undertake this function.
  5. The Baillieu Government should undertake a comprehensive review and modernisation of the Corrections Act 1986 and related correctional laws, policies and practices.  
    The humane treatment of detainees contributes to rehabilitation, social reintegration, reduced recidivism, and safer and more cohesive communities.  Correctional laws, policies and practices should be amended to ensure that they are consistent with international human rights standards and are reasonable, necessary, proportionate and effective.
  6. The Baillieu Government should implement and institutionalise the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the basis for Indigenous affairs in Victoria.
    The Declaration should form the framework for Indigenous policies and programs, including in relation to: the commitment to ‘Close the Gap’; native title negotiations; the provision of reparations to the Stolen Generations; and the repayment of Stolen Wages.
  7. The Baillieu Government should amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to include ‘homelessness’ and ‘irrelevant criminal record’ as protected attributes. 
    Discrimination on these grounds remains lawful and widespread in Victoria and can result in social exclusion, unemployment, prolonged homelessness and poorer health outcomes.  The Independent Review of the Equal Opportunity Act conducted by Julian Gardner in June 2008 recommended that Victoria’s equal opportunity framework prohibit discrimination on the grounds of homelessness and irrelevant criminal record.  Discrimination on the basis of irrelevant criminal record is already prohibited in other Australian jurisdictions, including Tasmania, the Northern Territory and at the Commonwealth level under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth).  The Baillieu Government should also introduce a legislative spent convictions regime, as already exists in most Australian jurisdictions.
  8. The Baillieu Government should enhance access to justice by increasing funding to community legal centres, Victoria Legal Aid and interpretative services.
  9. The Baillieu Government should also continue to promote and encourage pro bono service provision, including through governmental legal service procurement arrangements. 
    As you wrote in our November 2010 Bulletin, it is crucial to access to justice and the rule of law that the justice system is accessible, efficient and effective.  Better funding of, and support to, access to justice services such as community legal centres would, to use your words, ‘improve access, reduce costs and waiting times, uphold rights and support the independent, impartial and efficient operation of our courts and tribunals’.
  10. The Baillieu Government should develop and implement a comprehensive, whole-of-government poverty alleviation and social inclusion strategy
    This strategy should comprise holistic, concrete and measurable programs and targets, including in the areas of Indigenous disadvantage, mental illness, violence against women and homelessness.

Together, these policies would strengthen Victoria’s framework of laws and institutions, deepen our democracy, enhance social inclusion, promote good government, contribute to the alleviation of poverty and disadvantage, and make Victoria a fairer, stronger and safer place.