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Performance indicator 1a: Leadership

Free and Equal: An Australian conversation on human rights

Announced by President Croucher in December 2018, this initiative aims to build a conversation about the key priorities for human rights reform at the national level in order to guide actions over the next decade.

The purpose of the Free and Equal project is to:

  • promote awareness of the importance of human rights to 21st century Australia
  • identify current limitations and barriers to improve human rights protections
  • identify what key principles should underpin the reform of human rights in Australia
  • build agreement across the Parliament, government and the community about what we can do collectively to better promote, protect and fulfil human rights.

During the reporting period, the Commission released an Issues Paper providing an overview of the project and Australia’s human rights obligations. The Issues Paper commenced the pubic consultation phase of the project, with the inaugural consultation workshops for the project held in Perth in this period. A public submissions process also began.

Research was also conducted, which will be released in the 2019–20 year, identifying priorities for federal discrimination law reform, implementation of human rights through law, policy and practice, human rights education and national accountability frameworks for human rights. This research will be supplemented by a series of technical workshops with experts from business, government, the legal profession, community sector and general community.

In late 2019, the Commission will convene a national conference with the involvement of national and international human rights experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr Michelle Bachelet. The project will culminate in mid-2020 with a report to government setting out a roadmap for human rights reform.

The Free and Equal project is built around the ‘respect, protect, fulfil’ framework for implementing human rights (see figure below). This framework acknowledges that there is no one way of implementing human rights, with multiple actions required across each of these domains.

The respect, protect, fulfil human rights framework

Human Rights and Technology

Commissioner Santow launched this multiphase, multiyear initiative to examine the challenges and opportunities presented to human rights by emerging technologies. The aim is to ensure that human rights are central considerations in the design, development and governance of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence. The project is supported by four major partners—Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Herbert Smith Freehills, LexisNexis, the University of Technology Sydney—and an Expert Reference Group.

The project was launched with a conference and Issues Paper in July 2018. The conference attracted a diverse audience of national and international stakeholders representing over 250 organisations. The objective was to engage participants and to increase awareness of the issues and relevance of human rights in the discourse, design and regulation of new technologies.

The 2018–19 evaluation strategy was to assess the foundational outcomes from the conference and to monitor the activities and traction of the consultation phase that followed. The conference evaluation found these outcomes (among participants):

  • a reframing of the new technology discourse to include human rights
  • new learning and increased understanding of the issuesan appetite for action to tackle the issues

Following the conference, the project’s consultation phase provided a sustained opportunity to build recognition and understanding of the issues with a growing audience. In this phase, the Commission:

  • received 119 written submissions to the Issues Paper
  • conducted face-to-face consultation roundtables with 380 stakeholders and 36 speaking engagements reaching an audience of more than 8,000
  • partnered with the World Economic Forum to develop a White Paper (for consultation on good leadership and governance in respect of artificial intelligence or AI) garnering 63 responses.

The Commission’s leadership on these issues is gaining global attention with Commissioner Santow invited to present at human rights and technology events at the G7 meeting on AI in Canada, at a major summit on AI at Stanford University, California, and the Consumers International AI Summit in Singapore.

In the coming year the project will move to advancing national human rights policy initiatives in relation to new and emerging technologies. Activities will focus on consultations on the preliminary proposals in the project Discussion Paper (to be released in late 2019) and the preparation of a final report with recommendations across government, industry and the community.

National Inquiry into Sexual Harrassment in Australian Workplaces

In June 2018, Commissioner Jenkins announced the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. This National Inquiry is an Australian and world-first initiative in addressing the issue of workplace sexual harassment.

The focus of the National Inquiry is on the nature and prevalence of workplace sexual harassment, its drivers and impacts, the current legal framework and measures to address this harassment. Through the National Inquiry, the Commission aims to make a significant contribution to reducing workplace sexual harassment, and helping to ensure safer, respectful and more productive Australian workplaces.

In this period Commissioner Jenkins and the National Inquiry team:

  • released the results of the Commission’s fourth national survey of workplace sexual harassment
  • conducted 59 public community and targeted consultations nationally, across all capital cities and some regional cities
  • held three expert roundtables and numerous meetings with key stakeholders
  • engaged with more than 600 attendees through consultations
  • received 448 submissions from individuals, employers and business groups, community organisations, government agencies, and academics and legal experts
  • established a website for people to find information about the National Inquiry and subscribe for updates
  • developed resources including the ‘Have your Say—Conversation Toolkit’ and an Inquiry newsletter keeping stakeholders informed.

The results of this year’s national survey were more detailed and robust than in previous years, with an expanded sample of more than 10,000 Australians surveyed. For the first time, this year’s survey was also able to report in detail about the prevalence and characteristics of experiences of sexual harassment within particular industries, across 21 industry groups.

Consistent with the findings of the national survey, the Commission heard in consultations and submissions that sexual harassment is pervasive and affects all workplaces and all industries in Australia, with stakeholders seeking change in three key areas:

  • education in the community to address attitudes and culture, and increase awareness
  • improving coordination, coverage and consistency of existing legal frameworks
  • more effective action by employers.

The National Inquiry has received widespread support from government, unions, employers and the community. The consultation and submission process ensured that the Commission heard about individual experiences to inform its understanding of the systemic issues. The Commission received positive feedback on its leadership in undertaking the National Inquiry and people’s experience of the inquiry process:

‘Thank you very much for providing me with the opportunity to tell my story … I am so pleased and proud of our country that this [inquiry] is occurring.’

