Summary publication

Also available: Complaint Statistics 2016-2017
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The year in review

This Annual Report sets out the performance of the Australian Human Rights Commission in the 2016–17 financial year.

This year has been challenging and rewarding for the Commission.

For the first time in our history, we have had a full complement of statutory office holders – with a President and seven commissioners. Four new commissioners commenced in this financial year, and I commenced as President in August 2017. This provides a significant moment for renewal of the Commission.

The past financial year has seen an unprecedented level of scrutiny of our complaint handling processes. Amendments to the handling of complaints occurred in the latter part of the financial year. The Commission welcomed these amendments, some of which the Commission initially proposed over eight years ago. A significant activity for the Commission in the years ahead is to implement these amendments and embed new work practices in the handling of complaints.

Our Investigation and Conciliation Service and the National Information Service continued to provide exceptional service to complainants and respondents. We know this through rigorous evaluation processes. Satisfaction rates with our conciliation service remain at a record high. It is particularly pleasing that the results reflect satisfaction from people who are in the midst of disputes – as both complainants and respondents.

An important aspect of the Commission’s work is to develop public and private sector partnerships. We have completed important work in the past year with:

  • the Australian Defence Forces – to embed cultural reform across the services and to identify responses to historic abuse
  • the university sector – to identify the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual abuse within universities Annual Report 2016–2017
  • the business community – to implement the UN Global Principles on Business and Human Rights and advance domestic frameworks for the protection of human rights
  • the National Rugby League – to support their approach to addressing discrimination and building diversity and inclusion at all levels of the sport.

The Commission was recognised for the excellence of our educational products, with our Magna Carta web resources winning the Good Design Awards and our RightsApp mobile application was commended in the Smart100 App awards. We have a range of exciting new educational materials to release in the coming year.

We enter the 2017–18 financial year with many opportunities to promote human rights in Australia:

  • Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has moved to the next stage, with the Uluru Declaration and report of the constitutional recognition panel to government.
  • The issue of marriage equality will be put to the Australian people for their views.
  • Racial harmony and community cohesion will continue to be a key challenge.
  • There will be renewed focus on the appropriateness of laws to ensure national security and the rights of citizens.
  • A durable settlement of asylum seekers and refugees seeking our protection will continue to be a focus of national debate, especially as offshore detention centres close.
  • The Government’s nominated date for ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) will arrive and the necessary mechanisms to appropriately monitor all places of detention in Australia will continue to be considered.
  • The UN Human Rights Council will decide on Australia’s bid for a seat on that Council, and our human rights record will be scrutinised through appearance before three human rights treaty bodies on economic, social and cultural rights, civil and political rights, and racial discrimination.
  • The refreshing of targets to close the gap of Indigenous socio-economic inequality will be finalised, with a major challenge of ensuring the meaningful engagement of Indigenous communities in this process and its implementation over time.
  • Gender inequalities continue to be a national concern, most notably violence against women, the gender pay gap and limited engagement of women in leadership positions.
  • There will be a renewed focus on implementing the Commission’s Willing to Work report by promoting improved participation of older Australians and people with a disability in the workforce. A similar challenge exists in implementing the findings of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2017 report on elder abuse.
  • The evolving National Disability Insurance Scheme raises questions about how to support independent living and to ensure access to employment and housing.

The Commission stands ready and willing to assist the Federal Government by providing evidencebased, technical expertise on all aspects of human rights implementation in Australia. We continue our commitment to human rights in Australia being understood as applying to everyone, everyday, everywhere.

Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher
commenced as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1 August 2017.