Rights, hearts and minds: Towards a national culture of human rights

Delivered by The Hon Catherine Branson QC

President, of the Australian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Commissioner

Thursday 14 June 2012, Allan Scott Auditorium

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  Written speech (pdf format)


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In December 2008, two months after Catherine Branson was appointed President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Government announced the National Human Rights Consultation. The Consultation report documented a widespread call for more robust rights protections in Australia, including the adoption of national human rights legislation. The Australian Government's response, the Human Rights Framework, deferred the question of legislative protection to a 2014 review, instead establishing greater pre-legislative scrutiny mechanisms, a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and significant human rights education programs.

Where are we now, four years later? Will the Human Rights Framework improve the protection and promotion of human rights in Australia and what is the role of a national human rights institution in helping to achieve this?

Catherine Branson will argue that, since the release of the Human Rights Framework, Australia has made progress towards improved human rights protection. For some people in Australia, however, protections remain inadequate, while significant institutional challenges remain. The greatest may be the need for wider community awareness - the need to generate a strong national culture of human rights on which existing, and future, mechanisms can be founded; from which all people in Australia may draw strength.


The Hon Catherine Branson commenced her five year term at the Australian Human Rights Commission in October 2008. In July 2009 she additionally became the Human Rights Commissioner. Ms Branson has recently announced that she will leave the Commission at the end of July 2012.

At the time of her appointment as President of the Commission, she was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, a position she had held since 1994.  Prior to her appointment as a judge, Ms Branson had practiced as a barrister at the Adelaide Bar, principally in the areas of administrative law, including discrimination law, and commercial law.

She was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1992. Between 1984-89 Ms Branson was Crown Solicitor of South Australia and the CEO of the South Australian Attorney-General's Department. Ms Branson holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Adelaide.

At the time of her appointment to the Federal Court Ms Branson was a member of the Board of Examiners of the Supreme Court of South Australia, a council member of the University of South Australia and a Trustee of the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust. She had earlier been Deputy Chair of the Adelaide Medical Centre for Women and Children and a member of the National Women’s Advisory Council.

Ms Branson is a past President of the Australian Institute for Judicial Administration, a former member of the Board of Management of IDLO (a governmental organisation based in Rome enjoying observer status at the United Nations). She is also a member of the International Association of Judges and of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges.


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