Last updated 1 December 2020

Overview of the Act

The Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) (Human Rights Act) commenced in Queensland on 1 January 2020 and provides a statutory framework for the protection and promotion of human rights in Queensland.

The Human Rights Act:

  • provides statutory protections for 23 human rights and freedoms. These rights are in addition to, and do not take away from, other rights and freedoms that people may have in Queensland for example at common law or under other legislation
  • aims to ensure human rights are given proper consideration in the development of legislation, interpretation of laws and in public sector decision making
  • only protects individuals and does not create absolute rights. Human rights may be limited and balanced in a way that is consistent with a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom
  • aims to ensure that respect for human rights is embedded in the culture of the Queensland public sector, and that public functions are exercised in a principled way that is compatible with human rights. The Act has broad ramifications for the provision of a wide range of public services and government decision making in Queensland
  • provides a mechanism for human rights complaints to be made, investigated and attempted to be resolved directly with public entities and then through the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC). A breach of human rights may only be raised in a court or tribunal if a person has another cause of action or legal remedy available aside from the human rights argument
  • is not retrospective, meaning that it will only apply to actions or decisions from 1 January 2020 onwards.

Objects of the Human Rights Act

The objects of the Human Rights Act are:

  • to protect and promote human rights
  • to help build a culture in the Queensland Government that respects and promotes human rights
  • to help promote a dialogue about the nature, meaning and scope of human rights.

Other human rights Acts in Australia

Queensland is the third state or territory to enact specific human rights legislation, following the Australian Capital Territory’s Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) and Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). The Queensland legislation is closely modelled on the Victorian Charter of Rights. The Queensland Act is the only human rights statute in Australia to include a right to health services and is joined only by the ACT legislation in protecting the right to education. The Queensland Act also has the most expansive and wide-reaching protection for cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

 Dialogue model of human rights protection

The Human Rights Act adopts a ‘dialogue model’ of human rights protection. This model promotes discussion or dialogue about human rights between the three arms of government: parliament, the courts and government (via public entities).

The Act places separate obligations on each arm of government, giving each an important role:

  • The Queensland Parliament must consider human rights when proposing and scrutinising new laws. Parliament can still make laws that interferes with human rights, but it must be open and transparent about doing so.
  • Queensland courts and tribunals must interpret the law, so far as possible consistently with its purpose, in a way that is compatible with human rights, and the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal may declare a law incompatible with human rights.
  • Public entities must act or make decisions in a way that is compatible with human rights and, in making decisions, must give proper consideration to relevant human rights.

A dialogue model also preserves the existing separation between the three arms of government, ensuring that the integrity of each limb of government is maintained.