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Chance to strengthen the protection and promotion of Victorians’ human rights Analysis

Chance to strengthen the protection and promotion of Victorians’ human rights

The review of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights is a chance to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights.

With the Victorian Government currently looking at ways to improve the Charter’s effectiveness and operation as part of a long-term review, an important opportunity exists to improve the promotion, protection and fulfilment of people’s human rights. VCOSS advocates that the Charter should continue to evolve, and be further strengthened to enhance human rights protections, and provide a stronger and more enduring human rights culture in Victoria.

The VCOSS submission to the review recommends strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights in Victoria by fostering a cultural change across government and the community that more deeply embeds human rights. Ultimately, human rights can only be protected if everyone recognises the need to treat all people with respect.

Because developing this type of culture requires ongoing community and government support and leadership, broader access to training and education about human rights, and  mechanisms available to monitor, implement and enforce them are needed

The Charter can be further strengthened by the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to self-determination. These rights are often the most meaningful for vulnerable people, because they relate to the basic necessities of community life and participation, including health, housing, social security and adequate food.

The right to self-determination is particularly important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because of historical and current experiences of dispossession and marginalisation. The Charter can further support overcoming this historical and current disadvantage by including an explicit right to self-determination for Aboriginal people in regard to their lands and waters, the protection of their culture, and early engagement with government policies and procedures that affect their future.

The Charter can also be improved by reducing uncertainty about its application, including clarifying the definition of ‘public authorities’ to give clearer guidance to community organisations about the extent of their obligations under the Charter.

VCOSS presents a number of options for the consideration under the review including:

  • including a mechanism enabling organisations to opt-in to coverage by the Charter
  • expanding the existing regulation-making power to include specific functions of a public nature
  • including a duty to inform non-government agencies of obligations under the Charter.

VCOSS also makes several recommendations to strengthen the human rights dialogue between the Victorian government, parliament, courts and the community and to improve the ability for people to enforce their Charter rights where a public authority has acted inconsistently with human rights or failed to consider human rights in making a decision. As a last resort, where other methods to protect or enforce human rights have failed, access to an effective remedy through the legal system is needed.

The eight-year review of the Charter is being led by independent reviewer Michael Brett Young and is required to provide its final report to government by 1 September 2015.

VCOSS has been engaged in the development and implementation of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) over many years, and continues to advocate for the human rights of Victorians experiencing poverty and disadvantage. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community are also those most likely to have their human rights violated, and since its inception the Charter has provided an important mechanism to help safeguard those rights.