Throwing a spotlight on government's good human rights work

By David Donaldson

July 19, 2018

The Australian Human Rights Commission has two key ways of encouraging governments to do the right thing: shining a light on good work — and the blowtorch.

While better known for its blowtorching, the commission wants to get better at highlighting where government is doing a good job.

So for the first time in its 31 years, the 2018 human rights awards will include a government category.

“The essence of the human rights awards is to acknowledge the broad range of contributions to protecting human rights in Australia,” AHRC President Rosalind Croucher told The Mandarin.

In previous years the commission received interest from various government bodies that “just didn’t fit” with the existing categories.

“Essentially we’re all working towards the same goals.”

It’s open to any federal, state or local government body “that has contributed to the advancement and protection of human rights in the Australian community”.

The expanded awards are a chance to publicise the good work of organisations that may often be overlooked, especially in the local government sector, says Croucher.

“What we recognise through the many consultations we do is that there are thousands of local government bodies that are really active, whether through multicultural events, disability and inclusion, homelessness, making visible elder abuse — because it’s often not visible — and we wanted to give an opportunity for recognition through our human rights celebrations each year,” she says.

But “there’s a lot of good human rights work being done federally as well”, she adds — even if the federal government isn’t always so keen on listening to what the commission has to say. “Essentially we’re all working towards the same goals”, she argues.

Grassroots human rights efforts by public servants can make a big difference in people’s lives, she says. Croucher ends with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 70th anniversary of which the commission will be celebrating this year:

“Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

Nominations for the 2018 human rights awards are open until 5 August.

Upcoming event: How do we protect our human rights when technology is changing the way we live?

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