Human rights inquiries
The Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (‘AHRC Act’) gives the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) the power to investigate acts and practices done ‘by or on behalf of the Commonwealth’ that may be inconsistent with human rights recognised in certain international instruments.
These international instruments include the:
- United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966);
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989);
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
If a matter does not settle, and the AHRC finds a breach of human rights, the AHRC may report its findings to the parties and the federal Attorney-General, who may table this report in parliament. The AHRC’s recommendations can include compensation, but are not legally enforceable.
Workplace discrimination inquiries
The AHRC can also inquire into complaints of discrimination in employment on a broad range of grounds, including social origin, nationality, religion, political opinion, trade union activity, irrelevant criminal record and sexual orientation (pt II div 4 AHRC Act; AHRC Regulations 2019 (Cth)).
The process for dealing with human rights and workplace complaints (human rights complaints) is different to the process for complaints of unlawful discrimination under the racial, sex, disability and age discrimination Acts mentioned above. The AHRC is limited to attempting to conciliate human rights complaints and reporting its findings to the parties and the federal Attorney-General, who may table the reports in parliament. The AHRC’s recommendations can include compensation but are not legally enforceable.
Examples of reports to the Attorney-General following complaints of breaches of human rights or workplace discrimination can be found on the AHRC’s website.
Complaints to the United Nations
Individuals who have exhausted all domestic remedies can complain to the United Nations (UN) about alleged breaches of their rights under particular international instruments. Australia has agreed that individuals can complain to a UN committee about breaches of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
Further information on how to make a complaint to the UN is available on the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In particular, refer to the OHCHR publication, Individual Complaint Procedures under the United Nations Human Rights Treaties.