THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
2023 HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ORATION, AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS AWARDS 2023
It is my pleasure to join you all this evening to deliver the 2023 Human Rights Oration.
THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Nearly 75 years ago in Paris, on Friday the 10th of December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
With the horrors of the Second World War a recent memory, the Declaration recognised the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
It proclaimed faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women.
It also affirmed a determination to promote social progress and better standards of life.
The Declaration proclaimed universal the rights which now define so much of who we are as Australians.
These universal human rights include the right to equality and freedom from discrimination. The right to freedom from slavery. The right to freedom of belief and religion. The right to social security. The right to desirable work and to join trade unions. The right to an adequate standard of living. The right to education.
Australians played a significant role in the development and acceptance of the Declaration in 1947 and 1948, most notably Jessie Street and the Honourable Dr Herbert Vere ‘Doc’ Evatt QC.
Jessie Street, Australia’s first female delegate to the United Nations, and Vice-Chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women at the time of its drafting, played a significant role in ensuring women were included in the Declaration’s language.
Doc Evatt, who had already played an important role in the development of the United Nations and its Charter, was President of the UN General Assembly when it accepted the Declaration on that Friday in December 1948.
HUMAN RIGHTS ACHIEVEMENTS UNDER LABOR GOVERNMENTS
When Doc Evatt presided over the UN’s acceptance of the Declaration, he was also the Minister for External Affairs and Attorney General in the Chifley Labor Government.
Labor Governments have proudly continued his legacy. We have worked to support and protect human rights in Australia and develop this nation’s human rights standing in the world.
It was under the Chifley Government that Australia voted in favour of the Declaration.
And Labor Governments have championed Australia’s ratification of major United Nations human rights treaties since, including 5 of the 7 major UN human rights treaties to which Australia is a party.
It was under the Whitlam Government that Australia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1975.
Under the Hawke Government, Australia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
It was in 2008 under the Rudd Government that Australia became one of the first Western nations to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.
AHRC AND RECENT RE-ACCREDITATION
It was also under the Hawke Government that the Australian Human Rights Commission was established on International Human Rights Day on 10 December 1986.
The Albanese Government remains committed to supporting the Commission and its essential work.
In this Government’s first Budget, we supported the Australian Human Rights Commission with additional funding of $49.8 million.
In March 2022, the Commission had its re-accreditation as an ‘A’-status National Human Rights Institution deferred due to the former government failing to adopt transparent selection and appointment processes when appointing Commissioners.
In response to this, the very first Bill I introduced as Attorney-General in the Albanese Labor Government ensured all future appointments to the Australian Human Rights Commission would be made through a merit based and transparent process.
Following an extensive review, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions re-accredited the AHRC in October this year as an ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institution. This restored the Commission’s international reputation as one of the world’s leading international human rights organisations.
The announcement by the Global Alliance confirms the Albanese Government is continuing to deliver on our promise to the Australian people to return integrity, honesty and accountability to government.
An independent human rights commission that is properly supported to fulfil its core functions is fundamental to Australia’s human rights agenda both internationally and domestically.
PARLIAMENTARY JOINT COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Our support for the Commission underscores the Albanese Government’s commitment to enhancing and protecting Australia’s human rights framework.
Importantly, this Government believes that the enhancement of human rights should be done in a way that unites, rather than divides, our community. We are committed to positive and practical change to promote and protect human rights.
In 2010, the Gillard Labor Government launched Australia’s Human Rights Framework. The Framework was the result of the National Human Rights Consultation, which inquired into the protection and promotion of human rights and responsibilities in Australia.
The key focus of the Framework was ensuring that education and information about human rights is readily available to everyone in the Australian community. This included the establishment of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the requirement that each Bill be accompanied by a Statement of Compatibility with Australia’s international human rights obligations.
When it was launched, the Human Rights Framework included a commitment to review in 2014 to assess its effectiveness. Following the change of government at the 2013 election, that review was never undertaken.
That is why I have asked the Joint Committee on Human Rights to conduct a review of Australia’s Human Rights Framework. The review is an opportunity to look at whether components of the Framework remain fit for purpose, or if improvements can be made. I look forward to receiving the Committee’s report in 2024.
