CEO Update: Next step towards a Human Rights Act

CEO Update: Next step towards a Human Rights Act

In his last presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Council as a Special Rapporteur, Mr Dainius Pūras articulated what so many in the mental health – and particularly lived experience movement – have been calling for.

“A paradigm shift is urgently needed,” he said. “Mental health-care should advance towards rights-based support…

Mental health care action and investment must be directed to rights-based supports, to non-coercive alternatives that address the psychosocial determinants of health, and to develop or strengthen practices that are non-violent, peer-led, trauma-informed, community-led, healing and culturally sensitive.”

In Australia, the recent release of the report from a Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s Human Rights Framework marks a significant step in this journey towards embedding a rights-based approach. The report provides 17 detailed recommendations based on extensive inquiry, including a recommendation that the government introduce legislation to establish a Human Rights Act.

As the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum outlined in their submission to this inquiry, Australia is the only western, liberal democracy without a Human Rights Act, Charter or Bill. As the Forum argued, without this, Australia has no national standardisation of human rights and there is minimal safeguarding of human rights at federal and state and territory levels. This is particularly important for people who disproportionately experience human rights breaches – including people with lived and living experience of mental ill-health.

The Inquiry received 4,000 letters all in support of a Human Rights Act, as were over 87 per cent of submissions to the Inquiry.  As the Law Council of Australia has said, “The introduction of a comprehensive federal Human Rights Act is long overdue.”

Mental Health Australia, along with many other key stakeholders, welcomes the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, and looks forward to the Government’s response.

Until then, as Mr Pūras reminds us, key principles to continue to guide our efforts in embedding a human rights approach to mental health are “first and foremost dignity and autonomy, followed by social inclusion, participation, equality and non-discrimination, diversity of care for the development of acceptable and quality responses, and the importance of the determinants of mental health.”

Let’s draw on this guidance as we continue the work for a Human Rights Act and a rights-based approach to mental health.

Carolyn Nikoloski 
CEO, Mental Health Australia 

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