Last Updated 14 June 2017

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) comprises a president and six commissioners:

The commission’s functions include the administration of the AHRC Act, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth).

The AHRC has a range of duties, functions and powers. The commission’s duties include ensuring that the functions under each of the Commonwealth human rights and anti-discrimination laws are carried out with regard for the universality of human rights and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights. Additionally, the AHRC is to ensure that the functions are carried out with the greatest possible benefit to the people of Australia.

The AHRC’s functions include those conferred on it by the above mentioned Acts and to:

  • inquire into and conciliate complaints of unlawful discrimination
  • carry out those functions that arise under the AHRC Act
  • examine legislation for inconsistency with human rights
  • inquire into employment-based discrimination
  • promote and undertake research and educational programs into human rights
  • advise the Commonwealth government on human rights matters
  • intervene in court proceedings involving human rights issues.

The powers of the AHRC include all things necessary or convenient for performance of its functions.

Jurisdiction of the Australian Human Rights Commission

The AHRC has specific functions in relation to equal opportunity. The commission can inquire into any act or practice that may amount to discrimination in employment or occupation on the basis of race, sex, colour, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, medical record, criminal record, impairment, marital status, mental, intellectual or psychiatric disability, nationality, physical disability, sexual preference or trade union activity where such treatment nullifies or impairs equality of opportunity or treatment (s 31 AHRC Act).

Complaints from individuals can be made under the AHRC Act to the commission. Complaints can be against the Commonwealth Government, the Queensland Government or a private employer.

The AHRC Act does not outlaw distinctions based on the inherent requirements of a job or the employment by a religious institution when the distinction has been made to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of that religion (s 3 AHRC Act). For example, the non-employment of women is not unlawful if the tenets of a religion dictate that only men can be monks.

Human rights declarations

The AHRC can also receive complaints about and inquire into any act or practice of the Commonwealth Government and any act done under Commonwealth legislation, which are contrary to any human right recognised by the AHRC Act (s 11 AHRC Act). For detailed information about the United Nations statements on human rights visit the five schedules contained in the AHRC Act.