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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

High Commissioner shows support for Human Rights Act in Australia

07 June 2024

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights



Warm greetings to you all. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which this meeting takes place today. I pay my respects to elders past and present, and to First Nations people attending this event.

Thank you for the invitation to participate in this conference, taking up a vital conversation.

Over the past five years the Australian Human Rights Commission, through its Free and Equal Project, has undertaken crucial and inspiring work to push human rights to the top of the political and social agenda.

The Commission’s proposed Human Rights Framework is a pivotal step, and it comes at a pivotal time.

Right now, our world is living through an era of conflict, disorder, uncertainty and profound fragmentation.

Accepted norms of international law are increasingly being challenged or violated with impunity.

We are seeing pushbacks on rights at all levels – from women’s rights, to the rights of LGBTIQ+ people, to migrant and refugee rights.

Racism and discrimination of all types are on the rise.

The deepening global economic crisis is exacerbating the massive gap between rich and poor.

And we are all experiencing the catastrophic consequences of the lack of action on climate change, which poses a direct and existential threat to the survival of humanity.

Australia is an important regional and global player, and can help drive the solutions.

Solutions that are based on robust advocacy of international law, human rights and accountable, participative governance.

Solutions that are aimed at rebuilding trust, and standing up for the essential values that underpin our shared humanity.

One of Australia’s greatest assets is its diversity.

This is a country that has been built on the strength and the beauty of human difference.

The world’s oldest continuing culture calls this land home. So, too, do millions of other Australians who identify with over 300 different ancestries. Nearly one-third of Australians were born overseas. More than one in five Australians speak a language other than English at home.

Embracing that difference means embracing a better, more equal, more dignified Australia.

The introduction of a Human Rights Act in Australia would strengthen justice, inclusivity, freedom and respect, for all Australians.

As many of you have argued for years, and I fully agree, a Human Rights Act would help to guide legislation and policy, strengthen oversight by the courts and close the gaps in Australia’s existing domestic legal framework on human rights.

And it would empower everyone across Australia, no matter who they are, to take action when their rights are threatened.

I wholeheartedly urge support for the adoption of a Human Rights Act, that would help ensure a better future for all Australians.

Human rights provide the blueprint for effective governance. They provide hope. They unite our human family.

I encourage you to use this momentum to reclaim them.

Thank you.