For most Australians, living in safety and freedom across our beautiful country, human rights are something we rarely think about.
If you asked most Australians whether they believe in human rights, they would undoubtedly say yes, but what do they mean?
Often, we view human rights as a technical, formalised idea. An abstract concept associated with the most heinous, the most flagrant acts of violence and cruelty that are perpetrated on human beings in places a long way away from here that we see in the news.
But the truth is that they are simpler and more basic than that and are as relevant to all of us here as they are anywhere.
Human rights are the inalienable fundamental rights to which every human being on earth is inherently entitled to, simply by being human. They are enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international convention that Australia is a signatory to with 182 other nations.
Human rights contain three pillars. Firstly, they are universal, meaning that they apply to every human being. We are all one, bound together by our humanity. There are no classes of human beings.
They are inalienable, meaning they can never be taken away. Lastly, human rights are indivisible, meaning that you can't deprive someone of one human right, leave the others intact and it's ok. Either an individual's human rights are not being violated, or they are.
Human rights entitle every human being, no matter who they are or where they are, the same basic rights, protections and freedoms. They are an expression of our shared values of dignity and respect towards each other which form the non-negotiable social foundation of any free and egalitarian society.
Human rights entitle every human being, no matter who they are or where they are, the same basic rights, protections and freedoms.
Another way of thinking about human rights is in terms of fair and just treatment. Every human being in our society, regardless of colour, ethnicity, their racial and religious background, sexual preference or gender, is owed the right to be treated fairly, equally and by the same rules.
I think almost every Australian would understand and agree that everyone deserves equal and fair treatment.
Unfortunately, many individuals and marginalised groups in Australian society are not treated fairly and their human rights are constantly violated. Significantly, those violations are often not just perpetrated by other people, but by the system itself.
Consider the policy around refugees and asylum seekers, an area I've been deeply involved with. Those who arrive here seeking asylum are perfectly innocent men, women and children; traumatized human beings fleeing conflict or various types of persecution which has placed their lives in genuine danger.
However, instead of being supported, they have been punished, brutalised and subjected to the most reprehensible violations of their rights for almost eight years in a manner that we would never tolerate ourselves. They have been treated as less than human.
If we claim to believe in a society that recognizes the equal rights and dignity of every human being, how could this happen?
A harsh reality around the issue of human rights is that those of us who freely enjoy our basic rights and freedoms rarely consider them. Meanwhile, those who are deprived of their rights, and suffer deeply as a result, know about human rights all too well.
That indifference stems from a lack of empathy. The American writer and global poverty entrepreneur Jacqueline Novogratz said, "The most important quality we must strengthen in ourselves is empathy, for that will provide the most hope for our collective survival."
It's not easy for us to care about things we are not personally confronted with. However, it's important that if we believe in the idea of a fair and equal society, we find a space to develop empathy. It means putting ourselves in the shoes of others. It means understanding that the acceptable level of treatment for any human being in our society should be the same as we would expect for ourselves, our family, our neighbours or community.
If it's not happening, it's not enough to just recognize it, we also have to make ourselves heard. Unless we, who enjoy our basic rights and freedoms, use our collective power to speak out on behalf of those among us who don't, the system will interpret our silence as complicity. Then nothing will change.
Australia is an amazing country and Australians are decent people, I believe that. We pride ourselves on our willingness to come to the aid of others in trouble, in the face of natural disasters like floods and fires. It's often considered intrinsic to our national character.
However, our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers shows how selective this notion can be. The good news is that our society belongs to us. We have the power to change it for the better and ensure that every individual is treated fairly, equally and with dignity. It only requires the courage and compassion to act together.