Democratic rights and freedoms
Australia’s approach to human rights and freedoms reflects its liberal democratic ideals and a belief in the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all people, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Australia played a leading role in the development of international human rights standards, and is party to six major UN human rights treaties. Australia also engages actively in UN human rights mechanisms and supports developing countries in improving human rights standards, particularly through providing significant support for the promotion of democratic institutions.
Promoting a strong, free democracy
Australia’s federal structure, independent judiciary, robust representative parliamentary institutions and independent national human rights institution (the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) play an integral role in protecting human rights. They also provide a bulwark against abuses of power and denials of fundamental freedoms.
The Australian Government encourages people to learn about and participate in Australia’s democratic institutions. Key democratic principles and practices include responsible government; the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers; the observance of constitutional safeguards; the rule of law; a transparent criminal justice system; equitably resourced and respected opposition parties; and a free media. Australia’s strong democratic institutions are complemented by a number of specific legal protections for human rights.
Commitment to fair treatment
Human rights are inherent, inalienable, indivisible and universal. They are the birthright of all people and cannot be lost or taken away. They are all of equal importance and apply to all people whatever their race, gender, disability, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, age, property or other status. Observance of human rights, in Australia and abroad, benefits the security and prosperity of all nations and individuals. Successive Australian governments have supported these principles and systems.
The central features of Australia’s constitutional system are the doctrines of responsible government and separation of powers. Under responsible government, the executive is accountable to the parliament and the parliament to the people. The doctrine of separation of powers ensures the separation and independence of the executive and legislative branches of government from the judiciary. The independence of the courts, and their separation from the legislative and executive arms of government, is of great importance in Australia. Judges, in interpreting and applying the law, act independently of the government.
Laws are developed by the executive and must be approved by both houses of parliament. Once a law is passed, the separation of powers doctrine means parliament and the executive are bound to accept a decision of the courts about what a particular law means and how it is to be applied.
In Australia, anyone, including the government, can have the lawfulness of their actions scrutinised in a court of law and be held accountable for any activity determined to be inconsistent with the law.
Government policies are implemented by a professional and apolitical public service. Citizens have the right to be given reasons for administrative decisions made about them by government officials, and to have those decisions independently reviewed through the administrative tribunal system and/or the courts. There are also ombudsmen and commissions that can inquire into government decisions and allegations of misconduct. In addition, a network of parliamentary committees have mandates to review various spheres of government activity and legislation.
As the highest law in Australia, the Constitution specifically protects certain rights and freedoms, including trial by jury in specified circumstances, the free exercise of any religion, and just terms for acquisition of property. The Constitution also gives jurisdiction to the High Court of Australia to hear challenges to the lawfulness of government decisions.