Building understanding and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
We all have a responsibility to respect the rights and freedoms of others.
To make this a reality, the Commission works to build greater understanding of human rights and their importance in daily life.
This is one of our two key priorities for 2011-2014.
We work with a broad range of groups across the country, providing community education and training initiatives that aim to show how human rights apply in everyday settings and relationships.
Working with business
Over the past year, the Commission conducted numerous education sessions about the law and the complaint process for potential complainant groups, businesses and government. This included holding workshops in every state and territory to provide information on changes to the Sex Discrimination Act, which protect people against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
In 2013-14, our National Information Service and Investigation and Conciliation Service implemented strategies to enhance service delivery for small business. This included providing a dedicated online contact point to enable small business to obtain information about the law and the complaint process, as well as a streamlined option to assist small business to respond to complaints made to the Commission.
In May 2014, the Commission joined with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to launch a major campaign – Know Where the Line Is – to counter sexual harassment in workplaces across the country. We also published Ending workplace sexual harassment: A resource for small, medium and large employers, which includes practical guidance to assist employers to meet their legal responsibilities, and Recognising and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace: Information for employees.
As part of the National Anti-Racism Strategy and Partnership, the Commission worked with the Diversity Council of Australia to develop a Cultural Diversity Health Check for workplaces. The resource, to be launched in September 2014, will support employers to identify and address potential barriers to diversity within their organisations.
During the year, the Commission began collecting examples of good practice in relation to the recruitment of older workers. Our work in this area – which implements recommendations from the 2013 report of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Access All Ages: Older Workers and Commonwealth Laws – will continue in the coming 12 months, with a toolkit of resources to be developed for employers and recruitment agencies.
Working with the vocational training sector
In December 2013, more than 100 people working in aged care, disability, mental health, multicultural and refugee services graduated from a new training course that provides guidance on applying human rights standards and principles to their work.
The Commission developed and trialled the Human Rights Framework in Community Service Practice skill set in partnership with TAFE, through the School of Social and Community Services, Granville College.
An overwhelming majority (87%) of participants said the course had increased their awareness of human rights in the community services sector in practical and tangible ways. Our evaluation also found that the course supports workers to build skills in emerging areas of practice, such as person-centred care; broadens their existing professional skills; and helps them meet operational and compliance requirements.
Based on these outcomes, the Commission has entered into discussions with the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council about including the human rights skill set in its national training package. Endorsement by the Council would make this skill set accessible to over 320,000 people studying for community sector qualifications.
During the reporting period, the Diploma of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Advocacy was reaccredited by the Australian Skills Quality Authority for another three years. The Diploma is one of a number of vocational courses developed by the Commission to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Complaint of disability discrimination in public transport
The complainant, who has a vision impairment, relies on audible announcements to know whether he is on the correct tram and when he has arrived at his destination. He claimed that the respondent public transport provider did not provide reliable audible announcements on its trams. He also claimed that on one occasion a driver verbally abused him when he asked for the stops to be announced.
On being advised of the complaint, the public transport provider and the associated
government department indicated a willingness to participate in conciliation.
The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the government department would provide funding to equip trams with the technology to deliver audible ‘next stop’ announcements. The public transport provider also undertook to trial ‘next stop’ audible announcement technology for a three-month period and, pending the outcome of the trial, to roll out audible announcements across the entire tram network.
Working with the education sector
In the past year, we continued our efforts to include human rights education in schools across Australia.
Applying discussion of rights and responsibilities to practical situations helps young people become informed, active and engaged citizens.
The Commission has developed a strong working relationship with the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA), providing advice on integrating information about human rights and fundamental freedoms into the new national curriculum.
In 2013-14, we made submissions to ACARA on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages framework and the draft curricula for Civics and Citizenship, Business and Economics, and Health and Physical Education.
During the year, the Commission received funding from ABC Splash – an education initiative of the national broadcaster – to develop a range of infographics and statistic- based teaching resources on topics as diverse as life expectancy, homelessness, respectful
relationships and young people in the workforce.
To be launched later in 2014, the joint project – Choose your own statistics – will bring discussion of ten contemporary human rights issues into the maths classroom and build understanding of how data is used to inform evidence-based decision making across government.
In February 2014, the Commission launched Human rights examples for the Australian Curriculum. The publication provides practical suggestions for teachers to include human rights content in English, History, Geography, Science and Maths for students up to Year 10. As the remaining curricula are finalised, we will undertake further work to identify opportunities for human rights education across these learning areas.
We will also shortly release a suite of curriculum- linked RightsEd resources that will engage students in discussing questions around disability, sexual harassment, racism and cultural diversity.
Working with the public sector
During the year, the Commission finalised an agreement with the Australian Public Service Commission to run training programs for the Australian public service. The first course, run in February 2014, focused on applying human rights to law and policy, with 85% of participants reporting a greater understanding of the topic. Future training will cover dispute resolution skills and delivering inclusive services.
We developed the training program based on feedback from an online survey with members of the Australian Public Service Human Rights Network, which was established by the Commission in 2011. Respondents told us that training should focus on improving service delivery, developing laws and policies and administrative decision-making.
The Human Rights Network is a forum for members, which currently numbers more than 650, to discuss emerging issues and share information on how human rights relate to their work in the public sector. The Commission hosted two events for Network members during the year, with presentations on the challenges facing older workers and the recent amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act.
Through the UNDRIP Articles I will be more forthright in my outlook on life; becoming aware of self-determination strengthens my resolve to improve the life of Gunggandji People in Yarrabah.
Participant in the Declaration Dialogue Series, Cairns
Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
Between August 2013 and June 2014, the Commission and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples hosted 14 ‘Declaration dialogues’ around the country, involving more than 260 people.
These meetings were an opportunity to talk with a broad range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities about their rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how the Declaration can be a catalyst for positive action to strengthen communities and help them realise their aspirations.
The discussions focused on issues related to self- determination; the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to participate in decisions that affect them; maintaining and strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and the importance of ensuring equality and non- discrimination in laws and policies, as well as in people’s everyday lives.
A suite of community education materials was developed by the Commission and National Congress to build community understanding of the Declaration and its provisions.
The Declaration Dialogue Series has also sought to facilitate constructive discussions with other stakeholders – including government, business and industry – in order to build a common understanding of the Declaration.
The ideas gathered from all groups will shape the development of a National Implementation Strategy on the Declaration, which will be adopted at a National Summit to be held in the coming 12 months.
In parallel with the Declaration Dialogue Series, the Commission and National Congress jointly coordinated community forums on formally recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.
The Commission also continued to host the Indigenous Human Rights Network Australia, an online information hub for people with an interest in the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Case study: Your rights at retirement
In July 2013, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan launched Your Rights at Retirement, a one-stop-shop reference guide to help people navigate the complex decisions, services and supports involved in planning and managing their retirement.
The publication includes an overview of the resources and entitlements available to older people, as well as contact details for a range of key service providers.
There has been strong public demand for the publication, with an additional 10,000 copies being printed with funding from Cbus Super and the Commonwealth Department of Human Services.
Funding was also provided by the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship to translate the publication into Italian, Greek and Chinese.
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 obligations.
