ACT Government commits to delivering accessible human rights complaints mechanism

21 October 2022

Joint Media Release

Human rights lawyers and social advocates have applauded the ACT Government’s commitment to immediately commence the process of legislating for an accessible complaints mechanism within the Human Rights Act 2004, giving Canberrans whose human rights are breached the ability to bring a complaint to the ACT Human Rights Commission for confidential conciliation.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) President Kerry Weste said, “These reforms will make it far simpler and easier for all Canberrans to protect their human rights and will enable the ACT to meaningfully hold all behaviours up to the standards set out in the Human Rights Act.”

The reforms follow the “No Rights Without Remedy” Petition led by a coalition of Canberran and Australian community organisations including ACTCOSSS, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR, the Human Rights Legal Centre (HRLC), Canberra Community Law (CCL), and Civil Liberties Australia (CLA). The ACT Human Rights Minister, Tara Cheyne, tabled the ACT Government’s response to the petition in the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday afternoon.

Currently complaints about human rights breaches must be taken to the Supreme Court, a process which Ms Weste describes as “prohibitively expensive, complex and inaccessible to most Canberrans, especially those experiencing disadvantage. Unfortunately this has left people whose rights have been breached without access to effective remedies.”

“These reforms will deliver an easier, cheaper and simpler pathway for everyone to access remedies by making a complaint to the ACT Human Rights Commission where conciliation can offer meaningful solutions that make a real difference in people’s everyday lives.”

The “No Rights Without Remedy” Petition also called for amendments to enable the transfer of complaints to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) for resolution, where conciliation at the Human Rights Commission is unsuccessful. However, the ACT Government has only agreed “in principle” to introducing this aspect of the amendments citing the need to consider the complexities of such a proposal and resourcing implications. Minister Cheyne indicated that there will be consideration of this option once the conciliation mechanism has been in place for

a period of time.

Ms Weste Concluded, “We applaud the announcement of these reforms as a key step in ensuring that the Human Rights Act can realise its true potential to protect and promote human rights for everyone in the ACT.”

“With campaigns underway calling for Human Rights Acts in New South Wales and Western Australia as well as at the federal level these measures will also provide leadership to other jurisdictions as they consider the clear need for and benefits of introducing human rights legislation that protects every Australians right to lead a life of dignity, equality and freedom.”

Acting CEO of ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) Dr Gemma Killen said “We are pleased to see the ACT Government commit to addressing the serious gaps in our human rights system and deliver an accessible human rights complaints mechanism here in Canberra.”

“Those community members who are most vulnerable to human rights breaches have also historically been those least likely and able to access remedies and accountability mechanisms through the Supreme Court. We look forward to seeing human rights legally enforced here in the ACT and commend the ACT Government for ensuring that all people will have the right to live safely, freely and with dignity,” Dr Killen concluded.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

ALHR was established in 1993 and is a national association of Australian solicitors, barristers, academics, judicial officers and law students who practise and promote international human rights law in Australia. ALHR has active and engaged National, State and Territory committees and specialist thematic committees. Through advocacy, media engagement, education, networking, research and training, ALHR promotes, practices and protects universally accepted standards of human rights throughout Australia

and overseas.

For more information or comment, please contact

Dr Gemma Killen, Acting CEO, ACTCOSS, on 02 6202 7223 or 0404024913;

Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.

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