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Human Rights Act 2019
The Human Rights Act 2019 is part of the administrative law obligations and oversight mechanisms that hold the Queensland government to account for its actions and decisions.
The main objects of the Act are to—
- protect and promote human rights
- help build a culture in the Queensland public sector that respects and promotes human rights
- help promote a dialogue about the nature, meaning and scope of human rights.
Part 2 of the Human Rights Act 2019 sets out the human rights covered by the Act. They are broadly categorised as civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and are drawn mostly from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Examples of the human rights covered by the Act are listed below.
The human rights stated in the Act are in addition to other rights and freedoms that arise or are recognised under other laws. A right or freedom is not considered to be abrogated or limited only because it is not included, or only partly included, in the Act. See section 12 of the Act.
The Act requires the government to consider human rights in all decision-making and actions, and to limit human rights only in certain circumstances and after careful consideration. Government departments and public service employees have a responsibility to respect, protect and promote the human rights of individuals. They must act in a way that is compatible with human rights when delivering services and interacting with the community.
The Act also requires the Parliament to scrutinise proposed legislation and to consider whether the legislation is compatible with human rights. The requirements relating to legislation are discussed further below.
Examples of human rights protected in Queensland
Examples of the human rights listed in part 2 of the Human Rights Act 2019 include—
- the right to recognition and equality before the law (section 15)
- the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief (section 20)
- the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association (section 22)
- the right to education (section 36)
- the right to health services (section 37).
The Act recognises that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold distinct cultural rights (section 28). Among these are the right to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage, language, kinship ties, and distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with the land, territories, waters, coastal seas and other resources.
Scrutiny of new legislation for compatibility with human rights
The Human Rights Act 2019 requires each Bill introduced into the Legislative Assembly to be scrutinised for its compatibility with human rights. To inform this scrutiny, the member of Parliament who introduces the Bill must prepare and table a statement of compatibility for the Bill (section 38).
Each Bill introduced into Parliament is considered by a committee of members of the Legislative Assembly, known as a portfolio committee. After considering a Bill, a portfolio committee must report to the Parliament about whether the Bill is compatible with human rights. The committee must also consider, and report to the Parliament about, the statement of compatibility tabled with the Bill. See section 39.
The Act also requires all subordinate legislation to be accompanied by a human rights certificate when it is tabled in the Legislative Assembly (section 41). The human rights certificate is prepared by the Minister responsible for the subordinate legislation and states whether, in the Minister's opinion, the legislation is compatible with human rights.
What does compatible with human rights mean?
Section 8 of the Human Rights Act 2019 provides that an action, decision or statutory provision is compatible with human rights if it does not limit a human right.
An action, decision or statutory provision may also be compatible with human rights if it limits a human right. However, to be compatible with human rights, a limit must be reasonable and able to be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.
Section 13 of the Act lists a number of factors that may be relevant to whether a limit on a human right is reasonable and justifiable. These factors include—
- the nature of the human right
- the nature of the purpose of the limitation and its importance
- whether there are any less restrictive and reasonably available ways to achieve the purpose
- the importance of preserving the human right, taking into account the nature and extent of the limitation on the human right.
Further information about human rights can be found on these Queensland government websites—
- Queensland Government Human Rights portal (www.forgov.qld.gov.au/humanrights)
- Queensland Human Rights Commission website (www.qhrc.qld.gov.au)