During 2013-2014, we presented 26 submissions to parliamentary committees and other inquiry or review bodies, including inquiries examining immigration detention-related matters, the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, promoting online safety for children and supporting grandparents who are primary carers for their grandchildren.
We also made submissions in response to four Issues Papers released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Informing and engaging with the Australian community
An important goal of the Commission is to engage the Australian community in a discussion on human rights issues that are relevant to them and their daily lives.
Many of our projects and activities over the past year achieved a substantial impact with the groups that we wanted to reach. We also continued to build our presence on social media and communicate with new audiences, especially younger people.
Website and social media
During 2013-14, the Commission’s website received 7 747 609 pageviews. This is an increase of 23% from the previous year and highlights a growing reach into the community. A summary of website statistics, including details on visits to our project- based microsites, is provided at Appendix 4.
To encourage an online dialogue about key human rights issues, including freedom of expression, we added a comments section on key pages across our website.
Social media is now a core element of all our communication, helping us reach a broader audience and allowing us to engage in conversations on human rights-related issues.
The Commission’s Twitter accounts had a combined following of 26 074 at 30 June 2014. Our combined Facebook pages had 27 259 likes, up 46% from 14 815 likes a year ago.
Our YouTube channel, which features interviews and highlights of key events and projects, attracted 83 291 views during 2013-14. We also began utilising YouTube’s free live-streaming service to make our major events accessible to a national audience.
We had 13 059 unique subscribers to our electronic mailing list at 30 June 2014. We distribute an electronic newsletter each fortnight and provide information about key events, issues and projects to our subscribers.
During 2013-14, the President and Commissioners received 1756 requests for interviews from print, radio, television and online journalists, an increase of 50% on the 1160 requests received in 2012-13.
Our media releases are cross-promoted on Facebook and Twitter. We also feature the Commission’s news stories on the homepage of our website to promote current projects, events, publications and other matters of significance.
Each year the Commission prepares a broad range of materials, from plain-language brochures and community guides to major reports and submissions. These resources are all available in accessible formats on our website and most are published in hard copy format. We also produce DVDs and CDs to reach different groups in the community.
During 2013-14, we distributed 17 891 publications and resources from our warehouse, in response to 222 requests. Additional publications and resources were distributed by Commissioners and staff at community consultations and 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 at: humanrights.gov.au/news/speeches.
Our staff delivered information sessions about current projects, federal human rights and discrimination law and the Commission’s complaint process to audiences in all states and territories.
These audiences included legal advocacy groups, professional associations, business, government, unions, multicultural organisations and universities.
We continued to host our RightsTalk series in 2013-14, providing a regular forum for the public to engage in discussion on topical human rights issues. Guest speakers during the year included David Malouf (longevity and creativity), Geoff Gallop (mental illness and stigma) and Justice Michael Kirby (human rights in North Korea). The latter seminar attracted so much interest that it had to be moved to a lecture theatre at the University of Sydney to accommodate the more than 500-strong audience.
Other RightsTalk presentations featured young women talking about their challenges and inspirations on International Women’s Day, a discussion on whether access to the Internet is a fundamental human right and strategies to balance the scales of justice for people with disabilities.
Recognising Australia’s human rights champions
Held on 10 December, Human Rights Day, the Commission’s annual Human Rights Awards acknowledge the outstanding contribution made by individuals and groups across the country to build understanding and respect for human rights. A record number of nominations were received for this year’s Awards.
The 2013 Human Rights Medal was presented to Sister Clare Condon for her longstanding commitment to human rights, especially her work to provide emergency housing for women and children experiencing domestic violence.
The Young People’s Human Rights Medal was awarded to Mariah Kennedy, a Young Ambassador for UNICEF and author of the children’s book, Reaching Out, Messages of Hope.
Awards were also presented in eight other categories, including law, business, media, community and literature. A full list of Award recipients, commendations and sponsors is available at: hrawards.humanrights.gov
Tackling violence, harassment and bullying
Everyone has a right to feel safe from all forms of violence, in all parts of their lives.
Each year, however, too many Australians encounter violence, harassment and bullying because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or age.
The Commission understands that discrimination can often be a key factor behind violence in all its forms and that addressing the root causes is essential in building a safer and more inclusive Australia.
Tackling these forms of violence is the second of the Commission’s two priority areas of work.
Addressing bullying and harassment through discrimination laws
The Commission’s National Information Service provides support, information and referral for people across Australia in response to a range of human rights and discrimination concerns, including harassment and bullying.
Last year, we assisted 19 688 individuals and organisations by providing information about the law and the complaint process, assisting with problem solving and providing referrals to other services.
We also have a role to investigate and resolve complaints alleging unlawful discrimination under federal human rights laws, including those involving sexual harassment, racial hatred, disability harassment and other instances of less favourable treatment, which may be defined as bullying and harassment.
The Commission participates in a cross- government, inter-agency working group on cybersafety, represented by the National Children’s Commissioner. This complements our work in responding to individual complaints and our community education initiatives around cyberbullying.
Complaint of racial discrimination in employment
The complainant, who is Aboriginal, was employed with the respondent food production company. The complainant claimed that three of his colleagues referred to him as a ‘coon’, ‘black c**t’ and ‘nigger’ and told offensive jokes about Aboriginal people in the workplace.
On being advised of the complaint, the company indicated a willingness to participate in conciliation.
The parties did not wish to continue the employment relationship and the complaint was resolved with an agreement that the company pay the complainant $20,000 compensation for future loss of income.
Promoting freedom from violence for women and children
Violence against women and children in the home continues to be a significant issue in Australia. An estimated 1.2 million women over the age of 15 have experienced domestic or family violence, usually at the hands of a male partner, with very serious consequences across all parts of their lives.
The Commission continued to promote family and domestic violence as a workplace issue throughout the year. As part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Commission and the World Bank held a joint event, Gender at Work: A Global Perspective, which focused on women’s participation in employment, leadership and economic development.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick also took part in the subsequent ‘16 Days’ campaign (25 November-10 December 2013) to highlight the importance of strong leadership within workplaces and other settings to support those affected by domestic or family violence.
During the year, the Commission convened a number of activities to draw attention to the experiences of different groups of women who are vulnerable to violence.
On 25 October 2013, we hosted the National Symposium of the Stop the Violence Project to discuss the need for targeted measures to address violence against women and girls with disabilities. A communiqué was released following the proceedings and we published a Podrights interview with Karin Swift, President of Women With Disabilities Australia, to highlight the key issues raised during the National Symposium.
As part of her participation in the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which she attended in March 2014 as a member of the Australian Government delegation, Commissioner Broderick addressed the issue of violence against women with disabilities in a speech to a forum hosted by the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance.
In May 2014, the Commission organised a RightsTalk event on African-Australian women’s leadership and human rights issues, which featured community representatives speaking about domestic violence and female genital mutilation.
During the year, the Commission met with the Attorney-General’s Department to discuss the draft National Action Plan on Human Trafficking and Slavery. We also hosted the Human Trafficking and Slavery Senior Officials’ Meeting in November 2013 and contributed to the work of the Human Trafficking and Slavery Communication and Awareness Working Group.
In February 2014, we took part in a consultation to provide input into the development of the second Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.
