The Free + Equal Conference will include 12 engaging sessions and events over two days featuring a diverse line-up of more than 60 eminent experts, thought leaders, social justice advocates and community heroes.

Delegates will learn about the positive change and opportunities a Human Rights Act will deliver as well as how to activate community support and engagement for this landmark reform. Sessions will also focus on a range of key human rights related issues including: enhancing Australia's anti-discrimination laws; preventing racism; improving children's rights and youth justice; exploring the intersection of business, technology and human rights; and marking 40 years of Australia’s ground-breaking Sex Discrimination Act.

Check out our Speakers page to find out more about some of the local and international guests who’ll be on the program.

Disclaimer: Speakers, panellists and delegates attending the Free + Equal Conference will be expressing a range of views and opinions at the event. The views and opinions are their own and are not necessarily endorsed by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Similarly, any commentary by speakers, panellists or delegates before or after the conference on issues touched on at the conference will not necessarily be endorsed by the Commission. The conference is designed to bring together a range of views on a variety of subjects and the Commission intends to work with all attendees to ensure discussions at the conference are inclusive and respectful.

Thursday, 6 June 2024 | Day One

5:00 pmWelcome Reception
Join over 500 guests from across Australia and around the world as they gather to kick off the conference in style at the Hyatt Regency’s grand Maritime Ballroom. Enjoy delicious canapes as well as fine wines, premium beers and refreshing soft drinks as you catch up with colleagues and make new friends among the movers and shakers across Australia’s human rights, legal, civil society government and business sectors. And you’ll get a stunning view of the Vivid lights on Darling Harbour.      

7:00 pmRights on Time
Can more rights make less wrongs? Can we help future-proof justice with an Australian Human Rights Act? Panel through time with sleek geek Adam Spencer and seven leading Australians from the present and the future as they debate future human rights dilemmas and tussle over how a Human Rights Act would protect people and communities in a hypothetical – but entirely possible – 2034. You'll hear the arguments, jibes and jests live on stage before you cast your virtual vote on a Human Rights Act for Australia. Whatever the outcome, you’ll have the time of your rights!    

  • Adam Spencer (mod.) | Comedian, writer and broadcaster 
  • Waleed Aly | Journalist, presenter, academic and writer
  • Jennifer Robinson | Int. human rights lawyer (represents Julian Assange) and Human Rights Act advocate
  • Michael Kirby | Int. jurist, human rights advocate and former Aus. High Court judge
  • Sisonke Msimang | Leading Aus. anti-racism and women’s rights advocate, writer and commentator
  • Tanya Hosch | Business executive, First Nations social activist and AFL D&I Gen. Mngr
  • Em. Prof Rosalind Croucher | AHRC President 
  • Nazeem Hussain | Comedian, author and presenter (beaming in from the future)

Friday, 7 June 2024 | Day Two

8:00 amRegistration

9:00 amWelcome

  • Narelda Jacobs (MC) | journalist and SBS/NITV and Ten News presenter
  • Prof. Ros Croucher | AHRC President
9:15 amKeynote Address: Revitalising Australia’s Human Rights Framework
Australia has changed significantly over the last 25 years in terms of our population, our economy, our culture and the impact of technology. However, the laws, policies and practices which make up Australia’s human rights framework have not kept pace. This means our country is not protecting and promoting human rights as well as we could. Both the AHRC and Federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (PJCHR) have recently undertaken wide-ranging community consultations about reforming our human rights framework so it can be fit for purpose in the 21st century. This address will respond to a range of recommendations for reform that have been made by the AHRC and PJCHR. 

  • The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG | International jurist, educator and former High Court judge
  • Jennifer Robinson | International human rights lawyer (represents Julian Assange) and Human Rights Act advocate
9:45 amPlenary 1: Getting In On The Act: Delivering an Australian Human Rights Act
It’s the missing piece of government accountability in Australia, so how would a Human Rights Act benefit people and communities across our country? How would it improve access to justice and redress for human rights breaches? And what would be the process for implementing such a significant reform? Join some of Australia’s leading legal minds and human rights advocates as they explore the transformative impact a Human Rights Act could have on Australian society and our existing mechanisms of justice and accountability.  From enshrining human rights principles into law to safeguarding individual liberties to fostering a culture of inclusivity and equality, this enlightening discussion will address how a Human Rights Act can serve as a cornerstone for a fairer and more just society. 

