What is a ‘Human Rights Act’?

A Human Rights Act is an ordinary piece of legislation.

A Human Rights Act is a legislative, rather than constitutional, charter of rights, which means it is created by parliament. If we had a Human Rights Act, parliament would be required to consider how laws impact on human rights and our politicians would need to respect human rights when developing policy. Courts would also have the ability to assess whether laws are compatible with our human rights standards. 

A Human Rights Act will make it easier for our politicians to be held to account for the decisions they make which affect our human rights. In the long term, this could encourage more robust debate, promote a more open and transparent government, and help strengthen our democracy in New South Wales.

Why do we need a Human Rights Act?

Some of our rights are protected in law, but many – if not most – human rights are not adequately protected under our current system.

Basic rights that many New South Wales people take for granted – the right to life, the right to vote, the right to be free from torture and everyone’s right to equality before the law – are not currently protected by legislation. While many people in New South Wales enjoy a relatively high standard of living, we should not be complacent about our rights. 

When human rights are not protected in law, they are always in danger of being eroded. A Human Rights Act would provide a safeguard so that our politicians can’t simply overlook human rights considerations when making laws. Whether it was making laws regarding police accountability, voting, workplace relations, privacy, freedom of speech, censorship, the rights of Indigenous people or counter-terrorism, the parliament would have to take into consideration how the proposed laws would impact on people’s human rights. 

A Human Rights Act would be a powerful tool for protecting the human rights of everyone in New South Wales and for ensuring a more responsive and accountable government. 

Who will be protected by a Human Rights Act?

A Human Rights Act will help to create a fair, just and equal society for everyone.

A Human Rights Act will protect everyone in New South Wales against the unjust or arbitrary exercise of public power. This means people from all walks of life – from a young mother seeking to escape domestic violence without a safe place to live, to people in remote locations without access to adequate health-care or education – could potentially utilise a Human Rights Act. Human rights protection will also have particular relevance for people in New South Wales who are vulnerable, marginalised or disadvantaged. 

A Human Rights Act would help to defend the rights of minority groups, such as children and young people, people with a disability or mental illness, or those at risk of homelessness. Human rights are only properly protected when we all can enjoy them – after all, human rights belong to everyone. By enshrining our rights in law, a Human Rights Act would help to make sure we all have a chance to live in fair, just and equal society. 

How will a Human Rights Act help me if I think my rights have been violated?

 Human Rights Act will provide a range of enforceable remedies if our human rights have been breached.

One of the strengths of a Human Rights Act is that it will provide everyone in New South Wales with an avenue to seek justice if our rights have been violated. If our human rights have been breached, we should have access to appropriate remedies. 

A Human Rights Act is also likely to be educational. By clearly stating New South Wales human rights and related responsibilities, a Human Rights Act will promote a greater awareness of, and respect for, human rights within government and throughout the community. If we have a strong human rights culture in New South Wales, human rights problems will be more easily prevented.