Other activities undertaken by the Commission during 2013-14 include:
- participating in the national consultations of the Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children, a new non-governmental organisation that will build awareness and engage the Australian community in action to prevent violence against women and their children
- contributing to the ‘One Billion Rising’ global campaign in February 2014
- providing advice and feedback to the White Ribbon Workplace Reference Group
- presenting a webinar in May 2014 for 1800Respect workers on the right of women to be free from violence.
Identifying and preventing sexual harassment
Sexual harassment continues to be a persistent and pervasive problem in Australian workplaces, with Commission surveys finding almost one in four women experience harassment at work.
Our research indicates that most people who experience sexual harassment do not report it. Further, many people do not even recognise that their experience of unwelcome sexual behaviour at work is against the law.
In partnership with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we launched a campaign in May 2014 to build greater awareness of sexual harassment in workplaces across the country.
The Know Where the Line Is campaign includes videos, posters and fact sheets to help employees identify the difference between acceptable questions, comments or behaviour and workplace sexual harassment. It also provides strategies for bystanders to take action and support others who might be the target of sexual harassment.
Campaign information and resources are available at: https://knowtheline.humanrights.gov.au/.
In addition, we developed a toolkit to help employers prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Ending workplace sexual harassment: A resource for small, medium and large employers was also published in May 2014.
Complaint of sexual harassment in employment
The complainant, aged 18, was employed in a customer service role with the respondent fast food outlet. She alleged that her manager sexually harassed her by asking her to sit on his lap in the workplace, slapping her bottom and asking for a nude photo of her. The complainant said that when she was unable to attend work because of illness, her manager would make comments of a sexual nature about the reasons for her absence. She said she felt she had no option but to resign.
On being advised of the complaint, the respondents indicated a willingness to participate in conciliation.
The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the company would pay the complainant $10,000, provide her with a Statement of Service and deliver annual staff training on sexual harassment and discrimination. The manager also agreed to attend specialist external training on sexual harassment and discrimination.
In 2011, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, at the request of the Australian Government, undertook a Review into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
The Review identified issues of gender-based harassment and violence and, in its two reports, recommended a more robust approach to responding to unacceptable sexual behaviour and attitudes.
Commissioner Broderick released two audit reports during the year to assess the extent to which her recommendations to ADFA and the ADF had been implemented.
Both audits found strong evidence that action had been taken to improve institutional culture and build a more inclusive environment for all members. However, further areas for improvement were identified.
Within ADFA, significant progress had been made to establish the Residential Support Officers program to provide information and better supervision for residential cadets. A comprehensive annual Unacceptable Behaviour Survey had also been developed, which will enable comparisons to be drawn with other recruit and training establishments across the ADF on issues such as sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and bullying.
In addition, the ADFA audit report found that the number of complaints made in 2012 and 2013 had increased, which may suggest a safer environment in which to make a report.
In the second audit report, the Commissioner welcomed the steps taken by the ADF to improve its response to sexual misconduct, which included establishing the Sexual Misconduct and Prevention Office and implementing ‘restricted’ or confidential reporting. Both were key recommendations of her review.
However, the Commissioner urged the ADF to maintain its commitment to ensuring the safety of women, including by delivering a robust sexual ethics program across the organisation as soon as possible.
Empowering young people to tackle cyberbullying
With one in ten students in Australia reporting that they have been cyberbullied, the Commission launched a second round of its successful BackMeUp campaign to promote awareness of the positive ways in which bystanders can support people being cyberbullied.
Launched in August 2013 by Ruby Rose, the BackMeUp campaign invited young people aged between 13 and 17 years to create a two-minute video that showed how they would respond – and encourage others to respond – when they witness cyberbullying.
More than 60 entries were submitted to the competition, including examples of animation and claymation, with the five winning entries announced by the National Children’s Commissioner in November 2013.
The Commission conducted a survey of BackMeUp participants to understand whether they felt more confident and better able to intervene in instances of cyberbullying. Young people told us that after participating in the BackMeUp campaign:
- they would be able to tell if someone was being cyberbullied (over 70%)
- they were more aware of how to help someone being cyberbullied (over 90%).
Almost all participants said that they knew where to get help if they became aware that someone was being cyberbullied and almost 70% said this was a result of being involved in the BackMeUp campaign.
Since being posted on the Commission’s social media channels – Something in Common and YouTube – BackMeUp videos and resources were viewed on more than 100 000 occasions.
Tackling homophobia in schools and sport
Around 80% of bullying involving same-sex attracted young people occurs at school, with profound consequences for their education and well-being. Importantly, schools with protective policies in place can make a positive difference for this group of students, with reduced instances of bullying and abuse being reported.
During the year, the Commission finalised an animated video resource to support schools to identify and address homophobic bullying. The resource will be distributed later in 2014, in partnership with the Australian Youth Foundation, as part of the National Safe Schools Framework.
On 9 April 2014, Australia’s major sporting codes pledged their support to tackle homophobia in sport.
The heads of the Australian Football League, Australian Rugby Union, National Rugby League, Football Federation of Australia and Cricket Australia signed the Anti-Homophobia and Inclusion Framework, which commits their sports to ensuring a welcoming and safe environment for players, coaches and fans, regardless of sexual orientation.
The Commission helped the Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 to develop the Framework, in partnership with the Australian Sports Commission, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Human Rights Law Centre.
Setting and advancing national agendas
One of the Commission’s tasks is to draw national attention to areas in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are not properly recognised or respected.
We undertake research, provide advice, review laws, engage in public inquiry processes and work with groups from across the community to contribute to practical change.
Building understanding of fundamental freedoms
In February 2014, Tim Wilson took up the position of Human Rights Commissioner. His priority is to promote and advance fundamental human rights and freedoms, including freedom of opinion, expression, association, worship and movement.
As part of this focus, Commissioner Wilson will initiate a national dialogue about human rights in contemporary Australia to broaden discussion around freedom of speech issues. The consultation will also assess the adequacy of current rights to freedom of opinion and expression in Australia, consistent with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A high-level symposium on protecting freedom of speech will be held in Sydney in August 2014, followed by community consultations across Australia.
In September 2013, the Commission released a background paper on human rights in cyberspace, addressing issues of freedom of opinion and expression. These were complemented by a series of RightsTalk presentations in 2013 that explored questions around access to the Internet and addressing online hate, discrimination and bullying.
Promoting women’s leadership
In 2010, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick established the Male Champions of Change, a group that now comprises 22 chief executive officers, department heads and non- executive directors from across business, industry and government. This collaboration seeks to identify and promote strategies to bolster the number of women in leadership positions in Australia.
In November 2013, the Male Champions of Change released Accelerating the advancement of women in leadership: Listening, Learning, Leading, a report based on 18 months of research and consultation they had undertaken.
Billed as a ‘letter to business leaders’, the report focused on four key themes for attracting and advancing more women and creating a gender- balanced organisation: stepping up as leaders; creating accountability; disrupting the status quo; and dismantling barriers for carers.
It also featured 12 recommended ‘high impact actions’, which the Male Champions of Change identified through experience within their own organisations and from consultations across the business sector. Commissioner Broderick told the 400 guests who attended the report launch that these actions had the potential to achieve “significant and sustainable improvements” in the representation of women in leadership.
In March 2014, the Male Champions of Change partnered with Chief Executive Women to launch a new management model – the Leadership Shadow – which supports business leaders to better align their actions and priorities with their commitment to promoting gender equality.
