Compassion. Justice. Concern for the least well-off.

How should Christians pursue these aims in today’s society? How are human rights important for Christian agencies, institutions and individuals who want to serve and care for our neighbour? (Matt 22:39) The prophet called God’s people to, “seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the orphan and plead the case of the widow.” (Is 1:17) IsaiahOne pursues a biblically informed approach to human rights.

The federal, Joint Human Rights committee (JHRC), established under human rights legislation introduced in the wake of the National Consultation on Human Rights (2009), is beginning to create political accountability on human rights. The committee’s reports are bringing a number of key human rights issues into public discussion. The reports are engaging Ministers with important questions about the effects of proposed legislation on the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Many examples appear in JHRC’s latest report (number 12), in which minister’s responses to human rights concerns are provided in much greater detail than might otherwise have occurred – and than often occurs in Parliamentary debates and second reading speeches. The report can be viewed here.

29 April 2014: IsaiahOne has joined a number of organisations in an Open Letter rejecting proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) 1975  (Cth). Based on the evidence provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission, and other experts, the changes appear likely to put vulnerable minorities at risk of harm. A biblical view of speech means seeing it as an instrument of care, encouragement and mutual benefit. On the available evidence it seems possible, perhaps probable, that the proposed changes would provide a legal and social licence for division and hatred in the community – particularly at the expense of minority groups who may have little voice in the community.   The letter is here.

16 March 2012: Victoria’s Coalition Government has responded to the Review of Victoria’s Charter of Rights. The Government has decided to retain key elements of the Charter, undertaken to reform other elements and stated that it will further review other changes proposed by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (majority report). IsaiahOne welcomes the Government’s retention of important aspects of the Charter, such as its use by the Courts (subject to further review) and its application to public authorities such as Government service providers. Also welcome are reforms to improve the Charter’s application to legislative debate and development. IsaiahOne contributed a 20 page submission to the Review, and a summary can be found at Ethos (part one) & (part two). IsaiahOne has issued a media release in response.

28 February 2012: The Gillard Government announced on 28 February that it proposes to ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). In 2010 Australia passed legislation criminalising torture, the Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition Act (Cth). While this legislation is important, the ratification of the UN Protocol sends a message to the world that Australia is willing to uphold international standards against torture. It helps add to the case that the many countries yet to ratify this protocol should do so.

14 September 2011 – Victorian Government Charter Review Report Handed Down. The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee has delivered its report to Parliament. It presents two views, a majority (Government backed) recommendation and a minority recommendation. The majority report recommends significantly reducing the Charter’s scope in relation to overseeing government services and the ability of courts to interpret using Charter rights. The minority report recommends retaining these functions. Both minority and majority reports reject repealing the Charter Act and both support a number of procedural and administrative improvements.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet has issued a statement that the majority view of the report is not necessarily that of the Government. The release also notes that it is evident that the Charter has delivered noteworthy benefits, stating,

The SARC report, and many of the submissions made to SARC, indicate that the Charter of Human Rights has delivered benefits to Victoria, and should not be repealed.

The Government has 6 months in which to respond to the Review.

The Victorian Government undertook a review of Victoria’s Charter of Rights and Responsibilities following 4 years of the Charter’s operation. The Government’s Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC), reviewed the Charter. It received a large number of public submissions indicating the ongoing strong public interest in strengthening human rights.

IsaiahOne has made a submission to the Government examining two areas of the Charter: (1) the Charter’s effects on the disadvantaged; (2) the Charter’s effects on religious freedom. The submission highlights the strong commitment by Christians to human rights in Victoria. It points out the evidence that the Charter is helping to remedy human rights breaches in several ways, including as an advocacy tool, guiding systemic reforms and through legal challenges. The submission examines the Charter’s effects on religious freedom in Victoria by reviewing controversial episodes such as Catch the Fire Ministries as well as court cases involving religious freedom and the Charter. It concludes by recommending the retention of the Charter’s elements which provide benefits to the disadvantaged, while modifying some elements which have the potential to diminish the protection of religious freedom. Click to read IsaiahOne Victorian Charter Inquiry Submission.

Read quotes from submissions by organisations which work with the disadvantaged and vulnerable. They show strong support for the Victorian Charter. Many indicate areas of improvement for the Charter but none suggest it is best reduced in scope or strength. As at mid-July IsaiahOne is unaware of any organisation working with the needy and disadvantaged which wishes to see the Charter reduced or replaced with alternative measures aimed at promoting human rights.

Human Rights in Action: Victoria’s Charter was used to help win a common-sense and compassionate outcome for one young man suffering depression after the deaths of his mother and partner…READ MORE

Human Rights in Action:Many Christian missionaries devoted themselves to protecting Australia’s indigenous peoples from the negative effects of European settlement. In this moving account, Chris Marshall shows how Christians are continuing a longstanding effort to uphold the dignity of Australia’s first peoples…

In the early years of white settlement in this part of the continent, the Chief Protector of Aborigines was a good and decent man named George Augustus Robinson.  He was, it seems, a committed Christian, and he advocated earnestly – if largely ineffectively – for those whose society was being obliterated and whose inalienable rights were given scant regard by a rapacious settler societyREAD MORE

Human Rights in Action: Dr Kiran Martin is the Founder and Director of Asha – an internationally renowned non-government organisation which holistically transforms slums. At Dr Martin’s recent public lecture at the University of Melbourne, she presented an inspiring account of courage, determination, hard work and hope as she led a grassroots transformation of many slum communities. The name of her organisation, “Asha” means “hope” in Hindi. As a committed Christian, Dr Martin also highlighted the fundamental importance of a “human rights framework” as a means to transforming communities and assisting the poorest of the poor. IsaiahOne recently interviewed Dr Martin about human rights in her experience working in the slums of New Dehli. For a preview click here.

Human Rights in Action: In what is described as a first, Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions has invoked Victoria’s Charter of Rights and Responsibilities to ensure that the right of two children to testify in court was not jeopardised by procedural rules. The case involves evidence that two children, aged 8 and 10, were to give against their molester. The DPP, Jeremy Rapke QC, argued that denying them the chance to testify would breach their human rights even though a 3 month deadline for recording witness statements had expired (by 4 weeks). The Victorian Charter states:

Families are the fundamental group unit of society and are entitled to be protected by society and the State. Every child has the right, without discrimination, to such protection as is in his or her best interests… Section 17 (1) & (2)

The Judge agreed, saying that a minor delay should not result in a denial of basic justice to children. A news report is available here.

Human Rights in Action: In March, an immigrant family was spared eviction into likely homelessness by appeal to the Victorian Charter of Rights. The case has set a precedent for the public housing department’s dealings with its tenants. In particular, it gives vulnerable tenants an opportunity to have their appeal reviewed without having to go to the Victorian Supreme Court. This means an easier and better safeguard for tens of thousands of people in public housing should they face unfair or unreasonable treatment. It also focuses public servants on their obligations under the Charter, such as the obligation on public authorities to be mindful of s 17:

“Families are the fundamental group unit of society and are entitled to be protected by society and the State.”

An excellent newspaper article on the case and its implications is here.

More examples where Charters of Rights help the needy, vulnerable and weak in society.

Christianity and the Debate about Human Rights

Some Christians are wary of human rights and concerned about Charters of Rights. Opposition to a Charter from within the church is based on two underlying concerns: (1) that Charters (and for some, human rights generally) promote secularism, thereby eroding Christian freedom; (2) that Charters will destabilise society by introducing fundamental change. Click here to read more about these issues.