  • Prof. Philip Alston | Lawyer, academic and eminent int. human rights practitioner
  • Prof. George Williams | Lawyer, academic and Aus. constitutional law expert
  • Em. Prof. Ros Croucher | AHRC President
  • Les Malezer | First Nations rights advocate
  • Daney Faddoul | Human Rights Law Centre Campaign Manager
  • Dinesh Palipana | Doctor, lawyer and disability advocate
  • Narelda Jacobs (mod.) | Journalist and SBS/NITV and Ten News presenter
11:00 amMorning Tea
11:30 amMorning Session 1: Activating Equity: Participation as a right 
In a nation built on the principles of fairness and opportunity, there remain persistent barriers which hinder individuals from fully engaging in social, economic, and political life. This session will explore strategies for overcoming these barriers, advancing the right to equitable participation and fostering a society where every voice is valued and heard. From First Nations communities to immigrants, older people, people with disability and LGBTIQ+ individuals, the discussion will explore the multifaceted dimensions of inequity and exclusion in Australian society, and shed light on the law and policy reforms being recommended by the AHRC and others to ensure every individual can contribute and thrive. 

  • Hannah Diviney | Disability rights advocate
  • Juliana Nkrumah | Women’s rights and refugee advocate
  • Val Fell | Advocate for older people
  • Zahra Al Hilaly | Youth advocate
  • Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts | ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People Commissioner
  • Robert Fitzgerald (mod) | Aus. Age Discrimination Commissioner

Morning Session 2: Better For Everyone: Enhancing Australia’s anti-discrimination laws
In the wake of the landmark Respect@Work reforms aimed at addressing workplace harassment and discrimination, this session will dissect the current state of anti-discrimination laws in Australia and propose meaningful reforms to address existing gaps. From racial discrimination to gender inequality, ageism and disability rights, the discussion will explore the intersectionality of discrimination, its impact on different segments of society, and how proposed enhancements to Australia’s existing suite of anti-discrimination laws will strengthen legal and cultural protections for marginalised communities.  

  • Robin Banks | Human rights lawyer, Advisory Group (Chair) Melbourne Social Equity Institute.
  • Professor Nareen Young, Associate Dean Indigenous UTS Business School | First Nations employment and employment diversity leader
  • Kate Eastman | Human rights lawyer and academic
  • Ghassan Kassisieh | LGBTIQ+ rights advocate
  • Assoc. Prof. Sarah Moulds | Human rights lawyer and academic
  • Leanne Smith (mod.) | AHRC CEO

Morning Session 3: Children’s Rights Are Human Rights: Advancing the rights of Australia’s young people   
The voices of children and young people are rarely heard when decisions are made about the issues which affect their lives. First Nations children, children in detention, children with disability, and those experiencing homelessness or mental health issues are particularly at risk of falling through the cracks. How could a Human Rights Act help improve how we protect vulnerable young people and enable them to have a genuine say on the issues which affect their lives? And how can approaches to critical issues such as Australia’s youth justice crisis be improved to ensure the health, safety and rights of young Australians are put front and centre?      

  • Prof. John Tobin | Human/children’s rights academic
  • Prof. Amanda Third | Children’s participation academic
  • Anjali Sharma | Climate change activist and youth advocate
  • Seleena Blackley | First nations youth advocate
  • Kupakwashe Matangira | Youth empowerment, gender equality and climate change advocate
  • Anne Hollonds (mod.) | National Children’s Commissioner 

Workshop: Spin Class: Advocacy messaging for an Australian Human Rights Act
Activating community support for the introduction of an Australian Human Rights Act is key to making this reform a reality. In partnership with social change comms agency Common Cause, the AHRC has developed a messaging guide to help organisations communicate persuasively about the benefits of a Human Rights Act. In this workshop, participants will learn about using values-based messaging, strategic comms and tactical activations to support their advocacy efforts.     

  • Gemma Pitcher | Common Cause Aus. Associate
12:45 pmLunch
1:45 pmAfternoon Session 1: In Good Company: Business and human rights
When it comes to ESG, the protection and promotion of human rights is a major part of corporate best practice. This session will unpack the range of opportunities and challenges which the AHRC’s proposal for a Human Rights Act would provide for Australian business and industry. This session will also focus on other key human rights related issues which will impact on corporate Australia in the short and medium terms such as positive duties, gender equality, modern slavery prevention and disability equity. Make sure you’re across the detail so your business is ahead of the curve.

