ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Community welcomes Committee support for enabling accessible human rights complaints

23 June 2022

Joint media release from ACTCOSS, Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) and Canberra Community Law (CCL).

A number of community organisations, including the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) and Canberra Community Law (CCL) have today welcomed recommendations from the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety that the ACT Government enact the terms of the No Rights Without Remedy petition and create a system that more accessibly enables complaints about breaches to human rights.

The outcomes of the petition are intended to better protect vulnerable Canberrans’ human rights by:

  • Enabling a complaint about any breach of the Human Rights Act to be made to the ACT Human Rights Commission for confidential conciliation, and if conciliation is unsuccessful, enabling a complaint to be made to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal for resolution
  • Increasing the resourcing of the ACT Human Rights Commission and the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to respond to requests.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “We are pleased to see the Committee echo the community’s calls for sufficient funding, time and legal support for community members whose human rights have previously been undermined, neglected and devalued by an inaccessible complaints system.

“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 for complaints.

“However, in order for the ACT Government to demonstrate a serious commitment to upholding and protecting human rights, the newfound powers of the ACT Human Rights Commission to undertake inquiries and address complaints, needs to be extended to oversight of ACT Police,” Dr Campbell said.

Kieran Pender, the Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre said: “The ACT Human Rights Act helps to ensure that the actions of ACT governments are guided by the values of freedom, equality, compassion and dignity. We welcome the ACT Parliamentary Inquiry calling for it to be improved to make it simpler and easier for people to protect their human rights. We urge the ACT Government to implement the inquiry recommendation so that everyone can better enjoy their human rights.”

Genevieve Bolton, Executive Director/Principal Solicitor of Canberra Community Law said: “CCL are strong and passionate supporters of the ACT Human Rights Act and we welcome the inquiry’s recommendation. Our clients are some of the most vulnerable members of the Canberra community and we routinely raise our client’s human rights in our advocacy. We have long called for a simple, low-cost pathway so individuals have an accessible way to raise human rights concerns and so to avoid expensive, costly and protracted Supreme Court litigation.

“An accessible complaints mechanism will help to transform the concept of human rights for individuals from theoretical concept into everyday reality where members of the community know they have an accessible way to bring forward their complaints. For everyday Canberrans this means a way to ensure our government is kept to account for actions that may infringe on their rights in areas such as housing, detention facilities, education, child protection, and health.”

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) President Kerry Weste said: "ALHR welcomes the Report’s recommendations and calls on the ACT Government to swiftly bring forward amendments to the Human Rights Act so that all Canberrans can access affordable, meaningful and concrete solutions if their human rights are breached.

"While the ACT Human Rights Act was drafted to protect individuals against breaches of their human rights, expensive and complex legal action in the ACT Supreme Court is simply too difficult for most people to access. The current process effectively denies people whose rights have been breached a remedy.

“People in the ACT deserve laws that ensure everyone can live in safety, in freedom, and with dignity. Every person in the ACT is entitled to be treated fairly and equally, with compassion and respect. However, we know from experience that human rights are at risk of being rendered meaningless if they cannot be legally enforced."

Dr Campbell concluded: “We look forward to seeing urgent implementation of the No Rights Without Remedy proposal so that the ACT has an accessible human rights complaints process.

“However, ACTCOSS firmly recommends that the ACT Government any complaints process must have a mechanism for Canberrans to challenge discrimination and human rights breaches by ACT Policing.” Dr Campbell said.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617,
Matt Mitchell, ALHR Media Manager, on 0431 980 365,
Evan Schuurman, Media & Communications Manager, HRLC, on 0406 117 937.