National Anti-Racism Strategy and Partnership
The National Anti-Racism Strategy, launched by the Commission in August 2012, aims to achieve three key goals over the three years to 2015:
- More Australians will recognise that racism continues to be a serious issue in our community
- More Australians will get involved in practical action to tackle racism, wherever they see it
- Individuals will have the resources they need to address the racism they encounter, to access legal protections and, where necessary, to obtain redress.
A key element of the Strategy is a national public awareness campaign – Racism. It Stops with Me – which invites organisations to become campaign supporters and develop their own anti-racism activities.
Over 270 organisations were formal campaign supporters at 30 June 2014, up from 130 a year ago. They include leading companies, national sporting bodies, universities, local councils and community-based organisations. On 10 December 2013, Premier Jay Weatherill signed an agreement that saw South Australia become the first State Government to support the Racism. It Stops with Me campaign.
Information about the campaign is available at: http://itstopswithme.humanrights.gov.au. The site also provides information and resources on identifying and responding to racism, including people who are bystanders to incidents of racism.
In October 2013, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane released the One Year On report, which charted the progress of the National Anti-Racism Strategy and the Racism. It Stops with Me campaign.
The report drew on data collected from a survey of campaign supporters and an evaluation of our community engagement activities. It identified positive impact across a range of areas, including contributing to constructive media reporting of racism; increasing public understanding about the role of bystanders in responding to racism; and supporting young people to stand up to racism when it is safe to do so.
The National Anti-Racism Strategy is implemented by the Commission, in partnership with the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Social Services, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Australian Multicultural Council, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
Case study: Australian of the Year leads anti-racism campaign
In June 2014, Australian of the Year Adam Goodes took centre stage in a community service announcement (CSA) filmed at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the Racism. It Stops with Me campaign.
“The message I’d like to give to all Australians is this: If you see something, say something,” Mr Goodes said. “Let’s all take a stand against racism.”
The 30 second CSA was aired nationally over a six-week period and published on the campaign website.
Promoting the contribution of older Australians
In June 2013, the Commission released the research report, Fact or Fiction? Stereotypes of Older Australians. The report highlighted entrenched stereotypes about older people in the Australian community, as well as the underrepresentation
of older people in media and advertising. These factors can contribute to negative attitudes among employers and influence how older people view themselves.
To address these stereotypes and recognise the diverse contribution of older Australians, the
Commission launched the Age Positive website in November 2013. It will form the basis of a broader public information campaign – The Power of Oldness – to follow in the second half of 2014.
The Age Positive website promotes positive and active ageing. It features stories on the contribution that older people make to their workplaces
and communities, as well as relevant research and publications from Australia and overseas. The website is available at: agepositive.humanrights.gov.au.
During the year, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan began a program of work to respond to key recommendations in the 2013 inquiry report of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC),
Access All Ages: Older Workers and Commonwealth Laws. This work focused on:
- collecting examples of guidelines and good practice to support employers and recruitment agencies in the recruitment of older workers
- clarifying the exemption in the Age Discrimination Act that allows insurers to discriminate on the basis of age in offering an insurance policy or in the terms and conditions offered.
Commissioner Ryan, who served as a part- time Commissioner on the ALRC inquiry, also strongly advocated to government and business on the importance of addressing the barriers to employment experienced by older workers, especially given the Australian Government’s intention to increase the pension eligibility age from 65 to 70 years by 2035.
Close the Gap Campaign
The Close the Gap Campaign is Australia’s largest public movement for health equality. Established in 2006, the Campaign seeks to achieve equal health outcomes and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian public by 2030. Nearly 200 000 Australians have signed a pledge to support the Campaign’s goal.
The Close the Gap Campaign emerged as a response to research on health inequality in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner’s Social Justice Report 2005. The Commission currently hosts the Secretariat of the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee (CTGSC).
The National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF) comprises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health-related bodies who are members of the CTGSC. The NHLF was established to liaise with government in the development of health policy, including a national plan of action. The Commission also hosts the NHLF Secretariat.
A major achievement during the year was the announcement by the Australian Government in June 2014 that it would develop a strategy to implement the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023 by the end of the year.
The Health Plan articulates key priorities to close the life expectancy gap by 2030 and identifies the need for accessible health care systems that are effective, affordable, high quality and culturally safe. It also recognises the central importance of culture to health and well-being.
Other achievements and milestones for the year included:
- more than 150,000 people across Australia participating in a record 1300 events to mark National Close the Gap Day (20 March 2014)
- launching the Progress and Priorities Report 2014 at an event in Parliament House on 12 February 2014, to coincide with the release of the Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap Report
- partnering with the National Rugby League for the ‘Close the Gap’ round in August 2013 to raise public awareness of the campaign for health equality
- convening four meetings of the CTGSC and six meetings of the NHLF.
Following the announcement of the 2014 Budget, the Close the Gap Campaign Co-Chair and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, raised concerns about some of the proposed measures – such as introducing a co-payment for general practitioner visits – that would impact negatively on access to health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Case study: Measuring progress to health equality
In May 2014, the COAG Reform Council released a report that measured outcomes of the closing the gap reform agenda since 2008. It found that childhood mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had fallen and that the literacy gap had narrowed. However, unemployment had continued to rise.
The Close the Gap Campaign said the report demonstrated genuine progress towards reducing the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians. However, the pace of change needed to accelerate in order to achieve the 2030 target of equal life expectancy for all Australians.
Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said it was “heartening” that rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child mortality had decreased at over three times the rate experienced by other Australians.
He also noted that investing in the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had a multiplier effect, with improved health contributing to better outcomes in employment and for communities.
Supporting organisational change within the Australian Defence Force
In April 2011, the Commission was requested by the Australian Government to undertake a wide- ranging Review into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
The Report on the Review of the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force Academy was launched in November 2011. It made 31 recommendations across a number of areas, with the ADF agreeing to implement 30 recommendations in full and one in-principle.
The Report on the Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force was released in August 2012. It made 21 recommendations addressing issues related to diversity of leadership; the participation, recruitment and retention of women; workplace flexibility; harassment, violence and abuse; and the responsibility of ADF leadership to deliver effective reform.
As part of the terms of reference for the Review, the Commission undertook an independent audit to monitor the implementation of recommendations made in both reports and to identify evidence of cultural change.
The audit of the implementation of recommendations by ADFA was released in July 2013. It found that ADFA’s senior leadership had made a number of important reforms, including the establishment of the Residential Support Officers program to provide information and better supervision for residential cadets. In addition, ADFA’s complaints and incidents registers had been improved, with regular reports provided to the organisation’s leadership.
In March 2014, the Commission released its audit of the steps taken by the ADF to support women in the military and to improve gender diversity. It highlighted significant areas of progress, including the establishment of the Sexual Misconduct and Prevention Office and the implementation of a ‘restricted’ or confidential reporting system.
Progress had also been made in ADF recruitment practices and setting gender targets for recruitment; in developing tools to track progress towards gender equality; in reviewing the process by which the most senior military leaders are selected; and in boosting access to flexible work arrangements for men and women.
