The Australian Human
- 1.1 Vision
- 1.2 Mission
- 1.3 New Strategic Plan
- 1.4 Structure
- 1.5 Legislation
- 1.6 Functions and powers
- 1.7 Specific functions of the President and Commissioners
- 1.8 Minister
- 1.9 Outcome structure
Human rights: everyone, everywhere, everyday
Leading the promotion and protection of human rights in Australia by:
- making human rights values part of everyday life
- empowering all people to understand and exercise
their human rights
- working with individuals, community, business and
government to inspire
- keeping government accountable to national and
- securing an Australian charter of rights.
We do this by:
- listening, learning, communicating and educating
- being open, expert, committed and impartial
- fostering a collaborative, diverse, flexible, respectful
In September 2008, the Commission launched its strategic plan for 2008-11.
This strategic plan is the result of HREOC21, the inclusive, Commission-wide
planning process described in the 2007-08 Annual Report.
The objective of the Commission’s new strategic plan is to build on the
Commission’s strengths so that it is in a better position to help build an
Australian culture where human rights are understood, respected and enjoyed by
‘everyone, everywhere, everyday’.
To this end, the Commission has identified five strategic goals to guide all
of its work.
Those five goals are:
We exercise a leadership role in human rights in Australia by being visible,
courageous and influential on human rights issues.
We support and inspire others to engage in meaningful activity on human
We assist all people in Australia to understand and exercise their rights and
respect the rights of others.
We hold individuals, organisations and government responsible for their human
We have a collaborative, innovative and supportive work culture that enhances
the quality and impact of our work.
Flowing from the strategic plan, there have been a number of internal and
external changes to the way the Commission works. For example, the Commission
- rebranded itself with a new name (Australian Human Rights Commission
replaces the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission), a modernised logo
and a fresh and consistent design for all external publications
- a stronger focus on reaching new and broader audiences, and to this end, has
incorporated the use of new media and social marketing strategies into its
- a stronger emphasis on developing strong and sustainable partnerships and
alliances with new and existing partners, as a way to increase the breadth and
depth of our impact
- launched a new intranet platform to improve internal communications
- developed more synchronised and collaborative internal planning
In summary, the Commission has a stronger and clearer
focus on: providing leadership on human rights issues in Australia; educating a
more diverse group of people in Australia to understand the relevance of human
rights to their everyday lives; and engaging those people to help create a
stronger human rights culture in Australia.
The Commission is a national independent statutory body established under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 (see section 1.5.1
on page 7). It has a President and five Commissioners. The five positions are
currently held by three persons.
1.4.1 President –
The Hon. Catherine Branson, QC
The Hon. Catherine Branson was appointed President of the Commission on
August 2008 and commenced her five-year term on 14 October 2008.
At the time of her appointment, she was a judge of the Federal Court of
Australia, a position she had held since 1994. The jurisdiction of the Federal
Court includes jurisdiction to hear and determine complaints alleging unlawful
discrimination under Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws.
Justice Branson was the inaugural convenor of the Federal Court’s
Equality and the Law Committee, which was created in 1997. She was also the
inaugural convenor of the Court’s Human Rights Panel for New South
At the time of her appointment to the Federal Court, Ms Branson was a member
of the Board of Examiners of the Supreme Court of South Australia, a council
member of the University of South Australia and a Trustee of the Adelaide
Festival Centre Trust. She had earlier been Deputy Chair of the Adelaide Medical
Centre for Women and Children and a member of the National Women’s
Ms Branson is a past President of the Australian Institute for Judicial
Administration and a former member of the Board of Management of IDLO
governmental organisation based in Rome enjoying observer status at the United
Nations). She is a member of the International Association of Judges and the
International Association of Refugee Law Judges (and was until recently convenor
of the association’s Human Rights Nexus Working Party).
Prior to her appointment as a judge, she practised as a barrister at the
Adelaide Bar in South Australia, principally in the areas of administrative law,
including discrimination law, and commercial law. She was appointed
Queen’s Counsel in 1992.
Between 1984-89, she was Crown Solicitor of South Australia and the CEO of
the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department.
Ms Branson holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws from the
University of Adelaide.
