Jesuit Social Services’ rights-based approach to advocacy and service provision is grounded in our belief that every person’s rights and freedoms must be protected. Here, Andy Hamilton SJ reflects on our recommendation that the Federal Government enact a Human Rights Act – building on our recent contribution to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s Human Rights Framework.
Australia is one of the few nations not to include a Human Rights Act to which we can appeal in our dealings with one another. This lack is unfortunate. Human rights express a vision of what it means in our different relationships for human beings to flourish as individual persons and in society. The experience of Jesuit Social Services in accompanying young people often with multiple disadvantages is that their flourishing is restricted by the unrecognised prejudice, ignorance and unconscionable behaviour by others and by the regulations that allow them.
The lack of protection of people with disadvantage is reflected in the lack of legislative protection of persons’ rights to life, freedom from torture, to health care and housing through the failure to incorporate into our domestic law a Human Rights Act and the Tribunals necessary to ensure their observance. The effects of this failure have been evident in the overriding of the Racial Discrimination Act by the Northern Territory Intervention. It can also be seen in the punitive and secretive regime on Nauru and Manus Island that has been so destructive of the lives and health of people who sought protection in Australia, and in Australia’s refusal to allow entry into our Detention Centres by United Nations representatives.
In order to prevent further infringements on human rights, offer guidelines for government in policies that affect vulnerable people, and contribute to the agencies of people who are vulnerable and the accountability of government, there needs to be national legislation through a Human Rights Act.
The Act should ensure that the rights of marginalised people who historically most need protection are included, with a commitment to the initiatives necessary to meet their special needs.