The Australian Human Rights Commission
(previously the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
) is a national human rights institution, a statutory body funded by, but operating independently of, the Australian Government
The Commonwealth of Australia is a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement among six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states...
. It has the responsibility for investigating alleged infringements under Australia’s anti-discrimination legislation. Matters that can be investigated by the Commission include "discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin, racial vilification
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...
In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...
, sexual harassment
Sexual harassment, is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. In some contexts or circumstances, sexual harassment is illegal. It includes a range of behavior from seemingly mild transgressions and...
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...
Pregnancy refers to the fertilization and development of one or more offspring, known as a fetus or embryo, in a woman's uterus. In a pregnancy, there can be multiple gestations, as in the case of twins or triplets...
, or disability
A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.Many people would rather be referred to as a person with a disability instead of handicapped...
" The Commission falls under the portfolio of the Attorney-General of Australia
The Attorney-General of Australia is the first law officer of the Crown, chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Australia and a minister of the Crown. The Attorney-General is usually a member of the Federal Cabinet, but there is no constitutional requirement that this be the case since the...
- The Hon. Catherine Branson
Catherine Margaret Branson QC is President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, and a former judge of the Federal Court of Australia .Branson graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws...
- The Hon. John von Doussa 2003 - 2008
- Professor Alice Tay 1998 - 2003
- Sir Ronald Wilson
Sir Ronald Darling Wilson, AC, KBE, CMG, QC was a distinguished Australian lawyer, judge and social activist serving on the High Court of Australia between 1979 and 1989 and as the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission between 1990 and 1997.Wilson is probably best known as...
1990 - 1998
- Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld
Marcus Richard Einfeld is a retired Australian justice of the Federal Court of Australia and the Supreme Courts of New South Wales, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory; a former President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; a UNICEF Ambassador for Children; a...
1986 - 1990
The Commission investigates alleged infringements under the following legislation:
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975
The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is a statute passed by the Australian Parliament during the Prime Ministership of Labor Gough Whitlam....
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984
The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is an Act of the Parliament of Australia which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy in a range of areas of public life...
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 was an act passed by the Parliament of Australia in 1992 to promote the rights of people with disabilities in certain areas such as housing, education and provision of goods and services...
- Age Discrimination Act 2004
- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
One of the more visible functions of the Commission is to conduct public inquiries. Some examples of inquires conducted include:
- Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry into financial and workplace discrimination against same-sex couples
- Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families
- National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
- Homeless Children Inquiry
- Pregnancy Discrimination Inquiry
- Inquiry into the Accessibility of electronic commerce and new service and information technologies for older Australians and people with a disability
- Inquiry into Human Rights and Good Governance Education in the Asia Pacific Region
- MacLennan-Hookham suspension
Gender identity and sexuality
Private members, the Australian Greens
The Australian Greens, commonly known as The Greens, is an Australian green political party.The party was formed in 1992; however, its origins can be traced to the early environmental movement in Australia and the formation of the United Tasmania Group , the first Green party in the world, which...
and the Australian Democrats
The Australian Democrats is an Australian political party espousing a socially liberal ideology. It was formed in 1977, by a merger of the Australia Party and the New LM, after principals of those minor parties secured the commitment of former Liberal minister Don Chipp, as a high profile leader...
have tried to add sexuality
Sexual identity is a term that, like sex, has two distinctively different meanings. One describes an identity roughly based on sexual orientation, the other an identity based on sexual characteristics, which is not socially based but based on biology, a concept related to, but different from,...
and/or gender identity
A gender identity is the way in which an individual self-identifies with a gender category, for example, as being either a man or a woman, or in some cases being neither, which can be distinct from biological sex. Basic gender identity is usually formed by age three and is extremely difficult to...
to the list of matters that can be investigated by the Commission, which has always failed to pass at least one house of parliament since 1995, because of a lack of support from the Australian Labor Party
The Australian Labor Party is an Australian political party. It has been the governing party of the Commonwealth of Australia since the 2007 federal election. Julia Gillard is the party's federal parliamentary leader and Prime Minister of Australia...
and the Coalition
The Coalition in Australian politics refers to a group of centre-right parties that has existed in the form of a coalition agreement since 1922...
in the federal parliament.
Human Rights Medals and Awards
Since 1987 the Human Rights Medal
The Human Rights Medal is awarded by the Australian Human Rights Commission each year. It was established in 1987 by the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to recognise the "contribution to Australian society of a wide variety of men and women committed to issues of human rights,...
and other awards have been presented at the Commission’s annual Human Rights Medal and Awards ceremony.
The Human Rights Medal is awarded to individuals "for their outstanding contribution to human rights in Australia".
In 2008 the Young People’s Human Rights Medal
was awarded for the first time.
Other awards are:
- Human Rights Community (Individual) Award.
- Human Rights Community (Organisation) Award.
- Human Rights Radio Award
- Human Rights Television Award
- Human Rights Print Media Award
- Human Rights Arts Non-Fiction Award
- Human Rights Law Award - sponsored by the Law Council of Australia
The Law Council of Australia is an association of law societies and bar associations from the States and territories of Australia, and the peak body representing the legal profession in Australia. The Council was formed in 1933 to unite the various state legal associations, in order to represent...
The Commission is one of some 70 national human rights institutions (NHRIs) accredited by the International Co-ordinating Committee of NHRIs
The International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, sometimes shortened to the International Coordinating Committee , is a global network of national human rights institutions - administrative bodies set up to promote, protect and monitor human rights in a given country...
(ICC), a body sponsored by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a United Nations agency that works to promote and protect the human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948...
(OHCHR). The Commission's "A status" accreditation allows it special access to the United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...
human rights system, including speaking rights at the Human Rights Council and other committees. The Commission can present parallel reports ("shadow reports") to UN treaty committees examining Australia's compliance with international human rights instruments
International human rights instruments are treaties and other international documents relevant to international human rights law and the protection of human rights in general...
. It has been very active in developing NHRIs throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and is a leading member of the Asia Pacific Forum of NHRIs
The Asia Pacific Forum is one of four regional networks of national human rights institutions within the International Co-ordinating Committee of NHRIs...
, one of four regional sub-groups of NHRIs.