(In addition to her role as President, Ms Branson was appointed Human Rights
Commissioner on 13 July 2009).
1.4.2 Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Race Discrimination
Commissioner – Mr Tom Calma
Mr Calma is an Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member
of the Iwaidja tribal group whose traditional lands are south west of Darwin and
on the Coburg Peninsula in Northern Territory, respectively. He has been
involved in Indigenous affairs at a local, community, state, national and
international level and worked in the public sector for over 35 years.
Mr Calma has broad experience in public administration, particularly in
Indigenous education programs and in developing employment and training programs
for Indigenous people from both a national policy and program perspective.
He served three terms as a Director of Aboriginal Hostels Ltd and as a
Company Director for a private tourism and hospitality venture in the Northern
Until his appointment as Commissioner, on 12 July 2004 for five years,
Calma managed the Community Development and Education Branch at Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Services where he worked with remote Indigenous
communities to implement community-based and driven empowerment and
participation programs. In 2003, he was Senior Adviser Indigenous Affairs to the
Minister of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.
From 1995-2002, he worked as a senior Australian diplomat in India and
Vietnam representing Australia’s interests in education and training.
During his time in India, he also oversaw the management of the Australian
international education offices in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
He moved to Canberra in 1992 and undertook various assignments, including
Executive Director to the Secretary and Senior Executive of the Department of
Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DEETYA).
In the early 1980s, Mr Calma and Indigenous colleagues established the
Aboriginal Task Force (ATF) at the Darwin Community College (which later became
the Darwin Institute of Technology), which provided second chance education
programs for Indigenous people. He became a senior lecturer and head of the ATF
for six years.
He has also served as Race Discrimination Commissioner from 12 July 2004
until 12 July 2009.
In this role Mr Calma has convened three Australia/New Zealand Race Relations
Roundtables and launched significant papers including the Voices publication as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations for the Racial
Discrimination Act in 2005.
He has produced two Face the facts publications providing factual
information about Australia’s cultural diversity and conducted the
Unlocking Doors project with police and Muslim communities in 2006-07.
Mr Calma presented a Multiculturalism Position Paper in August 2007 to
reinvigorate community debate and government commitment to multiculturalism.
More recently, he launched the Freedom of religion and belief in the 21st
century project in September 2008 and has undertaken a major project researching
the needs of African Australians.
Commissioner Calma has been a White Ribbon Day Ambassador since 2005. White
Ribbon Day is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against
Women. Commissioner Calma has also been a national patron of the Wakakirri
National Story Festival since 2006.
Mr Calma was awarded the prestigious number one position in the Indigenous
category for The Bulletin magazine’s Power 100 for 2007. The Power
100 selects the 100 most powerful people in Australia. It is judged by a group
of 10 who select people they consider share one common trait - the ability
and desire to drive change.
Mr Calma was also awarded the 2008 Man of Inspiration award in GQ
Australia magazine’s 2008 Man of the Year awards.
(In July 2009, Mr Calma’s term as Social Justice Commissioner was
extended for six months until the end of January 2010).
1.4.3 Human Rights
Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner – Mr
Graeme Innes, AM
Mr Innes has been Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner and Disability
Discrimination Commissioner for over three years.
As Commissioner, he has led or contributed to initiatives including: the Same
Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry, achieving removal of discrimination against same
sex couples and their children across federal law; drafting of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and ratification
by Australia; three inspections of Australia’s immigration detention
facilities; and development of a National Disability Strategy.
Mr Innes is a lawyer, mediator and company director. He has been a human
rights practitioner for almost 30 years in NSW, WA and nationally.
Mr Innes has been a Member of the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal, the
NSW Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal; and the Social Security Appeals
Tribunal, as well as a Hearing Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights
Mr Innes was Chair of the Disability Advisory Council of Australia, and the
first Chair of Vision Australia, Australia’s national blindness agency. He
has been one of Australia’s delegates to the World Blind Union, and the
President of its Asia-Pacific region.
Mr Innes has been a consultant on disability issues to organisations such as
Westpac, Qantas, and Sydney Water. He has also been a Councillor on Ku-ring-gai
In 1995, Mr Innes was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his
contribution to Australia’s disability discrimination legislation. He was
a finalist for Australian of the Year in 2003.
