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Free and Equal: An Australian conversation on human rights

Rights and Freedoms
'Free and Equal' logo on top of a photo of a man looking out at mountains

The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently undertaking a major project: ‘Free and Equal: An Australian conversation on human rights’ (the National Conversation).

Diagram showing a 'respect, protect, fulfil' model for human rights
The Commission is applying a 'respect, protect, fulfil' framework to identify what steps need to be taken to realise human rights for all.

Through the project, we are talking with people nationally to identify what makes an effective system of human rights protection for 21st century Australia, and what steps Australia needs to take to get there.

The purpose of the National Conversation is to:

  • Promote awareness of the importance of human rights to 21st century Australia
  • Identify current limitations and barriers to better human rights protections
  • Identify what key principles should underpin the reform of human rights in Australia
  • Build agreement across the Parliament, government and the community about what we can do collectively to better promote, protect and fulfil human rights

More technical information about the purpose of the conversation can be found in the:

Terms of reference (PDF)


What will the National Conversation look like?

To explore what an effective human rights framework looks like, the Commission will:

  • open the conversation to the public, inviting submissions on conversation starters
  • undertake consultations nationally
  • convene technical and thematic workshops and invite submissions to technical papers on these areas

The purpose of the National Conversation is to look at Australia's whole human rights system and how all the pieces fit together. Key areas of interest include:

  • the effectiveness of Australia's system of anti-discrimination laws, including its ability to ensure steps are taken to stop discrimination before it happens
  • rights-protection during policy development and law-making
  • accountability processes to ensure progress continues to be made towards fulfilling human rights

A finalised roadmap for national human rights reform will be released in mid-2020.

Discussion Papers

To start this national conversation, we have written four preliminary papers that explore different parts of our system of human rights protections. One of these papers (the Issues Paper) is more general and looks at our human rights system as a whole. The others are more technical and lay out specific options for reform of our existing legislative and policy frameworks.

You can read the Issues Paper here.

You can read our technical discussion papers here:

Position Papers

Following extensive consultation, the Commission has released its two Free and Equal Position Papers. 

The First Free & Equal Position Paper, A Reform Agenda for Federal Discrimination Laws, makes 38 recommendations across four major reform areas:

1. Building a preventative culture
2. Modernising the regulatory framework
3. Enhancing access to justice
4. Improving the practical operation of laws

The Second Position Paper, A Human Rights Act for Australia, proposes a model for a national Human Rights Act, how it could function and what it could do.

The Commission’s proposed model would create legal protections for the human rights of all Australians, and ways to seek justice if people’s rights are breached in some way.

It would increase the responsibility that governments have, to consider how their laws, policies, and actions might affect people’s human rights.

It would also provide options for people to challenge decisions that breach their human rights, and opportunities to go to court if their issues can’t be resolved through conciliation.

How can you be involved?

We want to hear your vision for the future. We want to hear your thoughts on the questions outlined in any of the papers above. Everyone is invited to take part.

Last year, we accepted written submissions on the topics included in the discussion papers above. We are not currently receiving written submissions.

If you have any questions about how you can be involved in the project please contact us at

The ‘Free and Equal’ Conference on Human Rights

Young people speak at the Commission's 'Free and Equal' Conference in 2019
Marlee Silva, Aisheeya Huq, Frank Hooper and Emily Dash speak at the Commission's 'Free and Equal' Conference on Human Rights in 2019

The Free and Equal conference was held on Tuesday 8 October 2019 in Sydney. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Her Excellency Dr Michelle Bachelet AC, delivered the keynote speech where she commented on Australia’s system of human rights protections. The Conference also featured panels on a range of themes. You can find out more about the 2019 Free and Equal conference at this link.