About the Charter
The Charter enshrines civil, political and cultural rights into Victorian law. Public authorities must observe those rights. New policies and legislation must also take into account human rights, and public authorities – for example, people working for the government – must also observe human rights so that members of the community are not treated unfairly.
What is the Charter?
The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) is a Victorian law that sets out the basic rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people in Victoria. It is about the relationship between government and the people it serves.
The Charter requires public authorities, such as Victorian state and local government departments and agencies, and people delivering services on behalf of government, to act consistently with the human rights in the Charter. To learn more about the responsibilities that public authorities have under the Charter see the For public sector part of our website.
Twenty fundamental human rights are protected in the Charter because the Victorian Parliament recognises that, as human beings, we have basic rights.
In certain circumstances, some rights may be limited. However, this must be necessary and reasonable and there must be clear reasons for the decision.
Which rights does the Charter include?
The Charter includes 20 civil and political rights, for example:
- the right to equality
- protection from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
- the right to vote
- freedom of expression
- cultural rights.
The Charter recognises that all rights come with responsibilities. This includes the responsibility to respect other people’s rights.
See a full list Charter rights with links to more information on each right.
Can rights be limited?
The Charter includes a general limitations clause which states that rights may be limited only so far as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society, taking into account all relevant factors.
Public authorities can limit human rights when those limitations can be justified. This means that government and Parliament can continue to make decisions on behalf of the community about how best to balance rights, protect Victorians from crime, and use limited funding for competing public interest challenges.
What obligations does the Charter impose?
Victoria’s Charter forms part of a broader human rights framework, including international human rights law and laws that also protect people’s rights in Victoria, such as the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.
The Charter places responsibilities on the three areas of government: Parliament, courts and tribunals and public authorities.
Charter obligations on Parliament
- When introducing new laws into Victoria’s Parliament, a Statement of Compatibility must be tabled in Parliament, indicating how the proposed law is compatible or incompatible with the rights set out in the Charter.
- The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee reviews Bills and statutory rules and reports to Parliament as to whether they are compatible with human rights.
- In exceptional circumstances, Parliament may declare a law as being incompatible with one or more of the rights in the Charter but still pass the law.
Charter obligations on courts and tribunals
- Courts and tribunals must interpret all Victorian laws in a way that upholds the human rights outlined in the Charter, as far as this is possible.
- The Supreme Court has the power to declare that a law or provision is inconsistent with human rights but does not have the power to strike it down.
Charter obligations on public authorities
- Public authorities must act compatibly with human rights and give proper consideration to human rights when making decisions.
Are there any exceptions?
The obligation to give proper consideration to, and act compatibly with, human rights does not apply where:
- under another law a public authority could not reasonably have acted differently or made a different decision.
- the act or decision is of a private nature
- the act or decision would impede or prevent a religious
body from acting in conformity with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.
Why does Victoria need a Charter?
There are a range of reasons why Victoria needs a Charter.
We need a Charter because some basic rights, such as freedom of speech and religion and freedom from forced work and degrading treatment, have no clear legal protection.
The Charter is essentially a form of insurance to ensure that human rights are a priority for present and future governments.
How are Victorians better off under a Charter?
The Charter makes sure that the state government continues to make new laws fairly and gets the balance right between new powers and protecting the rights of Victorians.
The Charter can improve our public services and the behaviour of government departments.
It can make the decisions of public authorities fairer and more robust, setting clear legal standards and strengthening cases where change is needed.
Decision-making is aided by the Charter, which provides a framework to act lawfully when making difficult decisions about balancing competing public interests.
The Charter also improves the quality of service design, particularly for the most marginalised, excluded and disadvantaged in our community.
What is the Commission’s role?
The Commission has two major roles under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Information and education
We help people in Victoria understand the rights and freedoms set out in the Charter and what they can do to make them an everyday reality. To do this we:
- provide information and answer questions about the Charter through our Enquiry Line. We do not handle complaints related to the Charter
- provide education and training about the Charter rights and responsibilities to the community, government, local councils and other public authorities.
Independent assessment of how the Charter is being implemented
We provide a regular and independent assessment of the steps taken by the Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities to meet their responsibilities under the Charter. To do this we:
- prepare a report annually on how the Charter is operating, which is presented to the Attorney-General and tabled in Parliament
- may intervene in cases or appear as amicus curiae in court and tribunal proceedings that raise human rights questions related to the Charter on behalf of the Charter. See a list of our legal interventions
- conduct human rights reviews at the request of public authorities and the Attorney-General
- publish submissions engaging in government policy processes, inquiries and law reform activities to help ensure human rights issues are considered. See a list of our policy submissions.
- provide advice to help the state government, local councils and other public authorities comply with the Charter
- provide information and resources for people who are working to bring about change through advocacy.
We do not handle complaints about the Charter
The Commission does not handle complaints related to the Charter.
If you think your human rights have been breached, you should contact the Victorian Ombudsman.
If you want to make a complaint about police conduct, contact the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.