If you blinked, then you may have missed it, but on 1 July 2019 an historic piece of legislation became law in Queensland, which was the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) (The Human Rights Act). The Human Rights Act is a legislative charter of rights for all Queenslanders and which established the new Queensland Human Rights Commission (formerly known as the Anti-Discrimination Commission).
The Queensland Human Rights Commission will continue to provide services under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), including training and complaint handling. The legislative change will not affect any complaints under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 either before or after 1 July 2019.
You may be wondering why this is such an historic event or perhaps thinking that we may already have our human rights protected in Australia. Well, the introduction of the Human Rights Act in Queensland is very significant due to a few reasons:
- Australia does not have a federal Bill of Rights or an equivalent Human Rights Act that protects the fundamental principles of equality before the law.
- Queensland did not (until now) have a charter of rights or legislation which ensures that our individuals rights are protected when policymakers are making decisions and developing legislation.
- Without the Human Rights Act, those more vulnerable people throughout our community have very few legal protections of their human rights and do not have the ability to hold the government to account for inequality before the law.
While some of us in Australia experience a fairly high standard of living and have not really come across a problematic situation where our Human Rights have been violated, many of us know someone, whether close to us or otherwise, who has been unfairly treated under the law. The Queensland Human Rights Act sets to change that and provides a new level of equality and protection that the more vulnerable of us in our society are in dire need to have.
Our Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Yvette D’Ath, said in her introductory speech to the Queensland Parliament that “this bill recognises the inherent dignity and worth of human beings. It recognises that the equal and inalienable human rights of all persons are essential in a democratic and inclusive society that respects the rule of law”.
The Hon. Yvette D’Ath has since stated that “the primary aim of the legislation is to ensure that respect for human rights is embedded in the culture of the public sector, and that public functions are exercised in a principled way that is compatible with human rights”.
The Human Rights Act will now protect 23 basic human rights under Queensland law. The Human Rights Act will require our Queensland Parliament to consider these rights when debating and passing legislation, and will require them to ensure that the public services maintain compliance with these rights.
We provide a few examples of the notable rights now protected under the Human Rights Act:
- the right to equal protection against discrimination;
- the right to recognition and equality before the law;
- the right to life;
- the right to freedom of expression, religion and beliefs;
- the right to privacy and reputation;
- the right to cultural and language rights; and
- the right to protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Human Rights Act specifically addresses the inherent cultural rights of both the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples and establishes the basic rights to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage.
The Human Rights Act has drawn influence from the protections of civil and political rights offered under the various international treaties that Australia is a party to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Australia is yet to pass a national ‘Bill of Rights’ or similar legislation to the Queensland Human Rights Act. It instead relies on both constitutional protections (which are limited), the implementation of the international treaties into domestic law (which may, or may not occur) and the State and Territories to pass legislation to protect the basic human rights of all Australians.
Notable Human Rights Advocate and a Former High Court Justice, Michael Kirby AC CMG has previously stated that a Commonwealth Bill of Rights would offer “us something to teach kids at school about universal human rights. And the things we share together. Not just the citizens, the human beings, respecting one another”. His sentiments are echoed by many throughout Australia.
The introduction of the Human Rights Act in Queensland is a tremendous achievement and enshrines principles for Queensland to celebrate. This is a positive step forward for Queensland and our community in providing rights for equality before the law.