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Australia's National Action Plan on human rights

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M13 23 February 1994

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"The fundamental objective of Australia's pursuit of improved standards of human rights is to safeguard the dignity and to improve the well-being of the individual."

With these words, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Gareth Evans, and the Attorney General, Mr Michael Lavarch, marked the historic tabling in Geneva of Australia's National Action Plan on 22 February, 1994 at the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva.

Australia is the first nation to formally state its position on human rights at the UNCHR in a comprehensive attempt to pull together the strands of government policy relating to the observance of human rights and social justice in Australia.

At the World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna from 14 to 25 June 1993, Senator Evans put forward an Australian initiative calling on States to prepare "National Action Plans" as a means by which they could, in a practical way, improve their observance of human rights standards. The proposal, which invited States to draw up a written plan of action identifying steps that they might take to improve their observance of human rights in accordance with international obligations, was

endorsed by the World Conference and it is now one of the recommendations included in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

Senator Evans and Mr Lavarch said that Australia's National Action Plan was a clear statement of Australia's commitment to the protection and implementation of human rights at a national level. They said that in both the international and domestic arena, the protection and promotion of human rights is a high priority for the Australian Government.

"Australia considers that the protection and promotion of human rights is the responsibility of all States, irrespective of political and economic systems, and that the application of human rights standards constitutes a legitimate subject for international scrutiny," the Ministers said.

"The National Action Plan proposes Government measures across a full range of civil, political, economic and social rights. Some of the rights included in the National Action Plan are the rights of indigenous peoples, of children and of women, as well as the right to health and education."

The plan is structured in a way that identifies the features of current Australian policy in a particular area and most importantly identifies the challenges ahead and possible future action to be taken by the Australian Government.

The National Action Plan was prepared by a working group consisting of relevant core Commonwealth Government departments and agencies and peak nonĀ­ government organisations (NGOs). It has also involved extensive consultations with the wider NGO community. It is envisaged that the National Action Plan will be

reviewed in five years time.

Senator Evans and Mr Lavarch said, "We hope that Australia's National Action Plan will be an useful guide to other countries in the preparation of their own National Action Plans and that this document will increase awareness of Australia's human

rights policies and the challenges we face in promoting and protecting human rights."

Copies of the National Action Plan are available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by contacting Ms Michele Forster on (06) 261 2985.

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