Legal issues - Australian human rights framework

Budget Review 2010-11 Index

Budget 2010–11: Legal issues and the Attorney-General’s portfolio

Australian human rights framework

Diane Spooner

The Government is going to provide $18.3 million over four years to implement a new framework for the ‘protection and promotion’ of human rights in Australia.[1]

On 30 September 2009, the Report on the Consultation into Human Rights in Australia (the Report) was presented to the Attorney-General by Father Frank Brennan AO. The Report contained 31 recommendations to Government; including that Australia adopt a federal Human Rights Act.[2] According to the statistics provided in Appendix H of the Report, 27 888 submissions were in favour of a Human Rights Act, and 4 203 were against.

In its response to the Report, Australian Human Rights Framework (the Framework), the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland in his Foreword states:

The Framework does not include a Human Rights Act or Charter. While there is overwhelming support of human rights in our community, many Australians remain concerned about the possible consequences of such an Act. The Government believes that the enhancement of human rights should be done in a way that as far as possible unites, rather than divides, our community. The Government is committed to positive and practical change to promote and protect human rights. Advancing the cause of human rights in Australia would not be served by an approach that is divisive or creates an atmosphere of uncertainty or suspicion in the community.[3]

The first and key recommendation of the Report was that education be the highest priority for improving and promoting human rights in Australia, and this is reflected in the Government’s response in the Budget. The $18.3 million will go towards targeted education measures, increased parliamentary scrutiny, consolidated anti-discrimination laws and a National Action Plan on Human Rights.[4]

The Government will provide funding of $2 million over the next four years to non-government organisations for the development and delivery of human rights education and engagement programs for the community.  The Government will also provide an additional $6.6 million over four years to the Australian Human Rights Commission to enable it to expand its community education role and to provide information and support for human rights education programs.

In relation to increased Parliamentary scrutiny, the Framework proposes a statutory Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights which will scrutinise Bills, and the Government also intends to legislate that each new bill and piece of delegated legislation subject to disallowance will be accompanied by a statement which assesses the proposed legislation for human rights compatibility. There is little detail on the funding of a new Joint Committee, but the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee has deferred its inquiry and report into the future direction and role of itself until ‘after the introduction of legislation to establish the proposed Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’.[5]

[1].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 94.

[2].    F Brennan, National Human Rights Consultation Report, September 2009, recommendation 18, p. xxxiv, viewed 18 May 2010,$file/NHRC+Report+(Recommendations).pdf   

[3].    Australian Government, R McClelland (Attorney-General), Australia’s Human Rights Framework, foreword, April 2010, p. 1, viewed 18 May 2010,$file/Human+Rights+Framework.pdf.

[4].    Budget Measures, op cit., p. 94.

[5].    Senator Coonan, Interim Report of the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, Senate, 12 May 2010, p. 76,;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2F2010-05-12%2F0185%22.

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