Inquiry into Australia’s Human Rights Framework
2 November 2023
On 20 October 2023, the Law Council appeared before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights in relation to its Inquiry into Australia’s Human Rights Framework. The Law Council was represented by Mr Stephen Keim SC and Ms Jacinta Lewin of its National Human Rights Committee, as well as Dr Adam Fletcher from the secretariat. The Law Council appeared on a panel with Civil Liberties Australia.
Committee Members seemed well-disposed to the Law Council’s submission (made in July), and the hearing was a productive one. The Law Council’s principal contention was that it is high time for Australia to implement its international human rights obligations in a specific piece of legislation – a national Human Rights Act. We highlighted the potential benefits for vulnerable Australians and for our democracy. We also noted that a National Human Rights Framework is broader, encompassing measures such as human rights education and parliamentary scrutiny of legislation as well.
Australia’s previous Human Rights Framework from 2010 has not had the impact sought by its architects (including current Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC MP), and submissions to the Committee—including from the Law Council—have made numerous recommendations for it to be re-established and significantly strengthened.
Committee members were particularly interested in certain technical aspects of the Law Council’s submissions, including how human rights scrutiny might be applied earlier in the legislative and policy development cycle, and which constitutional heads of power might best support the various provisions of a Human Rights Act. There were also questions about new proposals from the Australian Human Rights Commission, such as for a National Human Rights Indicator Index and Annual Human Rights Statement to Parliament. The Law Council supports these proposals in principle, and looks forward to working with the Government on the design of a new National Human Rights Framework incorporating all of the valuable reforms discussed as part of the inquiry. A transcript of the hearing (an uncorrected proof of evidence) is available here.
Finally, in response to a question on the right to freedom of expression, we highlighted the Law Council’s August 2023 submission on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023, pointing out how such laws could be improved by rigorous human rights analysis and the prospect of a role for the courts in holding Government to account on rights.