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Legislation and functions

The Commission exercises functions under the following Acts:

Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth)

Establishes the Commission and outlines its powers and functions.

It defines human rights by reference to the following international instruments:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Declaration on the Rights of the Child
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons
  • Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons
  • Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief
  • Convention Concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation.

Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)

Gives effect to Australia’s obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Its main aims are to:

  • promote equality before the law for all persons, regardless of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin
  • make discrimination on the basis of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, unlawful
  • provide protection against racial hatred.

Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)

Gives effect to Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and to other relevant international instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Its main aims are to:

  • promote equality between men and women
  • eliminate discrimination on the ground of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status, pregnancy (or potential pregnancy) and breastfeeding in work, education and other areas of public life
  • eliminate discrimination on the ground of family responsibilities in work
  • eliminate sexual harassment in work, education and other areas of public life.

Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)

Its main aims are to:

  • eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities as far as is possible
  • promote community acceptance of the principle that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as all members of the community
  • ensure as far as practicable that people with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as other people in the community.

Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)

Its main aims are to:

  • promote equality before the law for all persons regardless of their age
  • eliminate discrimination against persons on the ground of age in many areas of public life, such as employment, education and the provision of goods, services or facilities
  • change negative stereotypes about people based on their age (young or old).

The Commission

We exercise our functions under this federal legislation by:

  • investigating and conciliating complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights
  • developing an extensive and accessible website containing research, publications, resources and education programs for young people, teachers, community groups, business, media and the community at large
  • working with the media to raise and promote public awareness about important human rights issues
  • working with organisations and leaders in the community, government and business sectors to provide education on relevant human rights issues and to support them in their efforts to better protect and promote human rights
  • holding public inquiries and consultations to resolve systemic human rights issues of national importance that we have identified
  • · working closely with the federal government to provide independent advice regarding the development of laws, programs and policies that will better protect and promote human rights
  • publishing reports on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice and native title and children’s rights
  • making submissions to parliamentary and other inquiries in order to identify human rights issues which may arise in proposed or existing laws and policies
  • working in the legal system by appearing as an intervener or as amicus curiae in cases that involve human rights
  • working with other national human rights institutions, particularly through the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.

The President, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, the National Children’s Commissioner and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner have additional responsibilities.

President

The President is the Accountable Authority of the Commission, responsible for its financial and administrative affairs. The President is also responsible for the complaint-handling function of the Commission.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

Under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner may report to the Minister on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights of Indigenous peoples and undertakes social justice education and promotional activities.

This Commissioner may report under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) on the operation of the Act and its effect on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights of Indigenous peoples. In addition, the Commissioner reports, when requested by the Minister, on any other matter relating to the rights of Indigenous peoples under this Act.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner has functions under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) in relation to federal awards and equal pay.

National Children’s Commissioner

Under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) the National Children’s Commissioner may report to the Minister on the enjoyment and exercise of human rights by children in Australia.