ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: International Human Rights Day 2021 - let's commit to action and delivery

10 December 2021

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) today marked International Human Rights Day by calling for more action to protect Canberrans most at risk of human rights violations.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said: “This year, the theme for International Human Rights Day is ‘reducing inequalities, advancing human rights.’

“ACTCOSS has always advocated for policies and actions that will reduce inequality and unfairness. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. We must address and find solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies including women and girls, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, LGBTIQA+ people, migrants and refugees, and people with disability.

“Today should be marked by a recommitment to concrete and measurable actions that protect the rights of our most vulnerable community members.

“That is why ACTCOSS is part of a coalition of organisations calling on the ACT Government to implement an effective, accessible and timely process for seeking redress when human rights are breached.

“At the moment, if a person’s human rights are breached by the ACT Government, the only recourse available is to take a legal action to the Supreme Court.

“An appropriate human rights complaints mechanism would transform the Human Rights Act from being an expression of our values into a tool that can be used by every Canberran to ensure our human rights are protected,” Dr Campbell said.

ACTCOSS has also welcomed the current review of the Discrimination Act.

“This inquiry into discrimination protections under the Discrimination Act offers a once in 20-year opportunity to strengthen the ACT's leadership as a human rights jurisdiction. We are calling for the alignment of the Discrimination Act to the Human Rights Act by introducing a positive duty to eliminate discrimination.

“ACTCOSS also urges the ACT Government to conduct genuine engagement on the proposed Discrimination Law Reform with groups that are disproportionately impacted by discrimination,” said Dr Campbell.

ACTCOSS’s 2020 election platform has outlined a range of actions that need to be taken by the ACT Government to improve human rights protections in the ACT. These include to:

  • Incorporate all Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the ACT Human Rights Act (2004) including: the right to housing; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to physical and mental health; and the right to a healthy environment
  • Through improved access to legal support and better funding for the ACT’s community legal services, ensure equality before the law for all ACT residents, including women and children, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people and other Canberrans facing legal disadvantage
  • Improve access to the ACT Human Rights Act (2004) by adding a direct complaints mechanism through the ACT Human Rights Commission followed by referral to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) if the complaint cannot be resolved
  • Embed human rights principles and obligations in all procurement processes and service contracts
  • Include a human rights reporting component in Director-General annual reports
  • Establish an annual evaluation and report to the ACT Legislative Assembly on human rights in the ACT
  • Implement and resource clear strategies to address racism, discrimination against LGBTIQ+ Canberrans, gendered discrimination and violence, and ableism
  • Foster an independent advocacy voice for culturally and linguistically diverse Canberrans in the ACT
  • Publicly commit to a Federal Human Rights Act
  • Commit to review police complaints handling mechanisms to ensure greater practical independence, accountability and transparency of investigations
  • Commit to not introducing anti-consorting laws.

Dr Campbell concluded: “Human rights gain new meaning when they become a reality in the daily life of people.

"The ACT Government and all ACT political parties must ensure that human rights are at the forefront of all policy making if we are to fully realise our potential as a ‘human rights jurisdiction’.”

Submissions to the Discrimination Law Reform Inquiry are open between now and 30 January 2022.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or 02 6202 7200.