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COVID-19 ‘exposed need for charter’

The national Charter of Human Rights Campaign has renewed its push via a submission to the Commonwealth Government COVID-19 Response Inquiry.

The campaign coalition of 95 organisations said the pandemic had laid bare the lack of human rights protection in Australia through events including the initial vaccine rollout, a ban on travellers from India and hotel quarantine.

“These and many more examples highlight the need for a charter to ensure human rights are at the heart of government responses to future pandemics and other crises,” it said in its January 8 submission.

It said the failure of the vaccination rollout in 2021 to meet targets left some populations vulnerable, including the aged, indigenous people, migrants and those with a disability.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were delays in distributing vaccines to prevent death and serious illness from a virus that disproportionately affected marginalised parts of the community,” it said.

It said some remote Aboriginal communities had been exposed to COVID-19 before being sufficiently vaccinated, and the Disability Royal Commission had “noted the pandemic continued to expose the underlying inequities, discrimination and exclusion people with disability experience in the delivery of fundamental services and supports”.

It also pointed to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that showed migrants were three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the population generally, and people born in the Middle East were 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than members of the population born in Australia.

“Had there been a charter, the decision-making process for the design and implementation of the vaccination rollout would have included human rights standards,” it said.

“When problems arose during the rollout, a charter could have provided an avenue for people from high-COVID-19 risk communities to enforce their right to health, by ensuring they were prioritised for a vaccine.”

In relation to the ban imposed on people coming to Australia from India in April 2021, the coalition said a charter would have ensured government decisions considered such human rights as freedom of movement and the right to life.

“Through a charter, these rights would have been balanced with one another in a way that was informed by international law, and the result (would have been) the least restrictive approach to protecting people’s health,” it said.

“A charter would also have provided stronger grounds for people affected by the decision to take action in response.”

It said the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) and the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) had been used to protect human rights in relation to hotel quarantine conditions and proposed detention powers during the pandemic.

The coalition pointed out Australia was the only western liberal democracy without a Charter of Human Rights.

“A charter will embed lasting change. The sooner there is an Australian Charter of Human Rights, the better the management of future pandemics can be for everyone in our community,” it concluded.

The inquiry’s independent panel is due to deliver its final report by the end of September.

The charter campaign is backed by groups including Justice Connect, Community Legal Centres Australia, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Australian Lawyers Alliance, Human Rights Watch and the National Justice Project.

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One Response

  1. It could have also helped maintain a person’s autonomous choice to reject a vaccine they did not want, rather than be financially coerced into taking one.

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