Cardboard silhouettes of children on the lawn outside parliament house

Has the government put human rights at the heart of its decisions?

In 2019, Australians elected their next government. In the leadup to the election, Amnesty International Australia called upon whoever was to form government to put human rights – both at home and abroad – at the heart of all policy decisions, and to re-establish Australia’s place in the world as a free, fair and caring country and a human rights leader.

As Australia balances the rise of China, the impacts of climate change and the economic and social fallout of the pandemic committing to human rights provides a way forward. Australia can and should put its commitments to human rights into practice to illustrate its principles, to support the vulnerable and to chart a fair and sustainable road map back to prosperity.

Human rights are the fundamental freedoms and protections that belong to every one of us. They ensure every single person is treated equally and justly regardless of race, sexuality, religion or beliefs. Rights are about being treated and treating others fairly and ensuring everyone has the ability to make choices about heir own lives. When we promote and defend human rights, all our lives are better and we can create a better world for ourselves and our fellow human beings. You can contribute to the fight to promote and strengthen human rights by calling for a Human Rights Act.

This Human Rights Day we are holding the government to account. Has the government put human rights at the heart of policy?

What Amnesty called for.What the government did.
The government to work to enshrine a Human Rights Act.Human rights protect us all, ensuring every single person in our society is treated fairly and justly. Australia is the only western democracy without a bill of rights or an equivalent law that protects the rights of all people. The government has not proposed a Human Rights Act.
End the over-representation of Indigenous children and young people in Australia’s criminal justice system.Indigenous children and young people are 22 times more likely to end up in the youth justice system than their non-Indigenous peers. Whilst the rate has dropped, it is still completely unacceptable. The government hasn’t raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least fourteen, ended high rates of children on remand, or adequately funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.
The government has however continued with the implementation of Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, and set justice targets to end the over-representation of Indigenous children and young people in prison.
Work to eradicate violence against women.One in three Australian women will experience violence in their lifetime. Almost 10% of Australian women in a relationship have experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis.
The government committed at least an extra $150 million under the national domestic violence initiative.
Funding for Family Violence Prevention and Legal services has been declining since 2013, while the cost of providing services has risen.
Support the creation of safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum – by increasing the annual refugee resettlement intake and prioritising people with humanitarian needs through alternative migration streams.The government reduced the annual humanitarian (refugee) intake by 5,000 placed to 13,750 people in the 2020/21 Budget. It is stepping back from any role that sees Australia safely resettle people seeking refuge.
Amnesty remains deeply critical of Australia’s treatment of people who have sought refuge. Whilst a resettlement deal has been rolled out with the US, the government refuses to accept a deal with New Zealand, and continues to detain people in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and in onshore detention facilities including hotels.
The government has also undertaken a review into the Community Sponsorship Programme — Amnesty has great hopes that this will deliver a new, fair and just programme.
Take a lead role around the world in abolishing the death penalty.The Australian government made a bold step when it launched the Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty in 2018.
Amnesty understands that the government is pursuing the abolition of the death penalty through diplomatic channels, including through dialogue with the Japanese government this year.
The government should be more transparent on its work to abolish the death penalty, including by reporting back against the Strategy.
Work with other countries to provide a safe home for the Rohingya people forced from Myanmar into Bangladesh.Myanmar has produced almost 90 per cent of the refugees currently seeking safety and protection in the Asia Pacific Region.
Thousands of Rohingya seeking safety have been refused refuge from countries such as Bangladesh and Malaysia. Around 2,500 families are being sent to a silt island in the Bay of Bengal, and many have sought to take the dangerous journey to Indonesia.
The Australian government has resisted calls to activate the consultation mechanism of the Bali Process, maintaining that it exists for information sharing and policy dialogue alone. It should be working with Bangladeshi, Malaysian and Indonesian governments and authorities to deliver a regional solution that finds people safety.
End LGBTQA+ conversion practices Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory have legislated to end conversion practices. Other jurisdictions are also making moves to end it.
The Australian government can take a lead role through the National Cabinet or Council of Attorneys-General to bring all jurisdictions together and end LGBTQA+ conversion practices. It has not shown the leadership required to do this.
Enshrine intersex rights in lawIn Australia, people with variations in sex characteristics are routinely subjected to medical interventions without free, prior, informed consent, typically in infancy, childhood or adolescence. Normalising surgery should never take place without personal informed consent.
The government has not moved to end these surgeries on infants and children with variations in sex characteristics.
Ensure Australians who have a disability have their human rights respected.One in five Australians has a disability. People who have disabilities experience some of the highest levels of discrimination and abuse in this country.
The government appointed Ben Gauntlett as Disability Discrimination Commissioner in 2019. Amnesty commends the creation of this position.
Reduce carbon emissions, phase out fossil fuels subsidies and support those whose human rights are infringed by effects of climate change.There is a direct link between climate change and human rights, including endangering people’s rights to life, health, food, water and housing.
Australia has consistently ranked very low against similar countries for its lack of action to address climate change.
The government should set a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2040, and with a robust and independent process to inform each five-yearly interim target.
Halt arms and military assistance to Saudi-led Coalition members and demand protection of civilians in the conflict of Yemen.The government is still exporting arms and providing military assistance to Saudi-led coalition members, and by doing so, risking the lives of many. Amnesty also calls for the government to be more transparent about what they are exporting, and to who and when.
Work towards ending discrimination at school, work and in the broader community. LGBTQI children and young people are more likely to experience discrimination, bullying and abuse than other children and young people and are significantly more at risk of suicide, self-harm and mental health impacts as a result.

Despite the research showing that something needs to be done, the government has not amended the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure that students and teachers cannot be discriminated against by religious schools, nor amended anti-discrimination legislation to prohibit religious organisastions that receive government funding to discriminate in providing services.
Educate the community about human rights.A community that is aware of its human rights and practices the responsibilities that are entwined with these rights, is a safer, more engaged and active one.
The government has not funded a national human rights education program, and there are still calls for the Australian Human Rights Commission to be properly funded.

In recent years the Australian government has not put human rights at the heart of policy. The government needs to shift its thinking: human rights are solutions to the problems that communities face, not problems themselves. The first thing that the government should do is implement a Human Rights Act. The Act will be the backbone of all legislation that ensures that human rights are protected and strengthened. There are many policy areas which involve the suffering of vulnerable Australians and people overseas. By looking at refugee policy, LGBTQIA+ policy, anti-discrimination reform, and more, through the lens of human rights, will ensure fair and just outcomes for all.

Join us in the fight to strengthen and protect human in Australia: take action now.