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 (www.charterofrights.org.au). 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.