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2020 Report on the operation of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities – Nov 2021

The 2020 report on the operation of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) was tabled in Parliament by the Attorney-General on 2 December 2021.

The purpose of the annual Charter Report is to examine the operation of the Charter in any given year – how it interacts with law and policy to protect and promote human rights. Throughout 2020, Victorians faced profound – and in many cases unprecedented – human rights challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and so this year’s report delves deeply into how these were navigated in the context of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

“Human rights are more important than ever in times of crisis. In 2020, Victorians faced profound challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and our leaders made difficult decisions with the urgent aim of protecting public health and the lives and livelihoods of our community. The Charter was designed to see us through times like this and it provided an effective framework to ensure human rights were considered by Parliament and the Government when designing and implementing the pandemic response.”
– Ro Allen, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner

It is a testament to the trust placed in the Charter as a framework for protecting and balancing rights that Parliament did not seek to override the Charter’s protections in framing its response to the pandemic. Instead, the Charter continued to operate throughout the pandemic, ensuring Parliament was able to scrutinise COVID-19 legislative measures for Charter compliance. The Victorian Government took special measures to protect people’s lives and health, and to ensure our institutions continued to operate, and the Charter guided outcomes in key Supreme Court cases concerning the pandemic, including in relation to the protection of life within the prison system and the restrictions on people’s freedom and liberty as a result of the curfew. People retained their ability to challenge government decisions in the courts on Charter grounds; and public authorities remained bound to consider human rights, and to act in accordance with human rights, in their decision-making.

Lessons learned

The Charter is a useful tool in times of crisis. In 2020 it provided valuable guidance to Parliament, the courts and public authorities on how to implement emergency measures in ways that were least restrictive of human rights while also protecting Victorians from risks posed to public safety.

Transparency and oversight can be achieved in an emergency. Transparency of government decision-making in times of emergency improves public trust and confidence in government. Parliament, regulatory institutions and tailored inquiries scrutinised executive action in relation to COVID-19, demonstrating it is possible to have a level of transparency and accountability of government action throughout a State of Emergency and a State of Disaster.

Enforcement of Public Health Orders should not entrench existing inequalities. While some enforcement of emergency laws and directions may be necessary to ensure compliance, there is a risk that enforcement will disproportionately affect marginalised communities who are potentially already over-policed, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, multicultural communities and people who are experiencing homelessness or sleeping rough.

The pandemic had disproportionate impacts. The impacts of the pandemic have been felt more harshly by people and communities who already experience discrimination and disadvantage. Deep engagement to actively seek and incorporate community insight and experience will result in better recovery outcomes for multicultural communities. The pandemic has exacerbated the already entrenched inequality experienced by women. There are opportunities to address these issues by applying a gendered lens to government decision-making throughout the remainder of the pandemic and into the recovery. People detained under emergency powers in any setting can and should be treated humanely, and those is in detention should also have clear and accessible review rights set out in legislation.

Positive innovations should be maintained. The pandemic has created opportunity for some important innovations that should be retained in the recovery, including greater opportunities for flexible work, online learning for disengaged young people, better digital access for people in rural and regional areas, increased investment in social housing, decreased prison populations and increased forms of communication for people in prison.

About the report

The 2020 Charter report is primarily divided into Part A – Lockdown measures and Part B – Affected communities

Part A of this report considers the human rights impacts of a range of Government responses to COVID-19 and the role the Charter played in shaping or responding to decisions including: stay at home orders, curfew, compulsory mask-wearing, the right to protest and policing response.

Part B of this report looks closely at the impacts of COVID-19 on three communities in particular: people living in the prison system and youth justice facilities, people from multicultural and multifaith backgrounds, and women

To view the full report, scroll down to the download section below. To view selections from the full report, choose from any of articles below.

Victorian COVID Restrictions - a timeline

A timeline of COVID restrictions in Victoria in 2020 beginning 16 March 2020 with the declaration of a State of Emergency.

Read more

Charter Report 2020

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The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledge we work on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We also work remotely and serve communities on the lands of other Traditional Custodians.

We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.