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Wednesday, 31 May 1995
MR SPEAKER (Mr Cornwell) took the chair at 10.30 am and read the prayer.
DISCRIMINATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
MS FOLLETT (Leader of the Opposition) (10.30): Mr Speaker, I present the Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 1995.
Title read by Clerk.
MS FOLLETT: I move:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
Mr Speaker, this Bill addresses the problem that was identified yesterday by the Chief Minister in her answer to a question from my colleague Mr Connolly. The Human Rights Office, it appears, is unclear whether the employer, for the purposes of discrimination under the ACT Discrimination Act, is the Territory or an individual member of the Legislative Assembly. As was identified in the unfair dismissal case that was brought against a member of this Assembly, at times the employer, for the purposes of the legislation, is the Territory, not the individual MLA. In that case, in my view, it was appropriate that the Territory should be the respondent, given that an individual employee should not be disadvantaged if an MLA refused, for instance, to pay any benefits to which the employee was entitled. However, where discrimination is alleged, it is most appropriate that the person actually accused of discriminating against an employee or potential employee is held responsible for that conduct. The Discrimination Act provides for procedures such as conciliation and compulsory conferences between the parties. Such procedures simply do not make sense if the Territory is deemed to be the employer, rather than an MLA.
Mr Speaker, this amendment will clarify the legislation so that it is abundantly clear that individual MLAs are responsible for their actions in relation to persons employed, or seeking to be employed, as members of their staff. And this is as it should be. MLAs, by standing for, and being elected to, this Assembly, accept a role of leadership in our community. That role demands that they observe standards that are higher than those expected of ordinary citizens. This amendment to the Act will establish that the standards of behaviour required of citizens of the ACT by law passed by this Assembly are also required of MLAs personally, and not the Territory as employer. I accept that it is unclear whether this requirement already exists. Some lawyers would argue that it does, in fact. But the obligation on this Assembly is to clarify the law when any doubt exists, and that is what I am proposing to do.