Mr Innes is married with an adult son and a daughter in primary school. He
enjoys cricket (as a spectator) and sailing (as a participant), and relaxes by
drinking fine Australian white wine.
(Mr Innes completed his term as Human Rights Commissioner on 12 July 2009 and
was appointed Race Discrimination Commissioner for a three-year term on 13 July
1.4.4 Sex Discrimination
Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination
– Elizabeth Broderick
On 10 September 2007, Ms Broderick was appointed Sex Discrimination
Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination for a five-year
A lawyer and businesswoman, Ms Broderick was the 2001-02 Telstra NSW Business
Woman of the Year and Australian Corporate Business Woman of the Year.
Prior to her appointment as Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner
responsible for Age Discrimination, Ms Broderick was a partner at one of
Australia’s leading law firms, Blake Dawson, and developed the
firm’s business case for flexibility in the workplace. Her efforts
contributed to creating a workplace where more than 20 percent of the law
firm’s workforce now uses flexible work arrangements.
Ms Broderick has travelled the length and breadth of Australia, listening to
the concerns of women and men about gender equality and age discrimination. In
2009, she took a group of Aboriginal women to the United Nations Commission on
the Status of Women in New York City, where they told their story of rebuilding
their community following years of alcohol abuse. This opportunity enabled
community women’s voices to be heard on a global stage.
Ms Broderick is an advisor on women’s issues to the Australian Chief of
the Defence Force, a member of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS)
Advisory Board and the Vic Health Advisory Board. She is patron of the Tasmanian
Ms Broderick is married and has two young children.
The Commission is responsible for administering the following Acts:
- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
(Human Rights and
Equal Opportunity Commission Act)
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Racial Discrimination Act)
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Sex Discrimination Act)
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Disability Discrimination Act)
- Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Age Discrimination Act).
performed under these Acts are vested in the Commission as a collegiate body, in
the President or individual members of the Commission or in the federal
Other legislation administered through the Commission includes functions
under the Native Title Act 1993, performed by the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner
has functions in relation to federal awards and equal pay under the Workplace
Relations Act 1996.
1.5.1 Human Rights and
Equal Opportunity Commission Act
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act established the
Commission and outlines its powers and functions. Human rights are strictly
defined, and only relate to the international instruments scheduled to, or
declared under, the Act. They are the:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Declaration on the Rights of the Child
- Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons
- Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons
- Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance
Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief
- Convention Concerning Discrimination in Respect of
For further information about these international
instruments, see Appendix 1.
(On 25 June 2009, Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination and
Other Human Rights Amendment Act 2009 (Cth) which, among other things,
changed the name of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth). This change commenced
operation on 5 August 2009).
The Racial Discrimination Act gives effect to Australia’s obligations
under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Its main aims are to:
- promote equality before the law for all persons, regardless
race, colour or national or ethnic origin
- make discrimination on the basis of race, colour, descent
or national or
ethnic origin, unlawful
- provide protection against racial hatred.
1.5.3 Sex Discrimination
The Sex Discrimination Act gives effect to Australia’s obligations
under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women and certain aspects of the International Labour Organization (ILO)
Its main aims are to:
- promote equality between men and women
- eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status
pregnancy, and family responsibilities
- eliminate sexual harassment at work, in educational institutions, in the
provision of goods and services, accommodation and in the delivery of
The objectives of the Disability Discrimination Act are to:
- eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities as far as is
- promote community acceptance of the principle that people with disabilities
have the same fundamental rights as all members of the community
- ensure as far as practicable that people with disabilities have the same
rights to equality before the law as other people in the
1.5.5 Age Discrimination
The objectives of the Age Discrimination Act are to:
- promote equality before the law for all persons regardless of their age
- eliminate discrimination against persons on the ground of age in many areas
of public life such as employment, education and the provision of services or
- change negative stereotypes about older people.
The Commission has a range of functions and powers under federal legislation,
which can be grouped into four main areas:
- providing education and raising public awareness about human rights
- handling complaints of discrimination and breaches of human rights
- researching human rights issues and contributing to policy developments
- legal advocacy on human rights issues.
The Commission exercises
its functions in a variety of ways, including those listed below.