Both audits identified areas for ongoing work by ADFA and the ADF. The Commission has since entered into a four-year partnership with the ADF to support the organisation’s commitment to cultural reform and to promote the status of women and other minority groups in the military.
Examining strategies to protect children from self-harm
In April 2014, the National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell launched a study into intentional self-harm and suicidal behaviour among children and young people under 18 years.
The issue was raised with Commissioner Mitchell during her Australia- wide listening tour, which ran from May to September 2013. It was also identified by young people who took part in the Commission’s BackMeUp competitions on cyberbullying in 2012 and 2013.
In 2012, intentional self-harm was the leading cause of death among Australian children and young people aged 15 to 24 years.
Our study will explore why children engage in intentional-self harm and suicidal behaviour, as well as the barriers that can prevent them from seeking help. It will include a review of current research, targeted consultations and roundtables with experts and hearing directly from children and young people.
The findings will be included in Commissioner Mitchell’s second report to Parliament on the human rights of children in Australia.
Resolving discrimination and addressing human rights breaches
Complaints received by Act
- Disability Discrimination Act: 38%
- Sex Discrimination Act: 21%
- Racial Discrimination Act: 17%
- Australian Human Rights Commission Act: 16%
- Age Discrimination Act: 8%
Providing information and investigating complaints
The Commission can investigate complaints of discrimination based on a person’s sex, disability, race and age. We can also investigate complaints about alleged breaches of human rights by the Commonwealth and its agencies, as well as discrimination in employment based on a person’s criminal record, trade union activity, political opinion, religion or social origin.
On 1 August 2013, changes to the Sex Discrimination Act came into force that protect people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
In 2013-14, the Commission assisted 19 688 people and organisations who contacted our National Information Service by providing information about the law and the complaint process, assisting with problem solving and providing referrals to other services. This represents a 16% increase on the number we assisted in the previous year.
The Commission received 2223 complaints of alleged discrimination and breaches of human rights during 2013-14, which is slightly higher (2%) than the number received in the previous year. One complaint may raise a number of grounds and areas of discrimination and be against one or more respondents. If the Commission counted complaints by respondents, the number of complaints received in 2013-14 would increase to 3004.
If the Commission counted complaints received by grounds and areas of discrimination, the number of complaints received would increase to 4787 and 2579 respectively.
Additional information about complaints received, as well as a comprehensive set of statistics and demographic data for 2013-14, is available at Appendix 3.
Detailed information about the Commission’s National Information Service and Investigation and Conciliation Service is available on our website
Resolving complaints through conciliation
The Commission attempts to resolve complaints through conciliation. We use an informal, flexible approach and are an impartial third party during the conciliation process. Complaints are resolved on a ‘without-admission-of-liability’ basis.
In 2013-14, the Commission facilitated approximately 1444 conciliation processes, of which 1017 complaints (70%) were successfully resolved. This represents successful dispute resolution for more than 2034 people and organisations involved in complaints before the Commission. The conciliation success rate in 2013-14 is the highest achieved in recent years.
Information on the outcomes of conciliated complaints indicates that 23% included terms that will have benefits for people beyond the individual complainant. They included, for example, agreements to introduce anti-discrimination policies and provide anti-discrimination training in workplaces, as well as agreements to undertake modifications to buildings and services to address potential discriminatory factors.
Our survey data also highlights the education benefits of the Commission’s complaint process. For example, in relation to conciliated complaints, 71% of surveyed participants indicated that their involvement in the complaint process had assisted them to better understand their rights and responsibilities under federal human rights and anti- discrimination law.
Complaint of discrimination in employment on the grounds of family and carer responsibilities
The complainant was employed in a customer service role with a large government department. She worked part-time to accommodate the need to care for her children, as well as her mother and sister who have medical conditions. The complainant alleged that the department asked her to increase her hours of work without considering her family and caring responsibilities. She claimed her manager said she would be required to work full-time if she did not agree to the new hours.
On being advised of the complaint, the department indicated a willingness to participate in conciliation.
The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the complainant would work revised part- time hours that accommodated her family and caring responsibilities.
People who use the Commission’s Investigation and Conciliation Service report high rates of satisfaction with the service they receive. In 2013-14, 91% of surveyed parties reported that they were satisfied with the service and 69% rated the service as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. Where complaints were conciliated, 97% of parties reported that they were satisfied with the service and 77% rated the service they received as ‘very good ‘or ‘excellent’.
Key Performance Indicators for our Investigation and Conciliation Service, as well as our performance against them during 2013-14, are summarised on pages 68-69.
I was deeply impressed by the quality of service, fairness and integrity of the Commission staff. It was a difficult matter... but the Commission staff member was patient, reasonable and communicative.
Feedback from a respondent to a complaint
I was treated with respect, dignity and empowered by the process.
Feedback from a complainant
Reporting on human rights breaches
In addition to receiving complaints of unlawful discrimination, the Commission can inquire into complaints of breaches of human rights and workplace discrimination under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act.
If conciliation is unsuccessful or inappropriate and the Commission finds that a breach of human rights or workplace discrimination has occurred, the Commission then reports to the Attorney-General in relation to the complaint. The report, which includes recommendations for action, must be tabled in Parliament.
In 2013-14, the Commission reported on six complaints, four of which included findings of human rights breaches against the Commonwealth (the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as it has been redesignated). The human rights breaches found against the Commonwealth principally related to the human rights of individuals detained in immigration detention centres, including the right to liberty and to be free from arbitrary detention.
Working with the courts
The Commissioners can, with a Court’s leave, appear as amicus curiae – or ‘friend of the court’ – to provide specialist assistance in discrimination cases.
The Commission can also, with a Court’s leave, intervene in cases which raise human rights issues. We have clear guidelines that we follow before we make a decision to intervene.
In 2013-14, the Commission was granted leave by the High Court to intervene in two matters.
The Family Court handed down its judgement in one other matter in which the Commission had been granted leave to intervene.
Protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status
On 1 August 2013, amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act came into force that:
- provide protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status
- extend the ground of ‘marital status’ to ‘marital or relationship status’ to include same-sex couples
- qualify the exemptions for religious organisations to the effect that it does not apply to conduct connected with the provision of Commonwealth-funded aged care services.
The Commission prepared a range of fact sheets for business, employers and individuals about the new provisions. We also presented information workshops during the year in all states and territories.
Case study: Re Jamie  FamCAFC 110
In July 2013, the Full Court of the Family Court delivered its judgment in the case of Re Jamie, dealing with court authorisation of special medical procedures for children who have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder.
The Court had invited the Commission to intervene in the proceedings and the
Commission had appeared to make submissions which focused on rights in the Convention
on the Rights of the Child. In particular, the Commission’s submissions emphasised that it is important for children to have input into
decisions that affect them, including decisions about medical treatment. If children were competent to make an informed decision about the kind of medical treatment described in the case, then they should be permitted to do so.
The Commission’s submissions were extensively referred to in the judgment and the Court recognised the importance of human rights principles in resolving the issues between the parties.
Building human rights into law and practice
Our goal is to help build a fairer and more inclusive Australia.
To make this happen, we work cooperatively with the Parliament, government, business and at the community level to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are considered when laws, policies and practices are developed or amended.
Contributing to the review of legislation
In April 2014, the Commission made a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department on proposed amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (the so-called ‘race hate provisions’).
