From 2020 until today, State and Federal Governments as well as many private companies have habitually breached Australia’s international human rights obligations. For example, the right to liberty of movement is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as is the right to freely consent to medical and scientific experimentation absent economic or social pressure.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a Federal body which was set up, under the auspices of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, to promote and defend human rights in Australia. Many people don’t realise that the Act actually includes within it the various human rights covenants and treaties Australia is a signatory to (including the ICCPR) and that it bestows upon the Commission the duties and functions to ensure they are being complied with.

This is the closest we come in Australia to enshrining international human rights doctrine into domestic law. And, it’s much closer than most people realise.

Seven days ago we sent the below letter to the relatively new Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Ms Lorraine Finlay. As explained in our letter, the Australian Human Rights Commission has failed to perform their statutory function over the last two years. In particular, the following functions within the Act have seemingly been ignored by the Commission;

  1. to “inquire into any act or practice that may be inconsistent with or contrary to any human right” (and in particular, with any covenant or declaration specifically included in the Act), and to “effect a settlement of the matters that gave rise to the inquiry”; and
  2. to perform the functions conferred on the Commission by section 31 which have to do with equal opportunity in employment and occupation (including functions relating to any company that discriminate against employees on the basis of their medical record); and
  3. to examine enactments (ie; laws) for the purpose of ascertaining whether those laws are, or would be, inconsistent with or contrary to any human right; and to report to the Minister the results of same.

We wrote to the Commission to ask why they have not performed these functions over the past two years. We gave the Commissioner some time to consider the letter and to speak to us before publishing it. Like every other body and citizen, the AHRC has the opportunity to learn from the past two years and to act differently in future. With the appointment of Ms Finlay, who has a track record of doing what’s right even when it hasn’t proven popular, an opportunity for change beckons. The letter concluded as follows:

“[In the future], we should see a proportionate and evidence-based response to a public health issue by a Government which is acutely aware and continually reminded of its human rights obligations. The AHRC should be a key party in advising on and overseeing this plan. In that way, we may see a Government response which does not marginalise and demonise citizens who simply see things differently to whoever is in power at the time, and who make a decision pursuant to their own sovereign individuality as a result. Sovereignty, as per the ICCPR, is the bedrock of human rights.”

Download and read full letter here.

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