Human rights bid for ACT education

Human rights bid for ACT education

The ACT government wants to enshrine education as a human right, taking a ''first step'' towards the radical expansion of the territory's rights regime.

Lawmakers will now consider whether to broaden the scope further to include some of the most vexing public policy issues facing governments, such as health and housing.

But, under the proposed amendment, Canberrans will not be able to sue public bodies for failing to make sure children can access quality schooling.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell will today table an amendment including the accessibility, availability and quality of education in the Human Rights Act.

He described the move as the first step in an ''in-principle'' decision to push ahead of other jurisdictions and expand the bill to cover economic, social and cultural rights.


''This is really, if you like, a progressive realisation of the extension of the Human Rights Act to cover economic, social and cultural rights,'' Mr Corbell said.

The Attorney-General said the government was willing to consider legislating for other rights - including health and housing - but was taking the process step-by-step.

Human rights are divided into two categories.

Civil and political rights are currently covered by the act and include the right to free speech and freedom of religion.

Social, economic and political rights include standards of living, housing, health, education and the right to work.

The 2004 Human Rights Act - the first of its kind in Australia - forces the government to consider the human rights ramifications of the decisions it makes.

It also gives Canberrans avenues to take court action against public authorities if their civil and political rights have been breached.

But today's amendment will not give people the right to take court action over breaches of their right to quality education, although the laws may be changed in the future.

The original 2004 legislation contained no right to direct action in the courts; those amendments were only included several years later.

The territory's Human Rights Commissioner, Helen Watchirs, encouraged the government to expand the ability to litigate to any new rights.

She said the right to sue, when finally granted, gave the laws ''more teeth''.

''So I'm not surprised that we're doing it one step at a time in relation to economic, social and cultural rights,'' Dr Watchirs said.

Britain had already included a right to education in its own charter, and South Africa's constitution protected housing and health.

Mr Corbell said the government decided to move first on education because of the complex funding systems of areas such as health and disability services.

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