Page 3445 - Week 10 - Thursday, 20 October 2022

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Human rights issues are also already considered indirectly through the Human Rights Commission’s complaints handling jurisdiction. Where the respondent to a complaint is a government agency or public authority, the Discrimination, Health Services, Disability and Community Services Commissioner is currently able to consider the human rights obligations of those organisations in seeking to resolve complaints and in making recommendations for service improvements. The commission also applies a human rights lens in commission-initiated considerations about a range of government services.

The proposals in the petition, and recommended by the committee, are part of the ongoing dialogue between government and the ACT community about how we can continue to strengthen our human rights legislation. While the current system is robust, there is merit in the proposal brought forward through the petition and considered by the committee.

I welcome the committee’s report and am pleased to present the government’s response, which agrees in principle to the committee’s recommendation. The government is agreeing in principle to the committee’s recommendation but, in doing so, can I reflect again importantly that the recommendation encompassed two connected but separate elements, which I will now respond to in more detail.

In separating out these elements, I wish to advise that the government agrees to the first proposal: to enable a complaint about a breach of the Human Rights Act to be made to the Human Rights Commission for confidential conciliation. The government will immediately commence work towards developing legislation to this end. To support that development, and recognising the strong community interest in this reform—and can I take this moment to recognise a number of our key advocates in the gallery today, as well as the President of the ACT Human Rights Commission—we intend to consult on this reform in the first half of 2023.

The ACT Human Rights Commission plays an important role in promoting and upholding human rights in the ACT, and the addition of this new complaints jurisdiction will enhance the commission’s valuable role. This reform will fill the identified need and provide significant benefit to the ACT community.

The government agrees in principle to the second element of the recommendation: that, if conciliation is unsuccessful, complainants are able to take their complaint about a breach of the Human Rights Act to the ACAT. We recognise that there are benefits to introducing this pathway to the ACAT. However, there are also a number of complexities and resourcing implications which would need to be resolved before it is established. The government considers that it would be optimal to undertake this work to address the complexities and quantify the required resourcing once the commission’s human rights jurisdiction has been operational for a period of time. Taking this staged approach will enable the consideration of how complaints are arising and being dealt with in the ACT under the new complaints mechanism.

The petition and subsequent inquiry have provided an important avenue to consider opportunities for enhancing the Human Rights Act. I would like to again warmly

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