Building understanding and respect for human rights - Annual Report 2009-2010: Australian Human Rights Commission

The year in review

Building understanding and respect for human rights

A fundamental goal of the Commission is to engage all parts of the Australian community in a constructive dialogue about human rights and how they can be better protected.

Community education is a critical tool for addressing many of the human rights and discrimination concerns that are raised with us. That’s why it is one of our two priority areas of action.

In April 2010, the Australian Government released the Australian Human Rights Framework and committed $6.6 million to the Commission over four years to advance our work in this area.

This funding has helped us establish and implement a range of initiatives during 2010-11 to better connect with the broader Australian community.

We also continued our long-standing role of providing vulnerable groups with information and skills to address discrimination and unfair treatment.

In addition, the Commission provided advice and recommendations to the Government to ensure that a human rights perspective could be integrated across a broad range of policy issues.

Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

On 13 December 2010, the Commission launched a set of plain language resources to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples better understand and protect their rights.

Our community guide to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples uses real-life examples to explain the key principles of the Declaration and describe how communities can use it to promote practical action.

Funded by the Christensen Fund, with additional support from Oxfam Australia, the community guide is complemented by a poster and an eight-page overview. A DVD version of the resource will be available later in 2011.

Since being launched, there has been high demand for the materials from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations. Funding to print additional copies of the community guide has been provided by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Membership of the Indigenous Human Rights Network Australia (IHRNA), which the Commission launched in April 2010, continues to grow strongly: from less than 200 a year ago to nearly 350 at the end of the reporting period.

The IHRNA website1 provides a one-stop-shop for information on international human rights treaties relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It also offers a forum for advocates to share advice and best practice.

Working with educators

During 2010-11 we continued our efforts to include human rights education in schools across Australia. We believe that applying discussions of rights and responsibilities to practical situations helps young people become active and engaged citizens.

To further this work, the Commission:
  • developed a position paper on Human Rights Education in the National Curriculum
  • co-hosted a major roundtable discussion on the issue with the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) in December 2010
  • provided submissions to ACARA on integrating human rights into specialist subjects, as well as cross-cutting themes and general capabilities
  • provided our curriculum-linked RightsED teaching resources online.

Working with Australian Muslim communities

Sporting and arts-based projects, along with new approaches to community consultation, have helped build trust and stronger relationships between Muslim communities and police.

Between 2007 and 2010, 38 projects, which ran in communities around Australia, were funded by the Commission and selected in partnership with the Australian Multicultural Foundation.

The Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University, prepared an independent review of these projects, which was launched in Melbourne on 25 March 2011.

The review highlighted a number of ‘best practice’ approaches that could be trialled in other communities to improve understanding and help break down negative stereotypes.

The Community Policing Partnership Project was one of seven major initiatives conducted by the Commission since 2007, using funding we received through the National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security.

A number of these projects were completed last year and reported in our 2009-10 Annual Report.

In the previous 12 months the Commission completed:

  • a major research report on freedom of religion and belief in 21st century Australia, which received almost 2,000 submissions from a wide cross-section of individuals and organisations
  • a literature review on intersections between the law, religion and human rights, prepared by Schofield King Lawyers.

Issues raised during the course of this work have led us to develop a range of new initiatives to support specific communities in the coming year. These include:

  • human rights education and advocacy for African Australian communities
  • promoting increased access to justice and settlement services for African Australian communities
  • human rights, advocacy and leadership training for community development workers engaging Muslim communities.

Contributing to better laws and policies

The Commission has an important role to review laws and policies that raise human rights issues.

We provide advice and recommendations to ensure that Australian laws and policies operate fairly and meet our national and international human rights commitments.

During 2010-11, we presented 12 submissions to parliamentary committees and other inquiry bodies, including the:

  • Inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test and Other Provisions) Bill 2011
  • Independent Review of the Intelligence Community
  • Inquiry into the Commonwealth Commissioner for Children and Young People Bill 2010

Working with business and industry

During the year, the Commission was invited to join a newly-established network of business and industry leaders which aims to assist Australian companies to make human rights principles an everyday part of work.

