The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) today released its seventh of twelve 2020 ACT Election issue briefs calling for parties and candidates to work to fulfill the promise of the ACT as a human rights jurisdiction.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said: “In 2004 the ACT was the first jurisdiction, and remains one of only three jurisdictions in Australia, to enact a Human Rights Act.
“To further strengthen human rights protections in the ACT, all Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) rights must be included in the Act, including the right to housing, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to a healthy environment.
“We must also ensure that all Canberrans have equality before the law, including women and children, Aboriginal and / or Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities and other Canberrans facing legal disadvantage.
“Unequal access to legal services drives poverty and disadvantage for Canberrans. Without proper legal representation, they are unable to enforce their legal rights in family, criminal, social security, financial, housing, employment and other matters.
“We need more funding for legal services, including the ACT’s community legal centres, that serve those facing legal disadvantage.
In 2019, an ACT Auditor-General’s report found that further work was required to embed human rights principles and practices in the ACT Government Directorates. Dr Campbell said that policy outcomes for Canberrans facing disadvantage will be improved through a strong commitment to human rights by the ACT Government.
“To provide robust and transparent oversight of adherence to human rights principles, there should be a human rights reporting component in ACT Director-General annual reports and an annual evaluation and report to the ACT Legislative Assembly on human rights in the ACT.
“The ACT also requires clear strategies to address racism, discrimination against LGBTIQ+ Canberrans, gendered discrimination and violence, and ableism,” Dr Campbell continued.
Dr Campbell added: “In line with 2018 recommendations by the Australian Law Reform Commission, we call on an incoming ACT Government to review police complaints handling mechanisms to improve accountability, independence and transparency.
“We welcome the current Government’s commitment not to introduce anti-consorting laws and we call on the ACT Liberals to follow suit. Anti-consorting laws erode human rights; in other jurisdictions they have been used to unjustly target Aboriginal and / or Torres Strait Islander peoples and people experiencing homelessness,” she said.
Quotations from Ms Elena Rosenman, Executive Director Women’s Legal Centre and Ms Genevieve Bolton OAM, Principle Solicitor, Canberra Community Law:
Ms Elena Rosenman, Women’s Legal Centre Executive Director, said: “Legal advice and representation is critical to equality before the law. An incoming government will need to take real action to ensure the Women’s Legal Centre and the other specialist community legal centres in Canberra are resourced to be able to meet this need and support all Canberrans’ access to justice.
“Equality before the law, legal advice and representation are also important for women engaged with child protection. The Centre’s early intervention services for women promote the rights of families and children and, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, the right to culture,” said Ms Rosenman.
Ms Genevieve Bolton OAM, Principle Solicitor, Canberra Community Law, said the ACT should initiate a direct and accessible complaints mechanism through the ACT Human Rights Commission and the ACT Administrative and Civil Tribunal, to resolve the issue of complainants having to go through the complex and costly Supreme Court.
Ms Bolton said: “The ACT can increase the coverage of the Human Rights Act by providing a direct and accessible complaints mechanism for enforcement.
“Increasing funding to community legal centres to assist the most disadvantage members of the ACT community access and realise their human rights will advance the ACT Government’s demonstrated commitment to human rights and restorative practices,” Ms Bolton concluded.
Find ACTCOSS’s 2020 ACT Election issue brief Fulfilling the Promise of the ACT as a Human Rights Jurisdiction here.
Find other issue briefs at ACTCOSS’s ACT Election page.
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.