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Thursday, 14 November 2019 10:30

Human rights a critical foundation for community engagement: Charter Report 2018

Victoria’s public servants recognise the value of human rights, and there are positive signs that public authorities are engaging the community in decisions that affect their rights, according to a new report from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

The Commission’s annual review of the operation of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, drawing on its own survey as well as data provided by the Victorian Public Sector Commission’s People Matters Survey, reported on a 15 per cent increase in the number of public sector workers who understand their obligations to respect human rights when making decisions.

"The Charter delivers its greatest impact when it’s in everyday use – when public sector workers, departments, local government, ministers and police understand their obligations and make Victorians’ human rights a central part of their decision-making,” said the Commission’s Executive Director, Catherine Dixon. "There are positive indications that the Charter is acting as a vital foundation for a fairer, more democratic and more inclusive Victoria.”

The report outlines practical examples of public authorities putting human rights into action, from including human rights messaging in their internal communications, building the Charter into decision-making processes and participating in human rights training programs.

In the Commission’s survey of 35 public authorities, there was positive progress in employees’ attitudes towards human rights, their knowledge of how human rights are protected, and organisations’ transparency and accountability. The results for other areas, such as the use of systems and processes to embed human rights, were more variable. When it comes to leaders’ engagement with human rights, there were positive results but some room for improvement.

"Strong leadership that values and promotes human rights is essential for building a human rights culture in Victoria’s public sector,” said Ms Dixon. "Effective public sector leaders embed human rights in their organisation’s planning, operations and performance reviews. They make human rights part of the conversation with leadership at all levels of the organisation.”

Victoria’s courts and tribunals are one area in which the Charter is having a significant impact. During 2018, the Charter influenced the court’s decision in more than 40 cases. In one high-profile case, the Supreme Court used the Charter to confirm that Aboriginal cultural rights need to be taken into account when Aboriginal people ask for their case be heard before a Koori Court.

To effectively measure Victoria’s human rights culture, the Commission worked with PwC to develop a tailored human rights culture indicator framework, ensuring the rigour of the Commission’s reporting process and providing valuable insights from public authorities of all sizes.

"Having a robust indicator framework to measure Victoria’s human rights culture has improved our methodology and our ability to dig deep into the role of human rights in law-making and decision-making in Victoria’s public sector. We’ll continue to use the framework in our work and help public authorities to use it to develop their understanding of human rights under the Charter,” said Ms Dixon.

While the report found some positive indications about the strength of Victoria’s human rights culture, it also identified slow progress to implement the recommendations from a 2015 review of the Charter. "The independent review of the Charter in 2015 pinpointed valuable opportunities to strengthen Victoria’s Charter, but progress to implement the recommendations has been slow. We urge the Victorian Government to continue implementing the outstanding recommendations, to help strengthen the role of human rights in this state and the protections available for all Victorians,” said Ms Dixon. 

With the introduction of the Charter in 2006, Victoria became the first state in Australia to have a specific human rights charter. Every year, the Commission reports to government on the operation of the Charter within Victoria. This Charter Report covers the 2018 calendar year.

Read the full 2018 Charter Report

Read the summary of the 2018 Charter Report

Download the human rights culture indicator framework

Media contact

Peter Davies
0447 526 642
Email: [email protected] 


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