Our submission was informed by feedback provided to us by members of the community, including through stakeholder roundtables that we hosted, prior to the release of the exposure draft.
The Commission’s submission reflected on three areas of particular expertise relating to the draft Bill:
- how the draft Bill relates to Australia’s international human rights obligations
- how the draft Bill would alter the existing level of protection of both freedom of expression and freedom from racial hatred
- the social harm that can result from racial vilification.
The Commission’s submission identified a number of areas of concern with the exposure draft, including the narrow definition of vilification and the breadth of exemptions provided. Of particular significance was the removal of the requirement that acts be done reasonably and in good faith.
The Commission recommended that the exposure Bill as drafted should not proceed. Our submission set out general considerations that any future draft Bill would need to appropriately address and expressed our willingness to engage on any future proposal.
The Human Rights Commissioner, while supporting the submission, also provided additional comments on how these provisions should appropriately be balanced with freedom of expression.
Scrutiny of new laws
The Commission has developed an effective working relationship with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. We consider whether any new legislative proposals raise concerns about human rights, or place restrictions on rights and liberties, and then discuss any concerns with the Joint Committee to ensure adequate parliamentary scrutiny.
Strengthening access to justice for people with disabilities
In February 2014, the Commission released the report of its consultations regarding the treatment of people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. Our research drew on extensive feedback and information provided by victims of crime, perpetrators, witnesses, disability advocates, policy makers and criminal justice workers.
Equal before the law: towards disability justice strategies identified systemic failures involving people with disabilities who need communication support or who have complex and multiple support needs and who have come in contact with the criminal justice system.
Negative assumptions and attitudes, coupled with a lack of support services, often means that people with disabilities are viewed as being not credible, not capable of giving evidence or unable to participate in legal proceedings. As a result, many people with disabilities are left without effective access to justice.
At the report launch, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes drew attention to the fact that at least 20 people with disabilities were detained in Australian gaols because they had been found unfit to plead.
He called on all states and territories, as well as the Commonwealth, to introduce a comprehensive disability justice strategy that would improve the lives of people with disabilities and save the community money through diversion and support.
Following the release of the report, a number of state and territory governments have begun to consider how they might develop and implement disability justice strategies in their jurisdictions. The findings from the report were also used to inform the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into barriers facing people with disabilities.
Global business law firm DLA Piper provided pro bono support for the Commission’s inquiry, preparing an analysis of evidence laws, policies and guidelines; information on diversion programs; an assessment of capacity in the criminal justice system; and an analysis of violence against people with disabilities in residential care settings.
Promoting and protecting the rights of asylum seekers
The Commission seeks to ensure that the human rights of all people held in immigration detention in Australia are protected. Our work has focused on the conditions and treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and children because they have specific vulnerabilities and are given special protections under international law.
During 2013-14, the Commission:
- conducted visits to offshore and mainland immigration detention centres
- received and investigated human rights complaints from asylum seekers under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act
- made submissions to parliamentary and other inquiries, including on regional processing arrangements and the incident at the Manus Island Detention Centre in February 2013 that resulted in the death of Reza Berati and the injury of 62 other asylum seekers
- raised concerns about changes to the Migration Act that could see refugees held indefinitely in immigration detention if they receive adverse security assessments.
In October 2013, we released Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights: Snapshot Report 2013. The 32-page report provided up-to-date information regarding the number of people in closed immigration detention facilities and provided an overview of the key human rights issues that arise from Australia’s approach to asylum seekers and refugees who arrive by boat.
The report also examined questions related to the policies of mandatory immigration detention and third country processing, as well as proposed policy changes to Australia’s system for determining refugee status and the re-introduction of temporary protection visas.
An evaluation involving a broad range of stakeholders found that the Snapshot Report 2013 was seen as credible, informative and objective. A number also highlighted its value as a research tool that would strengthen the ability of individuals and organisations to advocate for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.
In February 2014, the Commission launched a national inquiry to examine the impact of mandatory and closed immigration detention on the health and well-being of children. The ten-year anniversary of the Commission’s 2004 report on children in immigration detention was the catalyst for this current inquiry. It also follows our recent inquiry into the treatment of individuals suspected of people smuggling offences who say that they are children. The national inquiry will consider Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties. It is discussed in more detail on page 55.
Addressing pregnancy-related discrimination at work
The significant number of complaints received by the Commission and the Fair Work Commission in recent years indicates that discrimination against pregnant employees and against men and women returning to work after taking parental leave continues to be a problem in Australian workplaces.
During the year, the Commission conducted a national review on the prevalence, nature and consequences of discrimination in relation to pregnancy at work and returning to work after parental leave. The review was funded by the Attorney-General’s Department.
The review included an Australia-wide consultation process and two national surveys. Headline data released in April 2014 found that one in two women in Australia reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace as a result of their pregnancy, parental leave or return to work.
Discrimination was commonly reported as occurring when returning to work (35%), when requesting or on parental leave (32%) and during pregnancy (27%). We found that discrimination takes many different forms – ranging from negative attitudes and comments through to dismissal – and that many women experience multiple forms of discrimination.
In addition, more than a quarter (27%) of fathers and partners surveyed said they had experienced discrimination during parental leave or when they returned to work.
The Commission heard from around 430 people at more than 50 group consultations around the country. We also received 447 submissions from individuals, employers, business and industry groups, unions, community organisations and professional and women’s associations.
A report will be released in July 2014 that will identify leading practices and strategies for employers and provide recommendations to address the forms of discrimination identified through the review.
Our review has been supported by a reference group, which includes representatives from business, community organisations, unions and academia.
Complaint of pregnancy discrimination in recruitment
The complainant said she applied for a marketing position with the respondent liquor company. She claimed that the company withdrew an offer of employment once it became aware that she was pregnant.
On being advised of the complaint, the company indicated a willingness to participate in conciliation.
The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the company pay the complainant $15,000 as general damages and write to her expressing regret for any hurt or distress.
Respecting the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
During the year, the Commission hosted a nation- wide series of meetings with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, government, business and industry to build understanding about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Australia formally supported in 2009.
Conducted in partnership with the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the Declaration Dialogue Series will collect ideas and input from a broad range of stakeholders in order to develop a national strategy to guide implementation of the Declaration over the next ten years.
During the year, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda continued to engage with Reconciliation Australia, Recognise and other groups to support progress towards a referendum for reform of the Australian Constitution so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are recognised and discrimination is removed.
The Commission provided a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into specific areas of the Native Title Act 1993, as well as to the inquiry of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The Commission also continued to advocate for justice reinvestment approaches to be adopted in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
During the year, the Social Justice Commissioner and the National Children’s Commissioner actively supported efforts by Just Reinvest, the NSW campaign for justice reinvestment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, to establish a justice reinvestment program in Bourke. A proposal was developed and presented to potential philanthropic, corporate and government partners. In March 2014, sufficient funding and in-kind support was received to begin a two-year trial and build a case for the effectiveness of justice investment strategies.
Improving equality and participation for people with disabilities
The highly successful Twenty Years, Twenty Stories film project continued to be a focus during the year. Screenings of the films were held around the country, using personal stories to highlight 20 years of the Disability Discrimination Act.
