The Australian Capital Territory (‘ACT’) was the first jurisdiction to entrench human rights in the law when it introduced the Human Rights Act 2004 (‘the Act’). The ACT also created or complemented a framework of institutions that allows Canberrans to access the protections afforded in the Act. Until now, however, the Act had concentrated only on civil and political rights. Thus the incorporation in the Act of Part 3A: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a novel step in Australian jurisdictions. Professor Byrnes suggested that the ACT law, which establishes ESC rights, might be the ‘First ESC right in Australia’.
Section 27A of the Act provides a (limited) right to education, and aims to capture aspects of ICESCR. In introducing the amendments to the Act, the ACT’s Attorney-General acknowledged a ‘gradualist approach’ to the expansion of positive rights. ACT Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Helen Watchirs, took a positive view when she foreshadowed changes to the Act when it is reviewed in a few years.
ASMI WOOD teaches law at the Australian National University.