Anti-discrimination laws are another significant contribution to human rights that Labor Governments have made in this country. The Racial Discrimination Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, were the products of Labor Governments and comprise significant elements of Australia’s human rights framework.
When talking about equal opportunity law, particularly the Sex Discrimination Act, it would be remiss not to pause for a moment and acknowledge the contributions made by the Honourable Susan Ryan.
In 1981, from Opposition, Susan introduced a private members’ Bill to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender. While this Bill was adjourned without debate, it demonstrated Labor’s commitment to equal opportunity and anti discrimination protections.
In 1983, as a Cabinet Minister, Susan introduced the Sex Discrimination Bill to Parliament to give effect to certain provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
In her second reading speech for the Bill, Susan expressed her delight at introducing such a major piece of legislation that did so much to advance equality. The Sex Discrimination Act commenced on the 1st of August 1984.
After her time in politics Susan continued to make significant contributions to Australian life, including with the Australian Human Rights Commission, where she served as the Age Discrimination Commissioner from 2011 to 2016.
The Albanese Government believes every Australian should be able to live free from discrimination in all areas of their lives
Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaraion of Human Rights provides for equality and freedom from discrimination.
Article 18 provides for freedom of belief and religion. The Albanese Government is committed to extending the federal anti-discrimination framework to ensure people are not discriminated against, and do not experience vilification, because of their religious beliefs or activities.
Just as nobody should be treated unfairly because of their gender, disability, sexuality, age, or race, no-one should experience discrimination because of their religious beliefs. Accordingly, the Government has made a commitment to introduce legislation to protect people of faith from discrimination and vilification.
Consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, this legislation will not remove protections that already exist in the law to protect Australians from other forms of discrimination.
In introducing these new protections, we will also act to protect all students from discrimination on any grounds and to protect teachers from discrimination at work while maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in the selection of staff.
To this end, I have asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to review anti discrimination law applying to religious schools and other educational institutions.
The ALRC inquiry is a crucial step towards implementing the Albanese Government's commitment to extending anti discrimination protections to more Australians.
NATIONAL ANTI-RACISM STRATEGY
The Albanese Government is also funding the Australian Human Rights Commission to develop a National Anti-Racism Strategy.
The Strategy will include a National Anti-Racism Framework to support government, civil society, businesses and the community to tackle racism and promote racial equality in Australia at a structural and systemic level.
The Strategy will also extend the successful ‘Racism. It Stops with Me’ campaign, which seeks to raise public awareness, deliver public education and build community capacity to combat racism and discriminatory attitudes.
COMBATTING MODERN SLAVERY
Article 4 of the Declaration provides that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude, and that slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Article 23 of the Declaration provides that everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
The Government is committed to combatting modern slavery at home and abroad. Under our Tackling Modern Slavery package, we are establishing Australia’s first federal Anti Slavery Commissioner, adding a further pillar to Australia’s comprehensive response to modern slavery.
The Government has already provided $8 million over four years towards the establishment of the Commissioner.
We are also strengthening Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018, our transparency framework that drives business and government action to address modern slavery risks in supply chains. In May this year, the Government tabled in Parliament a report from the statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act, which considered the first three years of the Act’s operation. We are considering the review and consulting across government in formulating our response to the recommendations.
Finally, we have committed $24.3 million over the next four years to strengthen the Government’s Support for Trafficked People Program, and grant funding of $2.73 million over the next two years for community based projects and research to raise awareness of modern slavery, improve responses for survivors, and bolster community outreach.
FREE & EQUAL REPORT
I also acknowledge the work of President Croucher in developing the Free & Equal: A National Conversation on Human Rights project. The final report, Revitalising Australia’s Commitment to Human Rights: Free & Equal Final Report 2023 was tabled in Parliament yesterday and I look forward to considering the ideas put forward in that paper.
We must continue to look forward to opportunities to strengthen and protect Australia’s human rights framework. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and consider our achievements since 1948, we must also look forward to how we can continue to make improvements. The Albanese Government is committed to this task and I look forward to working with you in the future.
Friday, 8 December 2023