Apply human rights to your work

The Human Rights Act 2019 (the Act) is expected to commence in its entirety on 1 January 2020.

As public service employees, we must consider the impact of our decisions and actions on the human rights of Queenslanders; for example, when creating new laws, applying policies and delivering services.

Learn more about the Queensland Government Human Rights Strategy (PDF, 121 KB) currently being implemented by agencies to embed human rights in every role across the Queensland public service. For example, reflecting human rights in planning and reporting, position descriptions and professional development, staff induction and training.

1. Does the Act apply to my work?

Yes. The obligation to act compatibly with human rights applies to your day-to-day work decisions and actions that impact individuals in Queensland.

The meaning of ‘public entity’ in the Act specifically includes public service employees, Queensland Police Service and government agencies, among others.

2. How are human rights linked to my work?

Your work as a public service employee can impact individuals’ human rights—sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. This may be when you deal directly with the public or when you recommend a decision.

It’s your responsibility to understand when your decisions or actions engage human rights and whether human rights will be limited by your decision or action.

3. Steps to considering human rights in your work

Follow these steps as a practical guide:

  1. Identify the human rights in the Act that are relevant to your situation. See more about the nature and scope of the rights (PDF, 1.02 MB).
  2. Consider whether human rights will be limited by your decision or action. Will your decision or action limit or interfere with the relevant rights you’ve identified?
    • No: you are acting compatibly with human rights.
    • Yes: if human rights are being limited, go to step 3.
  3. To lawfully limit a right, you must:
    • be authorised by a law or regulation that allows you to limit a person’s rights
    • be justified and reasonable in accordance with section 13(2) of the Act.

4. Determine whether limiting a person’s rights is justified and reasonable

  1. What does the right/s identified in step 1 protect?
  2. What is your purpose for limiting human rights? What are you trying to achieve by your decision or action?
  3. Will what you are doing, or proposing to do, actually achieve your purpose?
  4. Is there another way to achieve your purpose that won’t limit a person’s human rights as much? If so, you should take the less restrictive option.
  5. Do the benefits gained by fulfilling the purpose of the limitation outweigh the harm caused to the human right?

5. Balancing the scales

A decision or action that limits a human right is not necessarily incompatible with the Act. None of the rights in the Act are absolute. They must be balanced against the rights of others and public policies of significance. For example, one person’s right to freedom of expression may be limited to another person’s right to non-discrimination or reputation.

The benefits gained by fulfilling the purpose of the limitation must outweigh the harm caused. This involves comparing the importance of the purpose of the limitation with the importance of the human right and the extent of the limitation. The greater the impact on the human right the more important the purpose will need to be in order to justify the incursion.

Section 13(2) of the Act recognises the competing factors present when making policy or decisions. This could include different individual human rights and the rights of others, but also practical issues like resourcing and costs. This section helps us determine whether a limit on a right is reasonable and justified by reference to relevant factors. If the limit is reasonable and justified, it is compatible with the Act.

6. Act compatibly with human rights

Compatible with human rights is a key term in the Act. An act, decision, or provision will be compatible with human rights if:

  • it does not limit rights
  • it limits a human right reasonably and proportionately (s13).

It is used throughout the Act to set the standard for the obligations of the 3 arms of government to:

  • act and make decisions compatibly with human rights
  • develop policy and legislation compatibly with human rights
  • interpret legislation compatibly with human rights.

An act, decision, or statutory provision is compatible with human rights if it does not limit a right, or it limits a right only to the extent that is reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom (section 8 of the Act).