Launched in December 2010, Australia’s first-ever Business and Human Rights Working Group brings together senior executives from companies across a wide range of sectors, including the mining, financial services, property development and professional services industries.

At the Working Group’s meeting in April 2011, the Commission provided guidance and resources on integrating human right principles into business planning and operations.

The Working Group was established by the Global Compact Network Australia, a local network of the United Nations Global Compact.

Recognising Australia’s human rights champions

Held on 10 December, Human Rights Day, our annual Human Rights Awards are an important way of acknowledging the tireless work of individuals and groups to make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

The 2010 Human Rights Medal was presented to Thérèse Rein for her long-standing dedication to human rights, especially her work to support people with disability into meaningful employment.

Jack Manning Bancroft, 25, was awarded the Young People’s Human Rights Medal for his efforts to improve opportunities for young Indigenous Australians.

Around 400 people attended the ceremony, which also featured the Human Rights Oration by Commission President Catherine Branson. Awards were also presented in the following categories: Law, Community (Organisation), Community (Individual), Print Media, Literature

(Non-fiction), Radio and Television. We are grateful for the support of our two major sponsors, Rio Tinto and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. A full list of Award recipients, commendations and sponsors is available at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/hr_awards/previous_winners/.

Informing and engaging Australians

We use a wide variety of means to connect with the Australian public and share information about human rights and listen to community views.

Online

Our website – www.humanrights.gov.au – is our primary tool for communicating with the Australian community. Updated daily, it provides information about our complaint handling work, current projects, new reports, speeches, media releases and resources for schools and community groups.

During 2010-11, the site recorded 14,433,667 page views and 4,740,564 unique visits. This represents an increase of 16.5% in the number of page views from the previous year. A summary of website statistics is provided at Appendix 3. In addition, we had 23,400 subscribers to our electronic mailing lists.

New audio interviews on topical human rights issues – called Podrights – were uploaded to the site on a fortnightly basis.

The Commission uses Facebook, Twitter and My Space to communicate with different groups of people. We also share video highlights of our major events on YouTube and publish photos on Flickr.

Publications and resources

We prepare a broad range of materials every year from plain-language brochures and community guides to major reports and submissions. These resources are all available on our website inaccessible formats. We also produce DVDs and CDs to reach different audiences.

During 2010-11, we distributed 40,048publications and resources in response to 1,024 requests. This was in addition to resources distributed by Commissioners and staff at community consultations or public events.

Presentations and education

Over the past 12 months, the President and Commissioners addressed a broad range of conferences, seminars and public events. A selection of these speeches is available on our website.

Our staff delivered information sessions about current projects, federal human rights laws and the Commission’s complaint process to groups in all states and territories, including legal and advocacy groups, professional associations, unions, multicultural organisations and universities. We also provide training in statutory investigation and conciliation for Commission staff, as well as staff of state and territory anti-discrimination commissions and other relevant organisations. A number of in-house training courses were held in the past 12 months.

Engaging the media

The Commission engages with the media to draw public attention to significant human rights issues. During 2010-11, the President and Commissioners received approximately 1170 requests for interviews from print, radio, television and online journalists. We distributed 116 media releases and had 17 opinion editorials published in newspapers and journals around Australia.

Some of the key topics of media interest included:

  • the Commission’s reports on immigration detention facilities
  • the announcement of the inquiry into the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy
  • the passage of new disability standards to improve access to premises
  • proposed constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • our review of human rights issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Australians.

Human Rights 2011

More than 1,300 people filled the Sydney Town Hall on 23 May 2011 to listen to the only public presentation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, during her visit to Australia.

Organised by the Commission, Ms Pillay was joined in a panel discussion by Professor Patrick Dodson, Australia’s ‘father of reconciliation’, and Paris Aristotle AM, Director of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture.