The Victorian Government's upcoming review of the state's Human Rights Charter is a significant opportunity to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in Victoria, say law groups.
Announced yesterday (19 April) by the Victorian Attorney-General, Robert Clark, the review will inquire into and report on the first four years of operation of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Phil Lynch, the executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), said the review is an opportunity for the new Baillieu Government to strengthen the law in this area and to make Victoria a fairer, stronger and more inclusive community.
"Respect for human rights is essential for a community that is fair, just, inclusive and cohesive," said Lynch.
"There is strong evidence that comprehensive and effective legal protection of human rights is an important factor contributing to their practical realisation."
According to the HRLC, the Charter has not been a silver bullet or prevented every human rights breach, but there is, it says, strong evidence to suggest that it has had a positive impact, particularly in relation to legislative and policy development and public service delivery and outcomes.
Lynch added that while the Charter may not be the "be-all and end-all of justice and fairness for Victorians" it is still a "valuable and necessary law and assists to fill gaps in human rights protections in an efficient and cost-effective way".
The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) has also welcomed the review and will be calling for expanded coverage of rights to include all human rights in treaties to which Australia is a party, now and in the future, as well as the introduction of complaints procedures and remedies.
"The LIV is a strong supporter of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and we look forward to voicing our support during the review period," said Caroline Counsel, president of the LIV.
"We are concerned that deliberations about this important topic are reasoned and balanced and take into account the broader interests of the whole community ... This is a crucial inquiry because of the over-arching concept of the Charter, which is to ensure that law-makers and public decision-makers take account of human rights."
Counsel said the Charter has been an important first step towards better protection and promotion of human rights and has generated greater public awareness of the issue.
"It has facilitated the making of laws and decisions that are more sensitive and responsive to human rights concerns," she said.
"With the Charter, Victorians have one 'language' that we can use to promote a consistent culture of care across the public sector. The LIV believes the Charter should be retained. We think there is room for expansion."
The report, which will be prepared by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee and is due to be completed on 1 October 2011, will examine, among other things, the overall benefits and costs of the Charter, as well as options for reform or improvement of the regime for protecting and upholding rights and responsibilities in Victoria.