  • Dr Pichamon Yeophantong | UN Business and Human Rights Working group member
  • Dr Meg Brodie | KPMG Partner, Human Rights & Social Impact
  • Siobhan Toohill | Westpac Chief Sustainability Officer
  • Sarah McGrath | Pillar Two Director
  • Ilona Millar (mod.) | Gilbert + Tobin Partner, Sustainability
  • Prof. Kristy Muir | Paul Ramsay Foundation CEO  

Afternoon Session 2: Bytes & Rights: Human rights In the digital age
Rapid advances in science and technology have created a range of challenging frontiers for human rights – think AI, surveillance systems, data collection, autonomous weapons, genetic engineering and biocybernetics. And in an era where viral videos can spark global movements and shape societal norms, digital media undoubtedly influences contemporary understanding of human rights. This session will unravel the profound implications and challenges for human rights posed by scientific and technological innovation as well as how digital media and the spread of mis/disinformation is impacting on freedom of expression, the right to privacy and the functioning of our democracy and society.

  • Prof. Toby Walsh | UNSW Chief Scientist
  • Carly Kind | Aus. Privacy Commissioner
  • Sam Koslowski | Daily Aus. founder and social change advocacy comms expert
  • Hannah Ferguson | Cheek media founder and for purpose comms expert
  • Lorraine Finlay (mod.) | Aus. Human Rights Commissioner 

Afternoon Session 3: Keeping It Real: Accountability and human rights
Increasing accountability for human rights among governments and public servants is an incredibly important part of revitalising Australia’s human rights framework. Currently, responsibility for enforcing human rights lacks sufficient bite at both the parliamentary and administrative levels of government. Also, a comprehensive approach to monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of Australia’s human rights mechanisms is vital for maintaining a system that remains fit for purpose. In this session, some of Australia’s foremost human rights practitioners will consider how options such as strengthening the role of parliament, introducing new approaches for law enforcement and developing more practical progress indicators will keep our system on the rights track. 

  • Prof. Kim Rubenstein | Lawyer, academic and human rights advocate
  • Rob Hulls | Former Vic Deputy-Premier and Attorney-General and Human Rights Act expert
  • Caitlin Reiger | Human Rights Law Centre CEO
  • Les Malezer | First Nations rights advocate
  • Katie Kiss (mod) | Aus. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
  • Kylea Tink | Federal MP (INP)

Workshop: Spin Class: Advocacy messaging for an Australian Human Rights Act
Activating community support for the introduction of an Australian Human Rights Act is key to making this reform a reality. In partnership with social change comms agency Common Cause, the AHRC has developed a messaging guide to help organisations communicate persuasively about the benefits of a Human Rights Act. In this workshop, participants will learn about using values-based messaging, strategic comms and tactical activations to support their advocacy efforts. 

  • Gemma Pitcher | Common Cause Aus.  Associate
3:00 pmAfternoon Tea
3:30 pmPlenary 2: Advancing Australia’s National Anti-Racism Framework
Preventing racism is key to building better communities where people of all cultural backgrounds feel safe, respected and included. In partnership with a broad range of stakeholders, the AHRC is creating a National Anti-Racism Framework (NARF) to guide anti-racism efforts more effectively across the public, private and community sectors. In this session, participants will explore the complex and intersectional phenomenon of racism as well as how the NARF will provide strategies and specific actions to tackle racism in its interpersonal, institutional and systemic forms.

  • Professor Nareen Young | First Nations employment and employment diversity leader
  • A/Prof Geoffrey Brahm Levey | Political theory and Jewish studies academic
  • Alan Wu | Racial justice expert
  • Sisonke Msimang | Anti-racism and women’s rights advocate, writer and commentator
  • Nora Amath | Executive Director of Islamophobia Register Australia.
  • Beny Aterdit Bol OAM | Refugee and migrant advocate
  • Giridharan Sivaraman (mod.) | Aus. Race Discrimination Commissioner

4:15 pmPlenary 3: Equality Agenda: Reflecting on the 40th Anniversary Of Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act:  
Over four decades, Australia’s landmark Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) has been an emblem of social change and an incredibly important instrument for delivering sex, sexuality and gender equality in our country. In this session, heroes from Australia’s first wave of feminism will join high-profile contemporary advocates from the First Nations, queer, and disability communities to reflect on the momentous change the SDA has engendered over 40 years, its impact on contemporary issues, and how it needs to evolve into the future to ensure that women and people of diverse sexualities and genders can live freely in Australia with equitable access to opportunity, prosperity and security. 

  • Chris Ronalds | Discrimination lawyer, women’s rights advocate and SDA drafter
  • Norma Ingram | First nations leader, education, community and rights advocate
  • Assoc. Prof. Ramona Vijeyarasa | Gender equality academic and advocate
  • Anna Brown | LGBTIQ+ rights advocate
  • Samantha Connor | Disability rights advocate
  • Aisya Zaharin | Transgender rights advocate
  • Dr Anna Cody (mod.) | Aus. Sex Discrimination Commissioner
5:15 pmFarewell

  • Em. Prof. Ros Croucher | AHRC President
5:30 pmConference Ends