26 September 2023

Human rights issues un-COVID virus

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The Victorian Ombudsman has dealt with more than 3,000 complaints about human rights issues in the past year, prompting reversals of decisions, improved policies and other actions to uphold the public’s rights.

Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass said her casebook The Ombudsman for Human Rights revealed that many of the human rights complaints her Office received were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Glass said looking into whether a person’s human rights were breached under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 was a tough balancing act, especially when the pandemic continued to curtail many long-standing freedoms.

“All too often human rights are poorly understood both by the public Agencies who are obliged to consider them and by the public they are intended to protect,” Ms Glass said.

“The human rights failures we see are not deliberate – those in authority simply fail to properly consider or balance some of the fundamental principles that underpin our basic freedoms,” she said.

“It is more important than ever that the public understands how their rights may – or may not – be limited, and the requirement of the Victorian Government to get the balance right.”

Ms Glass said in most of the cases in which she intervened, complaints were resolved quickly and informally and public Agencies were responsive to fixing problems.

The Ombudsman said the Casebook provided a snapshot of the thousands of cases and complaints her Office received in the past year and showed the impact of decision-making on people’s human rights.

She said the Casebook also showed the balancing act working, including Parks Victoria’s decision to fence off access to rock-climbing places in the Grampians National Park to support Aboriginal cultural rights, and reaffirming a council’s decision to ban an aggressive community activist.

“There can be little doubt COVID-19 has forever changed the public’s conception of Government, human rights and what is possible in this State,” she said.

“We see limitations on those freedoms that would not long ago have been unimaginable.”

Ms Glass said that even during a global pandemic, human rights could not be ignored and the act of considering human rights was “no more or less than putting people at the heart of decision-making”.

The Ombudsman’s 51-page Casebook can be accessed at this PS News link.

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