How are human rights protected in Australian law?
Unlike most similar liberal democracies, Australia does not have a Bill of Rights. Instead, protections for human rights may be found in the Constitution and in legislation passed by the Commonwealth Parliament or State or Territory Parliaments.
There are five explicit individual rights in the Constitution. These are the right to vote (Section 41), protection against acquisition of property on unjust terms (Section 51 (xxxi)), the right to a trial by jury (Section 80), freedom of religion (Section 116) and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of State of residency (Section 117).
The High Court has found that additional rights for individuals may be necessarily implied by the language and structure of the Constitution. In 1992 the Court decided that Australia's form of parliamentary democracy (dictated by the Constitution) necessarily requires a degree of freedom for individuals to discuss and debate political issues.
Australia's common law was inherited from the United Kingdom. Common law is often called 'judge-made' law. This distinguishes it from laws made in Parliament. As well as common law, United Kingdom law includes the Magna Carta of 1215 which was probably the first human rights treaty. Student and teacher resources about the Magna Carta are available here: Magna Carta - the story of our freedom. 800th Anniversary (2015).
- Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights: A National Human Rights Consultation (2019)
- Common law rights and human rights scrutiny (2013)
- National Human Rights Consultation information (2009 - 2010)
- Attorney-General’s Department human rights and anti-discrimination pages
What is the Commission's role?
The Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 details the powers and functions of the Australian Human Rights Commission as the Commonwealth agency responsible for monitoring and promoting human rights protection.
The Commission also has responsibilities under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and the Age Discrimination Act 1996.
The principle of non-discrimination is a fundamental one in human rights law - all human rights should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of factors such as race, sex or disability.