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.
In 2015, the Attorney-General tabled a review of the Charter Act led by Michael Brett Young, former CEO of the Law Institute of Victoria. The report makes recommendations to strengthen human rights culture and make the Charter more accessible, effective and practical.
In July 2016, the government released their response to the review. The government supports 45 of the 52 recommendations to strengthen human rights culture in Victoria and make the Charter more effective, accessible and practical.
Guidelines for public authorities and government
The Victorian public sector is bound by laws that give guidance on how to make Victoria a safer, fairer and more inclusive state. These laws include the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. Together, these laws set out the rights and entitlements of the people of Victoria. They also identify the responsibilities of public authorities to protect and promote human rights, and eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment, and racial and religious vilification.
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.
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
VEOHRC is a statutory body that promotes equality of opportunity in Victoria, educates people about their rights and responsibilities under equal opportunity laws, and provides free and impartial dispute resolution services for people with disputes about discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation and racial and religious vilification.
Australian Human Rights Commission
The Australian Human Rights Commission was established in 1986 by an act of federal Parliament. It is an independent statutory organisation that reports to the federal Parliament through the Attorney-General.