The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) has joined calls urging the Baillieu Government not to water down the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) review of the charter, tabled last week, was criticised by some quarters, including the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), for recommending the sidelining of courts’ abilities to ensure human rights are upheld.

VGLRL convenor Sarah Rogan urged the Government not to adopt SARC’s recommendations as the current charter allows safeguards which protect LGBTI Victorians.

“It’s important because in [the charter’s] current manifestation, it exists to protect vulnerable groups and certainly the GLBTI community could be considered a vulnerable group,” Rogan told the Star Observer.

The review, however, contends the charter has played a role in only a small number of court and tribunal decisions and its part in the end result has been minor in most cases.
The HRLC described the report as “profoundly disappointing” for recommending courts have no, or a substantially reduced, role in enforcing human rights and providing recourse when they are breached.

“The recommendations do not reflect the overwhelming evidence as to the value and benefits of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights,” HRLC executive director Phil Lynch said.

“These benefits include greater government accountability, more responsive public services, and a better deal for some of Victoria’s most vulnerable groups.”
The VGLRL shares the HRLC’s concerns.

“It is important people know that legal action can be taken against public authorities that have discriminated against them. It’s important to know for people who have experienced discrimination that they can actually take it further,” Rogan said.

“It is important to know that in this state discrimination won’t be tolerated and the way to get remedy for that is through the court system.” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights acting commissioner Karen Toohey said if the Government adopts some of the report’s recommendations, it will wind back progress the state has made on human rights protections.

The Government has indicated, despite earlier fears, that the charter will remain.
“The SARC report, and many of the submissions made to SARC, indicate the Charter of Human Rights has delivered benefits to Victoria, and should not be repealed,” a Premier and Cabinet department statement said.

The Government has six months to respond to the report.

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