The Commission investigates and conciliates complaints of discrimination or
breaches of human rights under federal laws.
The Commission has developed an extensive and accessible website containing
research, publications, resources and education programs designed for young
people, teachers, community groups, business, media and the community at large.
The website is one of the Commission’s primary education and awareness
The Commission works closely with print, radio, television and new media to
raise public awareness about important human rights issues and to promote human
rights as broadly as possible.
The Commission works closely with organisations and leaders in the community,
government and business sectors to provide education on relevant human rights
issues and to support them in their efforts to better protect and promote human
When the Commission identifies a systemic human rights issue of national
importance, the Commission can hold public inquiries and consultations to
research the problem and identify relevant, practical and principled solutions.
The Commission works closely with the federal parliament and government to
provide independent advice regarding the development of laws, programs and
policies that will better protect and promote human rights.
The Commission publishes annual reports on Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander social justice and native title.
The Commission makes submissions to parliamentary and other inquiries in
order to identify human rights issues which may arise in proposed or existing
laws and policies.
The Commission works in the legal system through education focussed on legal
professionals and by appearing as an intervener or as amicus curiae in cases
that involve human rights.
The Commission works at an international level to engage and support national
human rights institutions around the world, particularly through the
Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. The Commission also
works on human rights technical co-operations programs in China and Vietnam.
In addition to the broad functions outlined above, the President, the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and the Sex
Discrimination Commissioner have specific responsibilities.
The President is the Chief Executive Officer of the Commission, responsible
for its financial and administrative affairs. The President is also responsible
for the complaint handling function of the Commission.
1.7.2 Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, under
the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act, prepares an annual report
on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights of Indigenous people and
undertakes social justice education and promotional activities.
The Commissioner also performs reporting functions under the Native Title
Act 1993. This includes preparing an annual report on the operation of the
Act and its effect on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights of Indigenous
people. In addition, the Commissioner reports, when requested by the Minister,
on any other matter relating to the rights of Indigenous people under this
1.7.3 Sex Discrimination
The Workplace Relations Act 1996 gives the Sex Discrimination
Commissioner the power to initiate and refer equal pay cases to the Australian
Industrial Relations Commission.
Section 46PV of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act gives
Commissioners an amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’)
function. The role of an amicus curiae is to provide special assistance
to a court in resolving issues raised by a case and to draw attention to aspects
of the case that might otherwise have been overlooked.
Under this function, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, the Human Rights
Commissioner, the Race Discrimination Commissioner and the Sex Discrimination
Commissioner may seek the permission of the Federal Court, or Federal
Magistrates Court, to assist the court as amicus curiae in the hearing of
unlawful discrimination applications.
The Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert McClelland MP, is the Minister
responsible in Parliament for the Commission. He has a number of powers under
the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act.
The most significant are:
- to make, vary or revoke an arrangement with states or territories for the
performance of functions relating to human rights or to discrimination in
employment or occupation
- to declare, after consultation with the states, an international instrument
to be one relating to human rights and freedoms for the purposes of the Act
- to establish an advisory committee (or committees) to advise the Commission
in relation to the performance of its functions. The Commission will, at his
request, report to him on Australia’s compliance with International
Labour Organization Convention 111 and advise him on national policies
relating to equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and
The Commission has one outcome:
An Australian society in which the human rights of all are respected,
protected and promoted.
There is one output for the Commission’s outcome:
Australians have access to independent human rights complaint handling and
public inquiries processes and benefit from human rights education, promotion
and monitoring and compliance activities.
| Table 1:
Resources for outcome
|Outcome 1 – An Australian society in which human rights are
respected, protected and promoted through independent investigation and
resolution of complaints, education and research to promote and eliminate
discrimination, and monitoring, and reporting on human rights.
Actual Expenses 2008-09 $’000
Output Group 1.1 – Australians have access to independent
human rights complaint handling and public inquiries processes and benefit from
human rights education, promotion and monitoring, and compliance
Ordinary annual services
(Appropriation Bill No.1)
Revenues from independent sources (Section 31)
Expenses not requiring appropriation
in the budget year
Subtotal for Output Group 1.1
Total for Outcome 1
Average staffing level (number)
* Full-year budget, including any subsequent adjustment made to the 2008-09