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Under the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (the Act), the committee is required to examine bills, Acts and legislative instruments for compatibility with human rights, and report its findings to both Houses of the Parliament. The committee may also inquire into and report on any human rights matters referred to it by the Attorney-General.

The committee assesses legislation against the human rights contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); as well as five other treaties relating to particular groups and subject matter. Appendix 2 contains brief descriptions of the rights most commonly arising in legislation examined by the committee.

The establishment of the committee builds on Parliament's established tradition of legislative scrutiny. The committee's scrutiny of legislation is undertaken as an assessment against Australia's international human rights obligations, to enhance understanding of and respect for human rights in Australia and ensure attention is given to human rights issues in legislative and policy development.

Some human rights obligations are absolute under international law. However, in relation to most human rights, prescribed limitations on the enjoyment of a right may be justified under international law if certain requirements are met. Accordingly, a focus of the committee's reports is to determine whether any limitation of a human right identified in proposed legislation is justifiable. A measure that limits a right must be prescribed by law; be in pursuit of a legitimate objective; be rationally connected to its stated objective; and be a proportionate way to achieve that objective (the limitation criteria). These four criteria provide the analytical framework for the committee.

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