The Australian Human Rights Commission is the national human rights institution of Australia, established in 1986 as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and renamed in 2008. It is a statutory body funded by, but operating independently of, the Australian Government. It is responsible for investigating alleged infringements of Australia's anti-discrimination legislation in relation to federal agencies.
The Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 articulates the Australian Human Rights Commission's role and responsibilities. Matters that can be investigated by the Commission under the Australian Human Rights Commission Regulations 2019 include discrimination on the grounds of age, medical record, an irrelevant criminal record; disability; marital or relationship status; nationality; sexual orientation; or trade union activity.
The Commission falls under the portfolio of the Attorney-General of Australia.
The following individuals have been appointed as President of the Human Rights Commission, and its precedent organisation:
|1||Marcus Einfeld||President, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission||1986-1990|
|4||John von Doussa||2003-2008|
|5||Catherine Branson||President, Australian Human Rights Commission||2008-2012|
The following individuals have been appointed as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner:
|1||Mick Dodson||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner||1993-1998|
|2||Zita Antonios||1998-1999 (acting)|
The following individuals have been appointed as a Disability Discrimination Commissioners:
|1||Elizabeth Hastings||Disability Discrimination Commissioner||1993-1997|
|2||Chris Sidoti||1998 (acting)|
|3||Susan Halliday||1999 (acting)|
|4||Sev Ozdowski||2000-2005 (acting)|
|6||Susan Ryan||2014-2016 (acting)|
|1||Brian Burdekin||Human Rights Commissioner||1986-1994|
The following individuals have been appointed as a Race Discrimination Commissioner:
|1||Irene Moss||Race Discrimination Commissioner||1986-1994|
|7||Gillian Triggs||2013 (acting)|
The following individuals have been appointed as a Sex Discrimination Commissioner:
|1||Pam O'Neil||Sex Discrimination Commissioner||1984-1988|
|4||Moira Scollay||1997-1998 (acting)|
|7||John von Doussa||2007 (acting)|
The following individuals have been appointed as an Age Discrimination Commissioner, or precedent titles:
|1||Pru Goward||Commissioner Responsible for Age Discrimination||2005-2007|
|2||John von Doussa||2007 (acting)|
|4||Susan Ryan||Age Discrimination Commissioner||2011-2016|
|5||Kay Patterson||Age Discrimination Commissioner||2016-present|
The following individuals have been appointed as a National Children's Commissioner:
|1||Megan Mitchell||National Children's Commissioner||2013-present|
The following have served as Privacy Commissioner, initially at HREOC and then at two other Offices:
|1||Kevin O'Connor, AM||Privacy Commissioner (at HREOC)||1989-1996|
|3||Malcolm Crompton||Privacy Commissioner (at HREOC until July 2000, then at OPC)||1999-2004|
|4||Karen Curtis||Privacy Commissioner (at OPC)||2004-2010|
|5||Timothy Pilgrim PSM||Privacy Commissioner (at OAIC);
Acting Australian Information Commissioner (from 2015)
On 1 January 1989 the Privacy Act 1988 established the Privacy Commissioner within the Commission. The Privacy Commissioner continued in the Commission until 1 July 2000, when a new Office of the Privacy Commissioner was established by the federal Parliament, and the Privacy Commissioner was separated from the Commission.
In 2010, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) was established and the previously independent Office of the Privacy Commissioner was subsumed into it. The Privacy Commissioner now came under the supervision of the new Australian Information Commissioner, who could exercise the Privacy Commissioner's powers.
From 2014, the incoming Australian government under PM Tony Abbott attempted to abolish the OAIC, succeeding in having the Australian Information Commissioner (Prof John McMillan) unexpectedly retire early and FOI Commissioner (James Popple) resign, and cutting OAIC's budget. But the Senate failed to pass the necessary legislation (Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014). Several former judges suggested this pursuit of the abolition of a body created by Parliament without its support for that abolition raises constitutional and rule of law concerns. Then-Privacy Commissioner Pilgrim was appointed Acting Australian Information Commissioner in July 2015 for three months, filling all three OAIC roles on a part-time basis (and now also administering the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 (Cth)). He was reappointed as Acting Australian Information Commissioner in October 2015 for three months, and again on 19 January 2016 until 19 April 2016.
In early 2016, it remained unclear whether the Privacy Commissioner role would be returned to the Commission if the abolition of the OAIC were to succeed.
On 18 March 2016, the Commonwealth Attorney-General advertised for expressions of interest in the positions, to commence in July, of Age Discrimination Commissioner, Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner.
From its introduction until 2000, the Commission hosted the Commissioner administering the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).
The Commission investigates alleged infringements under the following federal legislation:
Matters that can be investigated by the Commission under the Australian Human Rights Commission Regulations 2019 include discrimination on the grounds of age, medical record, an irrelevant criminal record; disability; marital or relationship status; nationality; sexual orientation; or trade union activity.
One of the more visible functions of the Commission is to conduct public inquiries. Some examples of inquires conducted include:
On 30 July 2020, the Australian Human Rights Commission announced that they would conduct a review of the country's gymnastics program, following complaints of physical and mental abuse from some of the former athletes. Former Australian gymnasts had reported being assaulted by coaches, fat-shamed and made to train and compete while injured.
Private members' bills introduced from both the Australian Greens and the Australian Democrats tried to add sexuality and/or gender identity to the list of matters that can be investigated by the Commission, which always failed to pass at least one house of parliament between 1995 and June 2007, because of a lack of support from both the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition in the federal parliament.
Relevant legislation was later passed in Acts such as the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013.
Since 1987, the Human Rights Awards have been presented at the Commission's annual Human Rights Medal and Awards ceremony.
The Human Rights Medal is the highest award of the Human Rights Awards to individuals "for their outstanding contribution to human rights in Australia".
In 2008 the Young People's Human Rights Medal was awarded for the first time.
The Commission is one of some 70 national human rights institutions (NHRIs) accredited by the International Co-ordinating Committee of NHRIs (ICC), a body sponsored by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Commission's "A status" accreditation allows it special access to the United Nations human rights system, including speaking rights at the Human Rights Council and other committees. The Commission can present parallel reports ("shadow reports") to UN treaty committees examining Australia's compliance with international human rights instruments. It has been very active in developing NHRIs throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and is a leading member of the Asia Pacific Forum of NHRIs, one of four regional sub-groups of NHRIs.