The Commission was also closely involved in a major inquiry examining issues of equality and capacity for people with disabilities in relation to Commonwealth laws.
The inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission is considering how Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks can be reformed to provide equal recognition before the law for people with disabilities, especially in relation to their capacity to make decisions about their own lives and to have those decisions respected in practice.
The Disability Discrimination Commissioner was appointed as a part-time Commissioner to the inquiry, which will draw on the principles set out in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is expected that the inquiry report will be released later in 2014.
During the year, the Commission continued to work with government, the disability sector and other stakeholders to promote equal access to goods and services for people with disabilities.
In June 2014, we released an Advisory Note that provides advice on how people with disabilities who use mobility scooters can do so in clubs throughout NSW. Released under the Disability Discrimination Act, it addresses issues around speed, safety and the arrangements of furniture and fittings in club premises.
The Advisory Note was produced in consultation with clubs and the disability sector and is supported by the RSL & Services Clubs Association, ClubsNSW, Leagues Clubs Australia, Bowls NSW and RSL Victoria.
Complaint of disability discrimination in employment
The complainant was employed as a sales advisor with the respondent company. She said she took time off work to undergo major surgery related to her disability. The complainant claimed that following a business restructure, she was demoted and she said this was done to pressure her to resign.
The company denied discriminating against the complainant but indicated a willingness to try to resolve the complaint.
The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the complainant return to part-time work with the company on a Return to Work Plan. The plan was developed in accordance with medical advice and included support and training for the complainant in her new role.
Collaborating with others
Since 2003, the Commission has worked in partnership with state and territory anti-discrimination and human rights bodies to exchange information, collaborate on issues of common interest and build greater understanding of and respect for human rights across the country. We convened two meetings of the Australian Council of Human Rights Authorities (ACHRA) during the year. Information provided by ACHRA members was also used to compile the 2013 progress report on the implementation of recommendations accepted by the Australian Government following its participation in the Universal Periodic Review in 2011.
The National Children’s Commissioner also works closely with her state and territory counterparts through the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians. A protocol is in place to guide the work of this group and to ensure that efforts to advocate for children and young people are well coordinated and informed.
Monitoring and reporting on human rights
Some people in Australia are especially vulnerable to discrimination, exclusion and unfair treatment.
The Commission has a particular responsibility to monitor their experiences, identify issues of concern and propose solutions that will lead to better outcomes for them.
2013 Social Justice and Native Title Report
On 11 December 2013, the 2013 Social Justice and Native Title Report was tabled in Parliament.
The report, prepared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, assessed a number of key human rights issues and concerns facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It also charted progress on social justice and native title issues since the position of Social Justice Commissioner was established 20 years ago, in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the National Inquiry into Racist Violence.
In the report, Commissioner Gooda highlighted constitutional reform as a key element of a new agenda to recognise rights and responsibilities and rebuild the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community.
He noted that sustainable and long-term improvements in education, health and life expectancy can be achieved “when rights and responsibilities stand side-by-side” and when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples meaningfully participate in decisions that affect them.
Constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and genuine implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could help “re-set the relationship” between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians, Commissioner Gooda said in the report.
The 2013 Social Justice and Native Title Report put forward the business case for respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human rights and critiqued current approaches to alcohol management in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The report included 14 recommendations to progress constitutional reform, improve native title processes, ‘close the gap’ on health inequality, foster government engagement with the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and provide ongoing support for national anti-racism efforts.
The Commissioner is required to produce a Social Justice Report and a Native Title Report each year, which are presented to the Attorney-General and tabled in Parliament. This is the first time that the two reports have been prepared in a combined format.
An evaluation involving a range of stakeholders found a high level of satisfaction with the new approach to reporting, with 85% of respondents rating all chapters and appendices as ‘valuable’ or ‘very valuable’. A similar proportion of respondents found the report to be user friendly.
National inquiry into children in immigration detention
On 3 February 2014, Commission President Gillian Triggs announced that she would lead an inquiry into the mandatory and closed immigration detention of children seeking asylum in Australia.
The Commission’s inquiry will investigate the impact of immigration detention on the health, well-being and development of these children.
In 2004, the Commission’s landmark report – A Last Resort? National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention – found that the mandatory immigration detention of children was fundamentally inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations and that detention for long periods created a high risk of serious mental harm for children.
The Commission decided that the ten-year anniversary of this report provided an opportunity to revisit the issue in detail.
The current inquiry will measure progress over the past decade and assess the extent to which Australia is meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties.
At 30 June 2014, the Commission had:
- undertaken visits to nine immigration detention facilities
- conducted 486 interviews with families or unaccompanied children currently in immigration detention, involving around 1500 individuals
- conducted 38 interviews with asylum seekers who were previously in immigration detention as children or as parents
- held the inquiry’s first public hearing in Sydney on 4 April 2014
- received over 200 submissions from individuals and organisations.
The Commission will continue to collect evidence and submissions over the coming months, with the intention of releasing the national inquiry report before the end of 2014.
Children’s Rights Report 2013
The critical need to tackle high levels of violence, abuse and neglect in communities was a major theme of the Children’s Rights Report 2013, which was tabled in Parliament on 11 December 2013.
The first of its kind in Australia, the report by National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell drew on statistics to show how children and young people are faring and provided a summary of the key issues raised during her consultations with children, young people and their advocates.
It also examined the provisions of the international human rights treaty on children’s rights – the Convention on the Rights of the Child – and its implementation in Australia.
The report called for greater attention to be given to prevention and early intervention initiatives, with a particular focus on supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children in detention, children with disabilities and children in rural areas.
It also made recommendations to foster progress in five priority areas identified through the Big Banter national consultations, existing national policy initiatives and the Concluding Observations made to Australia by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child:
- A right to be heard
- Freedom from violence, abuse and neglect
- The opportunity to thrive
- Engaged citizenship
- Action and accountability to protect the well-being and rights of children.
As part of the Big Banter consultations, which ran from May to September 2013, Commissioner Mitchell met face-to-face with over 1000 children across Australia and received feedback from a further 1400 through an online survey and Big Banter postcards.
In April 2014, Commissioner Mitchell released a child-friendly version of the report – What does the Children’s Rights Report 2013 say? – to give children and young people an understanding of their human rights and the role of the National Children’s Commissioner.
Snapshot on sexual orientation and gender identity
In May 2014, the Commission began a research project that will provide a ‘state of the nation’ snapshot of the key human rights issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex (LGBTI) people in Australia.
Previous consultations conducted by the Commission have identified serious discrimination, including harassment and violence, against members of Australia’s LGBTI community.
The current study will provide a detailed consideration of the relevant international and domestic legal frameworks and outline progress that has been made in promoting and protecting the rights of LGBTI people. It is expected to be released in late 2014.
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson is leading the Commission’s work on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Working in the international arena to improve human rights
As Australia’s independent national human rights institution (NHRI), we are often invited to share our knowledge and expertise with others in the Asia Pacific region. These partnerships also inform our own work.
In addition, the Commission provides independent reports to the United Nations bodies that monitor Australia’s performance in meeting its human rights obligations.
