New Human Rights Action Plan a step forward for rights but needs stronger accountability measures

On 10 December 2012, the Australian Government released the final version of its National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP). The NHRAP represents a key plank of Australia’s Human Rights Framework and is intended to “outline future action for the promotion and protection of rights in Australia”. The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy, Anna Brown, welcomed the final version of the NHRAP, but said it should be strengthened to ensure more effective monitoring, implementation and measurement of human rights.

“The NHRAP is an important way of ensuring Australia’s international obligations are translated into practical, measureable action to improve the realisation of rights in Australia,” said Ms Brown.

”The NHRAP helps Australia move from ‘talking the talk’ to ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to implementing commitments made during Australia’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council,” said Ms Brown.

The NHRAP has been updated to include developments since the exposure draft was released, highlighting a number of human rights achievements in 2012 but also significant human rights concerns, such as the re-introduction of off-shore processing of asylum seekers and the passage of the damaging ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation.

“It goes without saying that any Government actions that do not promote human rights should not be included in a human rights action plan, including flagrant violations of international obligations such as the off-shore processing regime,” said Ms Brown.

The HRLC and other NGOs remain concerned about the NHRAP’s effectiveness.

“While the final plan represents a commendable list of 355 actions, it falls short of international best practice in a number of respects,” said Ms Brown. “We asked the Government to redraft actions to be goal or objective oriented and instead in many cases the action remains focused on ‘inputs’ and funding amounts rather than how and when particular measures of success will be reached.”

The NRHAP provides timeframes for only 35% of actions and performance indicators for 9%.

“It’s pleasing to see that the Government has responded to feedback from civil society and included an increased level of detail to better explain particular actions and their timeframes in some areas. However, the development of performance indicators and timeframes for all actions is essential if we want the NHRAP to drive sustained action and make a difference on the ground,” added Ms Brown.

In addition, the Australian Government has not offered an explanation for the removal or watering down of a number of the actions that were included in the exposure draft of the NHRAP released earlier in 2012.

“It’s disappointing to see key planks of the Government’s Human Rights Framework, such as education and capacity building, significantly weakened through the withdrawal of future funding,” said Ms Brown.

“The Government has also removed the modest commitment to develop a suite of human rights indicators in favour of a limited pilot project, a significant weakness that leaves us without a systematic method of measuring the effectiveness of Government policy in improving the human rights situation on the ground,” said Ms Brown. “Without a robust plan for implementation, monitoring and evaluation, the NHRAP runs the risk of stalling without any substantive results.”

The NHRAP should also drive action by State and Territory governments but without any contributions by NSW, Queensland and Western Australia this will be a difficult feat, and a number of commitments made by Victoria have been removed in the final version of the NHRAP.

“The lack of participation by some States in the NHRAP process is very disappointing and calls into question their commitment to human rights,” said Ms Brown.

The Attorney-General’s Department will be providing the HRLC with additional information about the removal of certain actions from the NHRAP and this information will be made available on the NHRAP website.

For more information and resources on the National Human Rights Action Plan process please visit the HRLC's dedicated website