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Parliament House of Australia in Canberra, March 20, 2024. © 2024 George Chan/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Photo

Last Thursday, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights released a report on Australia’s human rights framework. The Committee’s first recommendation was to establish a Human Rights Act.

Existing laws in Australia protect against discrimination and other human rights violations, but many rights protections are inadequate. This patchwork of laws leads to people and groups – particularly society’s most marginalized – slipping through the cracks.

As the report notes, “Our current piecemeal approach to human rights protection is inadequate to ensure rights and freedoms are properly respected, protected and promoted. We need human rights to be made real in everyday decision-making – not considered, at most, as an afterthought. Numerous royal commissions have shown us what happens when officials, both elected and unelected, fail to properly consider the effect of government action on the rights of vulnerable people.”

Following the report’s release, more than 100 Australian civil society groups welcomed the call for a Human Rights Act. The Inquiry report noted that nearly 90 percent of the thousands of submissions it received supported a federal Human Rights Act.

Australia is lagging behind other democracies by not having a national human rights act or charter. Canada, the United States, and South Africa all have a bill of rights in their constitutions. The United Kingdom and New Zealand have human rights acts, while countries such as IndiaTimor-Leste, and Argentina have comprehensive constitutional guarantees of human rights. The European Convention on Human Rights binds 47 countries.

An Australian Human Rights Act would reinforce commitments that Australia has already made under international law and serve as an enforceable standard to enable individuals to seek redress for rights violations. 

The Australian government now has even more evidence supporting the need for a human rights act. It should introduce draft legislation without delay, to protect the fundamental rights of everyone in Australia.

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