Plans galore, but short on targets, measures

The Australian Government’s proposed National Human Rights Action Plan has some significant shortcomings, the author of CLA’s submission on the plan, Rhys Michie, said. The “national” plan lacks contributions from NSW, Qld, SA, WA, Tas and the ACT; it downplays the role of human rights in counter-terrorism actions, and has few performance indicators, quantifiable targets or finite timelines.

The National Human Rights Action Plan is a key part of Australia’s Human Rights Framework. The current evolution, an “Exposure Draft”, builds on the National Human Rights Action Plan Baseline Study which was published in December 2011. The Baseline Study provides a comprehensive and frank account of the human rights situation in contemporary Australia. Building on the assessment contained in the Baseline Study, the Action Plan translates the human rights needs in Australia into specific goals and practical actions.This is Australia’s third Action Plan.

The Exposure Draft contains 220 discreet Actions that cover Australia’s international human rights commitments in terms of the important issues, such as:

  • legal protections;
  • access to justice;
  • counter terrorism;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples;
  • women, children, young people, older people;
  • gay, lesbian, bisexual sex and/or gender diverse people;
  • people with a disability;
  • people at risk of experiencing homelessness;
  • carers;
  • people in prisons;
  • refugees;
  • asylum seekers;
  • migrants, and
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

For the first time, workers rights, climate change and poverty are also included.

The Australian Government will be engaging with state and territory governments, NGOs and the community during 2012 to develop the Action Plan. Once completed, Australia’s National Human Rights Action Plan will be lodged with the United Nations to that progress in achieving the targets over the next five years can be evaluated. For that reason, it is essential that the Action Plan contains quantifiable targets, performance indicators and timelines so that progress can be measured. Often, it does not.

Whilst the Victorian and Northern Territory Governments have participated, taken ownership, identified quantifiable targets, performance indicators and timelines, the NSW, Qld, SA, WA, Tas and the ACT Governments have not made comprehensive contributions.

Eleven of the “Actions” require governments to take no action beyond maintain the status quo. The Attorney General’s Department is identified as the lead agency for 69 Actions, of which 49 have no finite timeframe. Counter terrorism is given 70 words, constituting 0.45% of the Action Plan – equivalent to the attention given to the issue of those who employ or refer for work people who are not legally entitled to work in Australia. The Action Plan even contains an Action that was completed in 2011.

CLA is highly concerned that without all the states and territories participating and taking ownership, it will be extremely difficult to improve the situation of human rights across the federation. Without quantifiable targets, performance indicators and timelines it will be difficult to measure progress. And why should the Australian Government receive credit for taking no action?

CLA questions the methodological utility in having 60% of the Actions where the AGD is involved having ambiguous and non-measurable performance indicators/timeframes.

However, CLA is engaging with the Australian Government to improve the Action Plan, and we encourage all our members to lobby their state or territory Attorney General to participate in the process, take ownership and demonstrate their willingness to improve the protection and promotion of human rights in Australia. This National Human Rights Action Plan is the beginning of an ongoing process aimed at realising a more inclusive and equitable society.

Read CLA’s submission » … and get ACTIVE!

– Rhys Michie, CLA submission lead author

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