The HR Act obliges public authorities, including government agencies and those performing outsourced government functions, to act and make decisions consistently with human rights. These rights may also be used by courts and tribunals in interpreting laws, and where legislation is incompatible with s 27(2) and a consistent interpretation cannot be adopted, the ACT Supreme Court may issue a ‘declaration of incompatibility’.
In its submission to the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee’s inquiry into the amending legislation, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission noted substantial outcomes from the cultural rights in that state included the passage of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. This legislation provides an out of court settlement of native title matters in Victoria.
It remains to be seen how the new rights will be applied in the ACT. Based on the experience of the HR Act to date, such application is important not only through courts and tribunals, but also behind the scenes as the government bureaucracy considers these new obligations in the provision of services and the making of decisions. In particular, the right has the potential to further fulfil and realise the principles of self-autonomy and engagement.
SEAN COSTELLO is Senior Manager, Legal and Governance, with the ACT Human Rights Commission.