Asserting (Y)our Rights Right, Right?

LELAN | resource

Asserting (Y)our Rights right, Right?

This page is the second in a suite of resources by LELAN and is designed to inform and empower people to assert their rights in a variety of ways, including while receiving treatment and support, and where, when and how to navigate various complaint pathways.

It’s important to know your rights – and if you are not aware of them, you can familiarise yourself with them through LELAN’s first rights resource Getting OUR Rights right, Right?

“Human rights recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe. They are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies”
(Australian Human Rights Commission)

Asserting and standing up for your rights can protect you from harm, give you the opportunity to seek justice, and create changes in how a practitioner or service operates. Any discussion about your rights, including times your rights have been breached, brings an opportunity to advocate for and reinforce your rights.

Asserting your rights in practice

LELAN has put together some practical ways you can make use of your rights to access more appropriate care, treatment tailored to your specific needs, and build confidence in using and upholding your rights.

Within therapy, consider:

      • Requesting homework, or collaborating with your therapist to find types of homework that will be more effective for you
      • Requesting specific forms of therapy or specific focus areas within your sessions
      • If you notice your therapist moving conversation away from a topic you were finding valuable, ask them why it is you’re moving away from the topic or tell them you’d like to keep talking about that
      • Deciding before a session what parts of your story you would like to share and what you want to avoid sharing with your therapist and then be ready to convey if/when the topic arises
      • Talking to your therapist about, and having them acknowledge, the material and systemic barriers which are harming you

With Doctors, or when exploring medication, diagnosis, and treatment or support options, consider:

      • Requesting different medications, or treatment options outside of medication
      • Enforcing when and how you want to take your medications. If you’re a voluntary patient in a hospital or community setting, no one can make that choice for you
      • Talking about how the potential of a diagnosis would make you feel, and whether it would validate or invalidate your experiences
      • Requesting access to peer support instead of or alongside more traditional forms of mental health support
      • Requesting practitioners put any decisions and justifications for decisions in writing for you

How do you know if your rights have been breached?

Some rights are easy to tell if they have been breached, whilst others not so much. Therefore, trusting your gut is important. If it doesn’t “feel” right to you, it probably isn’t. And if that is the case, talk to someone you trust or seek advice about what occurred to determine if a breach did occur.

What to do if you think your rights have been breached

In The Moment:

If you feel safe and comfortable enough, express to the practitioner/person that you’re aware of your rights & believe that what is happening may be a breach of your rights. This might prompt the person(s) breaching your rights to reconsider their behaviour and stop. However, if speaking up in the moment does not have any effect, the fact you made them aware of your rights in the moment means that if you choose to make a complaint, you can highlight that the behaviour continued despite an awareness that they were breaching your rights.

Immediately After:

      • Make sure to practice self-care. We have some suggestions for this in our 5 Ways to Wellbeing resource
      • Consider requesting to see somebody who can provide you with support, such as a community visitor who may be visiting your location as part of the community visitor scheme (if you’re within a hospital setting), a lived experience worker, a manager or a complaints officer
      • If you believe you might want to lodge a complaint, record details about the names (or identifying features) of people involved, their roles, who was giving instructions, how you felt, and what happened

In Time:

Decide if you would like to make a formal complaint. Complaints can be made any time after a breach has occurred, regardless of how long ago the breach occurred.

Where to get support for making a complaint

It can be difficult and daunting to navigate a complaints process, but you don’t have to do it alone. You can have a friend or family member help/support you and request the assistance of a personal advocate, free legal advice is also available to everyone.

LELAN has compiled a listing of free SA-based advocacy and legal services to help get you started:

Advocacy Services Free Legal Services
Disability Advocacy and Complaints Service of South Australia Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement
Advocacy for Disability Access and Inclusion Uniting Communities Legal Service
Citizen Advocacy JusticeNet SA
Community Visitor Scheme Women’s Legal Service SA
Aged Rights Advocacy Service            Legal Services Commission SA
Disability Rights Advocacy Service Community Legal Centres SA
Independent Advocacy SA  

    Where to make a complaint

    Reporting pathways usually start with the place where you received treatment and experienced the rights breach by contacting them direct via their website or phone to find out their complaints process and how to lodge a complaint. However, if you don’t feel safe enough to take this path due to concerns about how it will impact your ongoing treatment, there are other options.

    Whilst treating staff are not meant to be aware of who has made a complaint, if your complaint involves identifiable traits (race, religion, gender, disability, sexuality, etc), there’s a chance staff may be able to recognise who made the complaint.  If clinical staff do in fact become aware of who made a complaint, they should NOT treat you differently in any way.  Know that you have every right to make a complaint when your rights have been breached, that the breach was not your fault and do keep record of any poor treatment that may ensue post complaint.

    If your complaint relates to a health practitioner or practitioners within a public hospital/health service, the overarching Local Health Network the person or facility is located counts as the place you received treatment, your first point of call for complaints. 


    If your complaint relates to:

    For breaches of rights that are harassment and discrimination focused, (for example; treatment/behaviour your received that you believe discriminatory or harassing because of gender, sexual identity, race, culture, disability, religion etc), you may wish to explore The Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Information Service that provides information and referrals for individuals, organisations and employers about a range of human rights and discrimination issues.  This service is free and confidential.

    The National Information Service can:

        • Give you information about your rights and responsibilities under federal human rights and anti-discrimination law
        • Discuss whether you may be able to make a complaint to the Commission or how the law might apply to your situation
        • Give you information about how to make a complaint, respond to a complaint or deal with specific discrimination issues

    Making a complaint can be emotionally draining, resource intensive, and can even be retraumatising, so. make sure you have someone support you through the process.

    How to make a complaint

    Complaints can be lodged over the phone, through email or via a web forum.

    When making a complaint, include;

        • The information you noted down at the time of the breach (if you collected information at this time)
        • What happened
        • How you felt
        • Who was involved
        • Who was responsible
        • Who might have witnessed the breach
        • What you would like to see your complaint result in (which, alongside potential punishments, could include trainings for staff in areas of practice, ethics or sensitivity to help them to do better in the future)

    Save a copy of your written response/statement so that if you need to escalate a complaint, or re-lodge the complaint through a different service you have the core of your complaint already written and don’t need to re-live the experience again. Make sure to keep track of when your initial complaint was submitted so that you can also talk about delays in response or failure to respond, if you need.

    If you don’t feel comfortable making a complaint to the service responsible for breaching your rights, or think that the service isn’t properly equipped to handle your complaint, there are still other complaint options:

        • The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is an independent statutory organisation, established by an act of Federal Parliament in order to protect and promote human rights in Australian and internationally. They investigate and conciliate discrimination and human rights complaints; their process is free and confidential and allows individuals to resolve disputes quickly and effectively.
        • The Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner can re-examine and escalate complaints if you’re not satisfied with how your treatment providers responded to the complaint, they can also act as your first point of call if you feel unsafe making a complaint at the service responsible for breaching your rights.
        • The National Health Practitioner Ombudsmen if you’re unhappy with how the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (APHRA) have handled a complaint.
        • The Equal Opportunity Commission – South Australia assists people to resolve complaints of discrimination (including sex, race, disability or age), sexual harassment or victimisation covered by South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

    For more information about human rights head to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

    Connect with our team:

    If you have more questions reach out to the LELAN team via