Friday 6 October 2017


Rosalind Croucher AM, President

We can all have our say within the bounds of law

Respect is the essence of a civil society. It is the cornerstone of human rights - the "active voice" of dignity that links all the international conventions to which Australia has committed.

Respect is tolerance. It is a fundamental basis of our democratic society to be able to express our thoughts and feelings, and to respect those of others, within the law. Respect should be practised by everyone, everywhere, everyday - in every workplace, school, sporting field, shopping mall and so on.

For the most part, Australians are respectful of their fellow citizens. We are a diverse country with eclectic views on various issues, some of them deeply personal, that affect our very way of life, our identity and our society.

We are also brave enough to share these views, even when they may not be fashionable.

These are the times when the confluence of respect, tolerance and freedom of expression can short-circuit. It's all too easy to consider ourselves justified on one side of a divide, while forgetting that there is more that unites us than divides us.

We are all human. We all deserve the right to speak freely and be heard, to have our life process and its outcomes.

The AHRC also has a role in building respect through its wide range of educational programs and initiatives. From work on preventing cyberdecisions respected, our political persuasions tolerated and supported - within the rule of law. A guiding principle in my upbringing was "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". It is common to many religions and is quintessentially an expression of respect. Recognising the dignity of every Australian requires us to practise respect the force that will enable us to combat stereotyping and division based on difference.

There are many examples of the public embodiment of respect in our lives honouring war veterans, acknowledging "holy days", and marking significant democratic achievements.

The inverse of respect is where those who are different or disagree are treated as "ignorant" or "evil", or dismissed as "haters". The law provides some limit on the expression of intolerance through laws against defamation and certain forms of discrimination. Ultimately, there are criminal laws, such as those directed at treason.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has a role in helping people with aspects of disrespect. We hear from about 15,000 people a year who consider they have been denied respect and dignity. About 2000 of them pursue our formal complaints process, which is based on conciliation. Only a tiny number of these complaints ends up in court, and most participants are very satisfied with the professionalism of the bullying and a song for preschoolers with the repeated line "let's join hands and show we care", to a video about the importance of the Magna Carta, our outreach in contributing to building respectful citizens and bystander support is one of the most important and perhaps quietest of the commission's achievements.

Democratic societies are hindered by disrespect. As Martin Luther King Jr said: "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." It is not unfathomable for us to listen, consider and respond with respect. It is called a conversation - even a debate.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" sums it up pretty well.

Published in: 
The Australian