Community and legal groups say it’s time to strengthen Victoria’s Human Rights Charter

The following is a media release prepared jointly with a number of community and human rights groups.

A group of leading community and legal organisations has today urged the Victorian Government to change Victoria’s Human Rights Charter to ensure it is more accessible, more effective and simpler to use. To coincide with the report of an independent reviewer being provided to the Attorney-General, the group has issued a Briefing Paper that outlines seven key priority recommendations that have the unanimous agreement between organisations that have significant experience and expertise in relation to the operation of the Charter.

“The eight-year review of the Victorian Human Rights Charter is an ideal opportunity to enhance the protection of human rights for all Victorians,” said Ben Schokman, the Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre. “The Andrews Government has committed to uphold and strengthen the Victorian Charter and to make the development of a human rights culture in Victoria a key priority. Now is the time to turn those commitments into action.”

The Charter’s independent reviewer, Mr Michael Brett Young, will provide his report to the Attorney-General today with his recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the Charter and improve its operation.

“It’s clear from the submissions to the independent reviewer and the LIV’s Charter Case Audit that the Charter is delivering increased human rights protections to Victorians – but it can be made better,” said the Law Institute of Victoria’s President, Katie Miller. “There are many things – some small, some big, some legislative, some cultural – that can be done to make the Charter simpler and more accessible and to embed a human rights culture in Victoria.”

The Briefing Paper prepared by the group recommends a number of priority reform areas, including the ability to take human rights claims directly to court, the inclusion of social and economic rights, and embedding a human rights culture in Victoria.

The proper protection of human rights requires access to a remedy where rights have been infringed, says Liana Buchanan the Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres. “The Andrews Government has the ideal opportunity to give the Charter some teeth. Victorians whose rights have been breached must be able to take meaningful action including in the courts to address their problems,” said Ms Buchanan.

“The ability to take human rights claims directly to court is a necessity,” explained Professor Sarah Joseph, Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. “The current process where victims have to artificially ‘piggyback’ their human rights claim on another claim is unnecessarily complex. Rights risk becoming meaningless if they can’t be enforced.”

The group has also called for clarity about what agencies or authorities are covered by the Charter. “There remains ongoing uncertainty about whether public authorities, such as community housing providers, are covered by the Charter,” explained Lucy Adams, Manager and Principal Lawyer at Homeless Law. “Measures should be taken to provide certainty for both public authorities and members of the community.”

Emma King, CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service, said that the Charter should also be expanded to cover important social and economic rights, such as the rights to housing, health and education. “These are the rights that Victorians have clearly indicated are the most important to them,” said Ms King. “Protecting and promoting these rights is an important part of creating a fair and just Victorian community.”

Liberty Victoria’s Jamie Gardiner said the Charter is working well by increasing human rights considerations throughout the public service and by improving service delivery to the public, but that more could be done. “Developing a human rights culture is a long term project. A range of approaches, including increased education and training for the public sector and the community, are vital for the Victorian Government to make good on its commitment to build a stronger human rights culture in Victoria,” Mr Gardiner said.

A copy of the Briefing Paper is available here and background information about the Victorian Charter is provided below.

ENDS

Contacts:

Castan Centre for Human Rights Law – Professor Sarah Joseph ph: (03) 9905 3327

Federation of Community Legal Centres – Liana Buchanan, Executive Officer ph: (03) 9652 1500

Human Rights Law Centre – Ben Schokman, Director of Advocacy ph: 0403 622 810

Justice Connect Homeless Law – Lucy Adams, Manager and Principal Solicitor ph: 0409 664 883

Law Institute of Victoria – Katie Miller, President ph: (03) 9607 9367

Liberty Victoria – Jamie Gardiner, Vice-President ph: 0412 795 491

Victorian Council of Social Service – Emma King, CEO ph: 0418 127 153

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Castan Centre

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law seeks to promote and protect human rights through the generation and dissemination of public scholarship in international and domestic human rights law. In pursuit of this mission, the Centre brings the work of human rights scholars, practitioners and advocates from a wide range of disciplines together in the Centre’s key activities of research, teaching, public education (lectures, seminars, conferences, speeches, media presentations, etc), applied research, advice work and consultancies.

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