Page 3232 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 18 August 2009

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In general, the research findings are that the act has been successful in what it has set out to achieve. The research findings show:

One of the clearest effects of the HRA [Human Rights Act] has been to improve the quality of law-making in the Territory, to ensure that human rights concerns are given due consideration in the framing of new legislation and policy.

The report identifies, however, that the dialogue model may not always have been as successful as perhaps intended. The findings suggest that the public sector over the last five years has been slow to fully develop a culture of human rights. As acknowledged in the report, the commencement on 1 January this year of a duty on public authorities will test this.

Already there has been evidence of a marked shift in the way that departments undertake their work and many agencies, particularly those with a service delivery focus, are exploring the opportunities to better serve the community through human rights compliant and sensitive measures. I commend those public authorities on the steps they are taking.

The report also expresses disappointment in the limited extent to which the legal profession has entered into the dialogue about human rights and concluded that the legal profession has not, with some exceptions, taken up the opportunity to discuss human rights principles in court proceedings. These findings may provide additional opportunities for the identification of improvements and, again, new duties on public authorities, and a direct right of action to the courts for alleged breaches of human rights will undoubtedly change the direction of these findings over coming years.

The report highlights areas where there may be capacity to progress and advance the human rights cause, building on the successes to date. Recommendations include, for example, increasing resourcing for training and public awareness to promote human rights work. At the heart of these recommendations is the need for government to clarify the evolving and changing role of public institutions that promote and underpin the territory’s human rights regime. This includes recommendations for legislation making, for example, by extending compatibility assessments to private members bills, amendments to bills made on the floor of the Assembly and subordinate legislation.

In 2006, the government committed to also consider the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights, or ESC rights, in the territory’s human rights regime. Consideration of ESC rights was outside the scope of the work undertaken by the ACT Human Rights Act research project and so is not addressed in the report.

To this end, a second Australian Research Council linkage grant has been awarded to examine the possible inclusion of ESC rights in the territory’s human rights system. This grant is under a partnership agreement between the ANU, the University of New South Wales and my Department of Justice and Community Safety. The project has commenced under the leadership of Professor Charlesworth and Professor Byrnes and will assess whether the ACT Human Rights Act should be amended to include economic, social and cultural rights; and, if so, what impact this is likely to have on governance in the ACT.

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