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Lock-down reminds us that it’s time to talk about a human rights framework for South Australia

Isabella Candeloro is a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), Bachelor of Journalism and Professional Writing student at the University of South Australia. She is a member of the Rights Resource Network SA and Golden Key International Honour Society.

For three days in mid-November, South Australians were given a taste of what it means to have our most basic freedoms restricted by our government.

For most of us, this was a new experience, as most of the time, our rights and freedoms are respected and protected. But for those three days, we couldn’t leave our home, open our businesses, go to work, or even walk our dog.

We were excluded from being part of a group. Our rights were restricted, and even if we vigorously agreed with the need for the restrictions, we feel it strongly.

For some South Australians, this feeling of restriction and exclusion occurs regularly, and the standard of living that others take for granted is routinely denied. Some South Australians don’t have a safe place to come home to and are unable to get the health care they need, let alone having the chance to be involved in decisions that affect them.

Laws are enacted, policies implemented, and decisions made that effect our lives but that don’t require consideration of our rights. These gaps in human rights protection impact on all of us, influencing the way we see ourselves and the way we plan for the future.

Unlike many other states and territories in Australia, South Australia does not have a Human Rights Act or a Charter of Rights. It has laws with specific protections for specific things, such as the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA), but there is no requirement for the parliament or the government to consider the full range of our human rights when making laws and policies, and very limited pathways for us to take action in court if our human rights are breached.

The Rights Resource Network SA thinks it’s time that we talked about this gap in human rights protection in our state, and we want you to be part of this discussion.

We are hosting a special digital conference on International Human Rights Day, Thursday 10 December 2020, to talk about whether it is ‘Time For A Human Rights Framework For South Australia’. Starting with the big picture, the Event will commence with a panel discussion on what a South Australian human rights framework could look like, and what legal, structural and policy related changes it would demand or could create.

When thinking about what legal model to adopt to improve human rights protection, South Australia has the benefit of learning from other jurisdictions. It could consider a Charter of Rights model, similar to that introduced in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.

The implementation of Charters these places has not lead to a flood of lawsuits, but instead has been most effective in providing incentives and guidance for public servants and government officials to consider the rights impacts of laws and policies before they are turned into law, to improve outcomes for individuals and save costs and resources.

Other jurisdictions, such as the federal Parliament, have gone for a committee approach, which focuses on checking proposed laws against a set of rights principles to make sure that any rights impacts are necessary and proportionate having regard to the legitimate aim of the proposed law. scrutinising whether rights are being protected through

Each of these models have the potential to make a practical difference on the ground in South Australia. For example, considering the rights impact of a new transport policy could help identify how to ensure people with disabilities are able to readily access trams or buses before taxpayer money is invested in the design.

Considering rights impacts at the policy design stage could also help address structural rights issues, including the over-incarceration of Aboriginal children and adults, for example by identifying what alternative forms of justice reinvestment could be pursued to achieve the same legitimate public safety aims of criminal law reforms.

Having a public service that is familiar with a ‘human rights checklist’ could also improve our response to emergencies, including health pandemics, by encouraging early consideration of how different groups within our community might be impacted by specific restrictions or how to communicate key public health messages to particularly vulnerable groups. .

These are just some of the issues and considerations participants at the online conference will explore, including though a range of thematic workshops on key rights issues facing South Australia. Workshop topics include: poverty and access to social security; age of criminality and Aboriginal incarceration; housing and homelessness; family violence and family safety; right to protest and environmental protection and citizens’ engagement with parliament and policy.

The workshops will be led by academic researchers and local community organisations and supported by student volunteers. This will give us a chance to explore the really critical rights issues effecting our state, and whether a human rights framework could help to address those issues, and if so, how.

The event is free and open to the public, but participants MUST REGISTER to receive the zoom details and select their workshops. To register for the event please visit the Rights Resource Newtork SA website


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