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Free and equal : An Australian conversation on human rights

The submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission in regards to its Free and equal: An Australian conversation on human rights inquiry was prepared by the Law Council. 

The Law Council welcomes the AHRC’s comprehensive approach to reviewing Australia’s legal and policy framework for respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights generally.

Australia continues to face pressing challenges in rights implementation for diverse vulnerable groups within society, which have formed ongoing topics of Royal Commissions and other national inquiries. These groups include people with disabilities, older people, Indigenous peoples, women experiencing violence, LGBTI+ groups, asylum seekers and children. These ongoing challenges demonstrate that current rights protection regimes are inadequate, and that this is an unfinished national conversation. A policy shift is required from a response which is too frequently crisis-driven, to a more positive, preventative framework of human rights protection.

Australia currently holds a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council and as such should be at the forefront in protecting human rights both at a domestic and international level. However, Australia is currently the only Western democracy lacking a constitutional or statutory charter of rights. This indicates that it is out of step with its international peers.

The Law Council’s central recommendation in this submission concerns the adoption of a federal human rights act. It sets out the case for such a measure, having regard to acute national concerns regarding systemic breaches of human rights, ranging from the use of chemical restraints upon older Australians, to laws under which people with disability face protracted periods of imprisonment despite never having been convicted of a crime, to the appalling situation of First Nations as ‘the most incarcerated people on Earth’, to the criminal prosecution of ten year old children. It also explores inadequacies in Australia’s current federal system of protection for human rights, which is patchy, remedial and too often easily overridden.

You can read the full submission below.

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