From 1 January 2020, the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) (the Act) commenced operation in its entirety with the Queensland Human Rights Commission (the Commission) having commenced handling complaints.
Queensland joins the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria as the only States in Australia with human rights legislation. Businesses should be aware of the new complaints system, in particular, businesses that are or may be considered a public entity under the Act.
Human Rights Act
A primary objective of the Act is to require public entities to make decisions that are compatible with human rights.
A public entity is an organisational body providing services to the public on behalf of the State. A public entity may also be a non-state police officer or an entity subject to obligations through a declaration. Public entities are defined in the Act as ‘carrying out functions of a public nature’ for the State.
Public entities include State and Local Government, the police, public schools, public health services, and other bodies performing functions of a public nature. A public entity does not include Federal Public Services and entities, only those of the State of Queensland, and private schools are not public entities.
Pursuant to section 58 of the Act, it is unlawful for a public entity:
- to act or make a decision in a way that is not compatible with human rights; or
- in making a decision, to fail to give proper consideration to a human right relevant to the decision.
The Act protects some 23 human rights and freedoms, including:
- recognition and equality before the law;
- right to life;
- protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;
- freedom from forced work;
- freedom of movement;
- freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief;
- freedom of expression;
- peaceful assembly and freedom of association;
- privacy and reputation;
- protection of families and children;
- cultural rights – Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
- rights to liberty and security of person;
- fair hearing;
- rights in criminal proceedings;
- children in the criminal process;
- right not to be tried or punished more than once;
- right to education; and
- right to health services.
New Complaints System
For alleged breaches of human rights, the Act provides for complaints to be made initially to the public entity against which a breach of human rights is alleged.
Once 45 business days has elapsed, if the complainant is dissatisfied with the response the complainant may refer the matter to the Commission. The Commission will attempt to resolve the complaint by agreement or by way of a compulsory conciliation conference.
A person cannot claim financial compensation for a breach of the Act.
A Court or Tribunal cannot generally hear or determine complaints about breaches of human rights, however, exceptions exist, such as if the Court is in the process of a hearing based on another law.
The Commission can accept complaints regarding conduct in breach of the Act, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld).
If your business is, or may be considered, a public entity under the Act, you should have clear policies and procedures which cover human rights and ensure that management and employees clearly understand their requirements.
If you require any advice about the possible application of this legislation, or assistance implementing appropriate policies and procedures or responding to a complaint, please contact us on 1300 068 736 to speak with Suzanne Wishart from our Employment & Business Lawyers team or Barry Chappell from our Litigation team.
This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be viewed as broad guidance only. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render advice. No one should rely on the information contained in this publication without first obtaining professional advice relevant to their own specific situation.