Promoting Economic & Social Rights in Australia

By | 30 Apr 2022

In Victoria, children  affected by social exclusion – whether living in residential care, or in Aboriginal or culturally an

Human rights are a prime motivation of Humanism. Beside the familiar Universal Declaration there is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. This recognizes that ‘freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy [one’s] economic, social and cultural rights, as well as [one’s] civil and political rights.’ Altho Australia has promised under international law to protect economic and social rights, such as the rights to housing, health and education, they are not properly protected in Australian law. Communities that experience disadvantage, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, find there are no legal obligations to realise those rights.

Australia being the only western democracy without a national charter of rights, HV has lobbied for such a charter several times over the last fifteen years. The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), which supports people working to eliminate inequality and injustice and so build a fairer, more compassionate society,  has mounted a national campaign to establish an Australian Charter of Rights ( The campaign is well resourced and backed by over seventy organizations, including Humanists Australia and Humanists Victoria. It is a popular idea, with support growing during the pandemic.

However, work remains to be done to explain the value of having legally enforceable economic  and social rights in a Charter. That is the work of the present project of HRLC, which has been awarded ten thousand dollars by Humanists Victoria. The purpose is to promote public and parliamentary understanding and acceptance of the need to protect economic and social rights in law. This project will enunciate those rights as follows, over a twelve-month period:

  • produce accessible materials explaining what those rights are, and
  • why they should be included in a Charter of Rights;
  • engage with key Federal politicians and advocate inclusion of those rights in an Australian Charter of Rights;
  • convene three public forums on those rights within a Charter of Rights, and
  • use mass media and social media to highlight the importance of protecting those rights.

d linguistically diverse (CALD) communities – are disproportionately represented in the youth justice system, and particularly in custody. We have to admit that systemic racism is a key driver of this inequity.

Humanists Victoria has granted ten thousand dollars to a program committed to helping disadvantaged young people in contact with or at risk of entering the criminal justice system. The program is coordinated by Youthlaw, Victoria’s state-wide free community legal centre for people under 25 years of age.

The particular project is to formulate a common policy platform for all advocates of youth justice, leading up to this year’s State election. The aim is to influence the Victorian Government to adopt a reform agenda for a more effective youth justice system that complies with human rights, so that young people have their best chance to succeed in life.

In order to eliminate systemic inequalities, the goals for government are

  • to agree in principle to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years;
  • to eliminate solitary confinement, and take advice on implementing the Convention against Torture etc., and
  • to boost investment in community-led solutions tackling the drivers of youth offending and over-representation of disadvantaged young people.

Stephen Stuart