Thursday, 07 May 2015 02:40

Aboriginal Cultural Rights in Victoria

The Commission is developing new resources to increase the awareness, understanding and use of Aboriginal cultural rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. For the purposes of this project, the term 'Aboriginal' is used to refer to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Use of the terms 'Koori', Koorie' and Indigenous' are retained in the names of programs and initiatives, and, unless noted otherwise, are inclusive of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Although Aboriginal cultural rights are protected under the Charter, preliminary evidence suggests that they are rarely raised in courts or tribunals, used as an advocacy tool by Aboriginal peoples, or used as an engagement tool by public authorities. 

This project aims to increase awareness and understanding of Aboriginal cultural rights so that they are used as part of everyday interactions between public authorities and Aboriginal Victorians.

The project

The project team will develop a range of resources about Aboriginal cultural rights under the Charter for two distinct audiences:

  • Public authorities who have obligations under the Charter (including government departments and agencies).
  • Aboriginal peoples of Victoria whose cultural rights are protected under the Charter.

The project aims to:

  • assist public authorities to comply with their obligations under the Charter by acting compatibly with Aboriginal cultural rights
  • increase awareness, understanding and use of Aboriginal cultural rights under the Charter by Aboriginal peoples as a practical tool to engage with public authorities.

The resources that are developed will be based on consultations with public authorities and the Aboriginal community.

What does the law say?

The Charter protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people in Victoria, including Aboriginal cultural rights. The Charter is fundamentally about the relationship between the Victorian government and the community. It requires that all public authorities in Victoria act compatibly with human rights and consider human rights when they make decisions that affect people.

The Charter considers Aboriginal peoples and culture in two ways.

Firstly, it acknowledges as one of its guiding principles that human rights have a special importance for the Aboriginal people of Victoria, as descendants of Australia’s first people, with their diverse spiritual, social, cultural and economic relationship with their traditional lands and waters.

Secondly, Aboriginal cultural rights are protected under section 19(2) of the Charter which states that Aboriginal persons hold distinct cultural rights and must not be denied the right, with other members of their community –

  1. to enjoy their identity and culture
  2. to maintain and use their language
  3. to maintain their kinship ties
  4. to maintain their distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with the land and waters and other resources with which they have a connection under traditional laws and customs. 

Aboriginal cultural rights are also protected by international instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


The project team has consulted with public authorities and the Aboriginal community to:

  • gather evidence about the use of Aboriginal cultural rights in Victoria
  • identify resources that would be most useful for government and community
  • feature case studies that highlight the use of Aboriginal cultural rights in practice.

The project will not define what ‘Aboriginal cultural practices’ are to the diverse and unique Aboriginal communities within the State. However, it is important that both public authorities and Aboriginal peoples understand that cultural rights are protected under the Charter and can be used to achieve positive outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians.

Preliminary findings

We feel like we can't be Aboriginal, we can't practice our culture, and we can't be ourselves. We feel like we have to hide inside.
– Community member

The Commission's consultation established that there is a need for, and strong interest in, targeted resources, training and engagement to support and promote Aboriginal cultural rights in Victoria.

Our preliminary findings show:

  • a substantial lack of knowledge, understanding and use of Aboriginal cultural rights under section 19(2) of the Charter by both the Victorian Aboriginal community and Victorian public authorities
  • fewer than half the community members who completed the survey knew that Aboriginal cultural rights were protected under the Charter
  • most survey participants questioned whether section 19(2) has made a difference in practice, noting a lack of awareness and use of Aboriginal cultural rights by public authorities
  • community organisations only use section 19(2) of the Charter as an advocacy tool in limited circumstances – in part, due to a lack of understanding about how and when to use it
  • most Victorian government departments engage with Aboriginal culture as part of their work but do not refer to or use section 19(2) of the Charter. However, the extent of engagement with section 19(2) depends on the type of public authority and the work it does. In some cases, section 19(2) directly influences the work of public authorities.

The Commission also heard about the great work that the Victorian Aboriginal community and public authorities are already doing to protect and promote Aboriginal culture in Victoria. We hope to share some of these case studies as part of the next phase of the project.


