Victorian Attorney-General Should Commit to Strengthen Charter and Protection of Human Rights

On 10 December 2010, a coalition of over 70 human rights NGOs, community organisations, corporations and religious groups wrote to the new Victorian Attorney-General, the Hon Robert Clark MP, calling on him to strengthen the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act. The signatories wrote that, overall, the Charter has had a positive impact on:

  • governmental transparency and accountability;
  • legislative and policy development, including by integrating human rights considerations and safeguards into laws and processes; and
  • public service delivery and outcomes.

Most significantly, the Charter has been used in individual cases to uphold the rights and dignity of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, including people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, the elderly, people with mental illness and people with disability.

The legal rights (Part 2) and public authority duties (section 38) enshrined in the Charter, together with the ability to vindicate rights in legal proceedings, are crucial to the Charter’s effectiveness and the benefits referred to above.

The signatories also wrote that, notwithstanding these overall benefits, the Charter and associated policies and programs could be strengthened to better protect human rights and make Victoria a fairer, stronger and more inclusive community.

Accordingly, they called on the Baillieu Government to commit to a review of the Charter in accordance with section 44 of the Act and on the following terms:

  • The review should focus on the operation and impact of the Charter and not on whether Victoria needs a Charter, which was the focus of widespread community consultation in 2005.
  • The review should commit to strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights in Victoria or, at least, not abrogating or limiting existing human rights.
  • The review should consider ways in which to ensure that individuals and groups are aware of their human rights under the Charter and have ‘accessible, affordable and effective remedies’ where their human rights are violated or breached.
  • 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 independent review team should also consult with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission given its functions under Part 4 of the Charter.
  • The review should be evidence-based and involve consultation with key stakeholders, including advocates and representatives of marginalised and disadvantaged communities and groups.

A copy of the letter is here.