Australia was one of the founding members of the United Nations (UN) and an initial signatory to its Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The country is also a signatory to a host of other international treaties and conventions which require a commitment to the protection of human rights. While Australia is the only democratic country that does not have its own ‘Bill of Rights’, other legislative sources exist which distinctly set out the protection of specific rights.
The current human rights context in Australia however, has reflected the less than desirable treatment of a few specific groups of people. The Human Rights Watch report for 2016 has highlighted concerns around the treatment of refugee and asylum seekers attempting to gain entry into the country. Since 2013 there have been reports of the interception of passenger-bearing vessels where refugee and asylum seeking individuals found on board have been sent to detention centres on offshore islands where they are to undergo the processes of asylum application and await the government’s decision. While this detention process in itself is problematic, further reports have revealed that conditions in these detention centres are poor, including insufficient access to medical treatment as well as reports of harassment and violence against detained individuals.
Another major and longstanding human rights concern in Australia is the treatment and protection of indigenous communities. Human Rights Watch signals the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system as a significant problem that needs to be addressed by government.
This article will provide an overview of a number of prominent human rights organisations that are working within Australia to advance the protection of all human rights. It will also identify the possibilities for involvement in said organisations whether it is in a volunteer, intern or full employment capacity.
Established in Australia in 1967, Austcare was originally the national organisation associated with the global ActionAid network. The organisation started out with a focus on refugee rights and awareness campaigns which aimed to educate Australian communities about the plight of refugees and other displaced people worldwide. After formally joining the ActionAid family in 2009, ActionAid Australia now has a far greater mandate for promoting and protecting the human rights of poor people throughout the world. Their mission is to work towards a world without poverty and to combat injustice. The organisation has career opportunities for a range of expertise and also offers volunteer positions – both of which are advertised on the website on a rolling basis.
The Endeavour Foundation is an independent ‘for purpose’ organisation with a specific focus on disability rights. Advocacy and research around disability rights forms a core part of the functioning of the organisation. However, the Endeavour Foundation primarily works to provide a host of services ranging from In-home support, to specialist behaviour support, to mentoring programmes. With this diverse range of services, the organisation has many different career options and offers fully supported employment opportunities. Flexible volunteering opportunities are also available and provide on-the-job training.
As an umbrella body, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) supports over 200 refugee related organisations throughout Australia. The three key functions of the organisation include: research and policy analysis; advocacy and representation and; community education and awareness-raising. The organisation has played an important role in raising awareness and campaigning against the poor treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by the Australian government. The Refugee Council posts job positions on their website when available as well as advertising employment opportunities at linked member organisations. There are also plenty of opportunities for volunteering both with the Council and member organisations.
As the name suggests, the ACHRE is primarily focused on actively pursuing human rights education throughout Australia. The organisation is committed to promoting and supporting Australian and international human rights initiatives. It hosts advice and training sessions and provides educational resources to human rights practitioners. The organisation relies heavily on its volunteer base and thus offers plenty of opportunities for individuals to get involved in supporting human rights education.
Amnesty International is one of the largest global human rights organisations and therefore performs important work around monitoring, exposing and protecting against human rights violations throughout the world. The organisation’s work in Australia seeks to address current human rights abuses identified in the country and has campaigns focusing on indigenous rights, refugee rights, gender and sexuality and marriage equality. There are opportunities for internships and volunteering positions within the Australian division of the organisation and job openings are listed on the website on a rolling basis.
Through a combination of legal action, advocacy and research, the Human Rights Law Centre aims to protect and promote human rights within Australia as well as internationally. Working alongside its partners, the Centre strives to improve the access to basic human rights of all citizens and advocates on behalf of those who do not have sufficient access. While the organisation does not currently have any open employment opportunities, these – as well as volunteer and intern positions – are advertised on their website when available.
The ASRC envisions an Australia that is welcoming and compassionate to people seeking asylum in the country. The organisation is therefore committed to obtaining fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers and making sure that their human rights are protected and respected according to the international human rights laws. The ASRC works to achieve these goals through a variety of activities including through legal, advocacy and education campaigns as well as through more practical activities such as food and health support. There are multiple opportunities to get involved with this organisation from volunteering for the different programmes to becoming an active advocate. The organisation advertises current employment and intern opportunities on their website as they become available.