: Victoria — first in the democratic world to wind back human rights protections?

Victoria — first in the democratic world to wind back human rights protections?

Philip Lynch

Victoria will become the first state in the developed, democratic world to substantially weaken the legal protection of human rights if the recommendations of a parliamentary committee on the future of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights are accepted.

The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee has tabled its review of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. While the Committee recommends against repeal of the Charter, it does recommend that courts have no role or a substantially reduced role in enforcing human rights and providing remedies when they are breached. It also recommends that government departments and public services have no or reduced obligations to act compatibly with rights.

Overall, the Committee’s report is profoundly disappointing. While the report made some welcome recommendations that could streamline and strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of the human rights impacts of proposed laws, most of the proposed reforms were regrettable and regressive. Parliament has an important role to play in promoting and protecting human rights, but government and public services also have a critical role to play in respecting human rights and courts in upholding them.

This review should have been used as an opportunity to strengthen the human rights of all Victorians, such as by amending the Charter to enshrine the rights to adequate housing, education and health care. Instead, if enacted, the recommendations will reduce government accountability and Victorians’ access to a fair deal if their rights are breached.

The Victorian government has six months to respond to the report. If the Baillieu government is serious about its commitment to a fair and just Victoria, it will reject most of the recommendations in this report. Victorians deserve greater recognition and protection of values such as freedom, dignity, equality and respect, not less.

The SARC report is available online at: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/sarc/article/1446.

PHIL LYNCH is Executive Director of the Human Rights 
Law Centre.

(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 287
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