For more information contact the project team:

Jidah Clark, Senior Adviser, Aboriginal Policy and Research
Phone: (03) 9032 3409

This page contains background information on the project. For the Signs for Health website, visit

The Commission has conducted research into how Auslan interpreters are provided to patients in Victorian hospitals. We researched this issue because of concerns raised by our Disability Reference Group and other stakeholders, suggesting that there are gaps in how Auslan interpreters are made available in hospitals.

Our research builds on Deaf Victoria’s report An Inquiry into Access to Auslan Interpreters in Victorian Hospitals

The project began with a series of interviews and focus groups with public hospital staff to determine current practice and levels of awareness about providing Auslan interpreters, and possible solutions to improve health outcomes for patients who are deaf, hard of hearing of deafblind.

A second phase of the project, developing solutions to respond to the findings from the consultations, began in early 2015. This has included the development of a new website, Signs for Health, launched on 19 October 2016.

Project Recommendations

The Commission has proposed the following six recommendations in response to consultation findings. These recommendations were developed in consultation with the project Reference Group, including Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and interpreting units across five Victorian hospitals.

  1. The Commission develop a website portal that will include information on obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities relating to providing Auslan interpreters in hospitals. The content of this portal should be developed in a collaborative manner with DHHS, the Deaf community and Deaf sector organisations, and will include information and resources for hospital staff, patients and Auslan interpreters.
  2. The Commission develop an information resource for patients who are Deaf and hard of hearing on their right to access Auslan interpreting within hospitals to be disseminated through hospital networks.
  3. Vicdeaf develop written guidance for health services on the acceptable use of technology for communicating with patients who are Deaf and hard of hearing – particularly videoconferencing (e.g. ClearSea or Skype) as an alternative to providing an Auslan interpreter in limited situations.
  4. DHHS encourage training by the Commission at the request of hospitals regarding providing Auslan interpreters to enhance patient outcomes and satisfy legal obligations. Training would be targeted to each hospital in recognition that hospitals often have individualised needs in relation to staff training.
  5. DHHS, with the assistance of the Commission, develop and disseminate a brief overview of the obligation to provide Auslan interpreters for patients who are Deaf or hard of hearing to ensure quality and safety for patients. This should include information about the source of these obligations, including language services policies, the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights, the Equal Opportunity Act and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
  6. DHHS amend the Language Services Policy to provide more information on alternative communication methods (e.g. videoconferencing), and consider input provided by the Commission.

The project is supported by a Reference Group including representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, Deaf VictoriaVicdeaf, Royal Women's Hospital and Bendigo Health.

Signs for Health

As part of this work, the Commission has launched Signs for Health, a web-based information resource. Signs for Health provides information for Victorian hospital staff to assist with providing safe, high-quality healthcare for patients who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind. This includes information on providing Auslan interpreters and other communication supports for patients who are deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind as well as information about associated legal obligations. It also provides information for patients who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind on their rights to an interpreter when they go to hospital.

Signs for Health can be accessed at

Launch Event

Signs for Health was officially launched on 19 October by Mary-Anne Thomas, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Parliamentary Secretary for Carers. Other speakers were Brent Philips, General Manager of Community and Languages Services at Vicdeaf, Kristen Hilton, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, and Sue Matthews, CEO of the Royal Women's Hospital.

Watch a video of speeches from the launch (with Auslan interpreter).

Download a transcript of the speeches from the launch (DOC, 26KB).

More information

For more information about this project please contact us at

Thursday, 08 November 2012 03:31

Local Government Human Rights

Charter Report 2012 – local government input

Every year the Commission produces a report on the operation of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Charter reports are available to download.

Local Government Human Rights Forums 2012

To help support councils in their important work with human rights, the Commission hosted a series of local government human rights forums in November and December 2012 in Melbourne, Wangaratta, Ararat and Mildura. The forums aimed to develop skills to put human rights into practice in governance and service delivery roles.

The development of the forums was greatly assisted by an Advisory Group with representatives from a range of councils, the Municipal Association of Victoria, and the Victorian Local Governance Association. Information and case studies coming out of the forums will be available in the Local Government section of this website. Please let us know if you have anything to add or would like to see as part of this resource.

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