China and Vietnam Human Rights Technical Assistance programs
The Commission’s international activities cover a number of different countries and topic areas. The two largest technical cooperation programs are those with China and Vietnam. The Commission’s international cooperation work is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), now the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Commission has managed the China-Australia Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program since it commenced in 1998. In July 2013, an event was held at the Australian Embassy in Beijing to mark 15 years of the program’s operation, with a video produced by the Commission to document the program’s objectives and achievements.
A significant feature of the 2013-14 program was the continued efforts to address domestic violence, including providing capacity building support for domestic violence crisis intervention centres in China and implementation of domestic violence guidance for courts. There was also a strong focus on the role of non-governmental organisations, as part of efforts to support China’s emerging civil society.
A highlight of this year’s program was a two- day Model United Nations Conference, held in Guangzhou in November 2013, which brought together 400 students from around 65 universities to simulate a session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Participants were involved in drafting, debating and adopting resolutions on eliminating violence against women and girls.
The Commission has managed the Vietnam- Australia Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program since it commenced in 2006. In 2013- 2014, the program included a workshop to advance discussions on establishing an NHRI in Vietnam, support for the establishment of women’s legal centres and seminars on reform of the criminal procedure code. Significant planning was also undertaken to develop a suite of programs to be implemented from July 2014.
On 22-24 October 2014, the Commission hosted a delegation of representatives from Indonesian disability organisations, as part of a two-week study visit to Australia. The focus of the program was to provide participants with information on the Australian experience of drafting disability-related laws and submitting parallel reports to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The study visit was funded by AusAID under the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Justice Program (AIPJ).
Working with national human rights institutions
The Commission is accredited as an ‘A status’ NHRI. This means that we were established and operate in accordance with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions, commonly known as the ‘Paris Principles’. These set out the minimum international standards required for NHRIs to be considered credible and to operate independently.
The Commission works in partnership with NHRIs in the Asia Pacific region and in different parts of the world. During 2013-14, the Commission contributed to the activities of the:
- Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions
- Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions
- International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
Case study: Advancing the rights of older people
In May 2013, the Commission and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions hosted delegates from 16 other NHRIs at the Asia Pacific Workshop on the Rights of Older Persons.
The meeting considered the main elements that should be included in a possible international human rights treaty to promote and protect the rights of older people.
Participants discussed approaches to eliminating barriers to the inclusion of older people in mainstream society, addressing negative societal attitudes around ageing and developing a culture that promotes intergenerational support and cooperation.
The workshop also examined other practical issues in establishing an international instrument on the rights of older people. These included agreeing on a universal definition of ‘older person’, the importance of collecting statistics and data and the role of NHRIs in implementing and monitoring such a treaty at the national and international levels.
Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan will take the outcomes of the Asia Pacific Workshop to the United Nations Open Ended Working Group on Ageing which will ultimately present an overall proposal to the General Assembly.
Through these organisations, we work cooperatively to respond to human rights issues of common concern and share good practice approaches to promoting and protecting human rights. This helps build our own expertise and informs our domestic work.
In May 2014, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) that will see us share information and work cooperatively on human rights issues common to both countries and the Asia Pacific region.
In January 2014, as part of our ongoing capacity development work with agencies in the region, we provided fee-for-service training in investigation and conciliation skills for staff of the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission.
Working with the international human rights system
The Commission regularly contributes to the discussion of human rights issues at the United Nations. We also provide independent information and reports that describe Australia’s performance in meeting its obligations under international human rights treaties.
During the year, the Commission participated in meetings and reviews conducted by a range of United Nations bodies, including:
- the 6th Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (July 2013)
- Australia’s review by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (September 2013)
- the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (March 2014)
- the 13th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (May 2014).
We also provided a submission to contribute to the development of a General Comment on article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which provides for equal recognition before the law. The submission was well received and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted several of our recommendations.
The Commission supported the participation of national disability organisations to attend Australia’s review by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2013. We also supported a delegation of seven young people with disabilities to attend the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York in June 2014.
In addition, the Commission supported the participation of indigenous peoples’ organisations (IPOs) in the meetings of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The Commission provided this support through funding from the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).
Monitoring progress under the Universal Periodic Review
Each year, the Commission prepares a status report on the implementation of recommendations accepted by the Australian Government following its participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2011. State and territory anti-discrimination and human rights authorities are consulted in the preparation of the report, which is provided to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We published the 2013 progress report in December 2013 and prepared a video statement to accompany our report. The video statement was delivered at the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council in June 2014.
Evaluating the impact of our work
Evaluation is a critical component of the Commission’s work. It helps us measure our progress and improve the delivery of our services and programs. It also informs our strategic planning.
For many years we have had in place a series of key performance indicators to monitor and evaluate our Investigation and Conciliation Service. Each year we assess our performance against these key measures, which include the timeliness of our service, our conciliation rate, satisfaction with various aspects of our service delivery and the educative impact of involvement in the complaint process. Data for 2013-14 is available at pages 68, 69 and 132.
We also rigorously assess the impact and outcomes of all our major projects by asking:
- What and how much did the project deliver?
- How well was the project implemented?
- What difference did the project make?
The criteria that we use to evaluate our impact will vary according to the nature of each project. It can include, for example, measuring the change in people’s knowledge and understanding of an issue; changes in laws, policy and practice that are clearly linked to our activities; and the extent to which our submissions and reports inform the work and advocacy of others.
As an organisation, we invest in developing our capacity to evaluate what we do. This has resulted in growing levels of skills and confidence among Commission staff. In 2013, 95% of surveyed staff rated the organisation’s commitment to evaluation as ‘good’ or ‘high’.
During the year, we undertook further steps to bolster our capacity to assess the impact of our work. For example, we partnered with the Department of Foreign Affairs to develop new monitoring and evaluation frameworks and strategies for our technical cooperation programs with China and Vietnam, including new reporting and data collection processes.
2013-14 marks the final year of the Commission’s current three-year strategic plan.
A number of our projects have demonstrated tangible results in our first priority goal to build greater understanding and respect for human rights; for example, through having human rights education integrated into the national curriculum and developing a new vocational training course to enhance the skills of workers in the community sector.
In 2013-2014, the Commission’s website recorded more than 7.7 million pageviews, up 23% on the previous year, indicating a rapidly growing reach into the community. In addition, our constructive engagement with business and employers, including through the Male Champions of Change and the National Anti-Racism Strategy, has delivered positive results in building understanding among Australian employers of the business case for workplace diversity.
We have also taken clear strides in our second priority goal to tackle violence, harassment and bullying. For example, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s Review into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force Academy and in the Australian Defence Force has resulted in genuine cultural change, demonstrated through two independent audits.
Further, our submissions and reports have contributed to community discussion and policy making across a broad range of areas, including family and domestic violence; lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities; trafficking in persons; and the involuntary sterilisation of people with disabilities.
We have developed evidence, through our two BackMeUp campaigns, that indicates the critical importance of building skills, strategies and confidence among bystanders in order to support them to take action when they witness cyberbullying.
Our evaluation work also confirms the critical importance of developing partnerships in order to build community understanding of human rights and generate meaningful change. For example, improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, documented by independent reviews, can be linked to practical health initiatives proposed and advocated by the Close the Gap Campaign.
I would like to thank the BackMeUp committee for all of their work … I have learned so much and gained so much confidence throughout the process.
Participant in 2013 BackMeUp campaign