‘I felt validated and respected by the inquiry process …’

‘I thank you Commissioner Kate Jenkins, for giving many of us a voice during this inquiry, and I hope that those of us who have spoken out can find comfort in knowing that no matter how small or large your contribution into this inquiry will bring those changes forward. By speaking out that others will be encouraged to also.’

The National Inquiry has also attracted significant global interest, with Commissioner Jenkins discussing the work of the National Inquiry in China, Brazil and at the 63rd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

In March 2019, the National Inquiry moved to its analysis phase, integrating the quantitative and qualitative data gathered by the Commission and extensive domestic and international research. The Commission will report on the findings and recommendations of the National Inquiry in late 2019.

Sharing the stories of Australian Muslims

The Race Discrimination Commissioner is leading an initiative to listen to and share the stories of Australian Muslims. This project aims to build robust evidence about the experience of Australian Muslims to inform the Australian Human Rights Commission’s work in promoting social cohesion. In the aftermath of the tragedy in Christchurch, this project offers a unique opportunity for Australian Muslims to tell a national story about their experiences.

The national face-to-face consultations will be supported by a national online survey of Australian Muslims aimed at collecting data about Islamophobia, racism and related intolerances, as well as social cohesion. The project is in its early stages—this period has seen the development of the survey in close collaboration with community members and the first consultation event in Canberra. In the coming year, 17 further consultations are scheduled in all states and territories.

Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women's Voices)

This initiative is led by Commissioner Oscar and is building on the legacy of the last national consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls in the 1986 Women’s Business Report. It aims to advance the realisation of human rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls in key community-identified focus areas.

The project started in late 2017 and the national consultation phase was completed in December 2018. The consultation reached Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls either by direct engagement and community meetings or via an online submission process and survey.

An implementation objective in undertaking the project is to empower communities through meaningful participation, strengths-based engagement and discussion to gather and communicate community voice and issues content. In the consultation period to December 2018, the Commissioner and her team:

  • held 105 engagements in 50 locations, including regional, rural, and remote areas
  • met with 2,294 women and girls
  • received over 100 submissions and over 300 survey responses.

In evaluating this phase, the project sought participants’ views on and benefit from taking part in the face-to-face meetings (the interim results were presented in last year’s Annual Report).

Figure 2 below summarises the completed evaluation results of this stage. The findings conclude that the Commissioner and her team provided women and girls with meaningful, empowering, inclusive and safe opportunities to have their voices heard.

‘Write the truth. Listen. Write. Our voices’

—survey respondent

From January 2019, the project entered a data analysis and report-writing phase. The report will authentically reflect the voices of women and girls from the consultations. It will reflect the complex inter-connection of issues that affect women and girls in their daily lives.

The final report is due to be transmitted to the Attorney-General in late 2019 and will be tabled in the Parliament thereafter.

The Australian Government announced on 5 March 2019 that, as part of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, the Commonwealth will fund Stage 2 of the project. This work will be carried out over 2019 and 2020 and will focus on:

  • dissemination—significantly increasing access to the report’s findings and recommendations
  • additional consultation on critical elements of culture and language which represent key strengths identified by women throughout the national consultations
  • community development knowledge exchange—bringing together community members, service providers and government agencies to hear identified success stories and providing detailed guidance on how to create an enabling environment, and support and deliver the successful design, implementation and governance of effective community-led initiatives.

Elder Abuse

In this period, Commissioner Patterson continued her term advocacy program to improve Australia’s recognition and response to elder abuse, building on the findings of the 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission report, ‘Elder Abuse—A National Legal Response’.

This work has contributed to raising the profile of elder abuse as a key federal issue (and which emerged as the third plank of the Attorney-Generals’ first-year agenda).

‘I can assure you she [Commissioner Patterson] left me with no misconception of the vital importance of our work to end elder abuse and the need to stamp out ageism and age discrimination in the workforce.’

—Christian Porter, Attorney General, speech at 5th Elder Abuse Conference—Together Making Change, June 2018

Following the launch of the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians 2019–2023, the Implementation Plan has been endorsed by the Council of Attorneys-General. The Implementation Plan identifies five areas for the Age Discrimination Commissioner to progress.

Under this framework the Commissioner has established the elder abuse information and education project, a multiyear project connecting to older Australians, service providers, educators and other stakeholders.

In 2018–19 the project undertook research to guide the development of user-friendly elder abuse materials and initiated a pilot with Tasmanian stakeholders—such as COTA Tasmania, the Legal Aid Commission and the Department of Communities—to collaboratively develop effective strategies to reach and engage communities with these materials.

In this period Commissioner Patterson has also started to work with stakeholders in the health industries to develop training and awareness materials for use with their workforces.

Building capacity for child safety

At the request of the Australian Government, the National Children’s Commissioner has led the development of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. These principles are based on the ten ‘child safe standards’ recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and form a key element of the responses of all governments to the Royal Commission.

The National Principles are grounded in a child rights approach, which recognises children and young people as active participants. They aim to address sexual abuse in institutional settings as well as other forms of harm to children.

The national principles were developed in consultation with national sector peak bodies, national advocacy and research organisations, the Australian Government, state and territory governments and with children and young people themselves.

The Council of Australian Government endorsed the Principles in February 2019.

The Commission has also developed a series of resources to assist organisations working with children and young people to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. This includes an introductory video to the principles, a self-assessment tool for organisations to consider the adequacy of existing policies and practices, and guidance materials for parents, children and young people. All resources are available at https://childsafe.humanrights.gov.au/tools-resources.

Throughout the reporting year, the Commission has developed a series of e‑learning modules on each of the child safe principles. These will be launched in the second half of 2019.