Human rights are protected under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter Act), which came into full effect on 1 January 2008.
The Charter Act
The Charter Act contains twenty rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality and dignity. The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must consider how human rights are protected when creating legislation, implementing policies or delivering services. The Charter Act protects the following rights in Victoria:
- Right to be recognised and treated equally before the law
- Right to life and to not have your life taken without a lawful reason
- Protection from cruel treatment or punishment, including torture and medical treatment without consent
- Freedom from forced work or slavery
- Right to move freely within Victoria, to come into and leave Victoria, and to choose where to live
- Right to privacy and to protect your reputation
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief
- Right to hold an opinion and freedom of expression
- Right to gather together, take part in a peaceful demonstration or protest, and to join groups such as political, sport or union groups
- Protection of families and children
- Right to take part in public life, including the right to vote
- Right to enjoy your culture, practice your religion, and speak your language
- Right not to have your property taken away, unless the law says it can be taken
- Right not to be arrested or detained unfairly, and right to the security of person, such as protection from harassment and threats in everyday life
- Right to be treated humanely when arrested or detained
- Protection of children in the criminal process
- Right to a fair hearing
- Rights in criminal proceedings including the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty
- Right not to be tried or punished more than once for the same crime
- Right not to be found guilty of a crime if the behaviour was not against the law when it happened.
Every new law made by the Victorian Parliament is now accompanied by a Statement of Compatibility, which explains whether the law is compatible with the human rights in the Charter Act.
Guidelines for public authorities and government
Guidelines for Legislation and Policy Officers in Victoria (The Charter Act Guidelines) are primarily for legal and policy officers in the Victorian public service. In particular, they have been written for those responsible for developing new policies and preparing draft instructions for legislation, such as a Bill or an amendment to existing legislation.
What is a public authority?
The Charter Act places specific legal obligations on public authorities regarding human rights. A definition of what constitutes a public authority is found in section 4 of the Charter Act.
What is a public official?
A public official is:
- an entity established by statute that has functions of a public nature
- an organisation that is not part of government, but perform functions of a public nature on behalf of government (these may be non-government or private sector organisations),Victoria Police, local councils and ministers.
The definition includes a list of factors that assist to determine whether a function is of a public nature. The test looks to the nature of the services provided by an organisation. The Charter Act intends that a broad definition of public authority be applied.
Public sector human rights value
The Charter Act amends the Public Administration Act 2004 to add a new human rights public sector value and employment principle. This came into operation on 1 January 2007. The new value is reflected in the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees.
As a value, this means that those working in the public sector must respect and promote the human rights set out in the Charter Act. As an employment principle, it means that human rights must be upheld in an employee’s daily work.
Obligations on public authorities
In addition to the obligations above that apply to public sector employees, all public authorities have to comply with additional obligations.
The Charter Act imposes obligations on public authorities to consider relevant human rights when making a decision. The Charter Act also requires public authorities to act in a manner that is compatible with human rights.
For state public servants and those working for other public authorities, the Charter Act reinforces many of the sound work practices already in place. While public services are already delivered in a manner which respects human rights, the Charter Act can raise the standard of service delivery.