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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 13 Hansard (3 December) . . Page.. 4281 ..

MR WHITECROSS (continuing):

It is important that we in the ACT do everything we can to ensure that there is an appropriate Human Rights Office dealing with complaints under our ACT laws, so that residents of Canberra have proper redress when they believe their rights have been infringed. There are some welcome aspects of the Bill, including the fact that the commissioner will have new powers to conciliate, which she was constrained from doing previously because of her role as the tribunal. That tribunal role will now be taken over by the Magistrates Court. I think these are welcome changes. Obviously, wherever possible, these are the kinds of disputes we would like to see resolved by mediation and conciliation, and therefore it is a good thing that the commissioner is in a position to be involved in that process. There is provision for public education, and modest budget provision has been made for staffing, as I understand it.

It would appear that the plan is workable and efficient, and it is the only real alternative we have under the circumstances. The only other way we could go is to repeal the discrimination legislation entirely, because we have no mechanism to enforce it. That would clearly not be an acceptable option, so I think this is a sensible process for us to follow. The Opposition will be supporting this legislation, and I commend it to the house.

MR MOORE (10.36): Mr Speaker, I raised in a question in the Assembly to Mr Humphries some time ago the issue of how we were going to handle human rights in the ACT. As it turned out, it was not too long before Mr Humphries introduced this legislation. It is interesting that in his presentation speech Mr Humphries said:

A cooperative arrangement for handling Commonwealth and Territory human rights complaints has existed in the ACT for the past five years. The ACT Human Rights Office has been jointly funded by the ACT and the Commonwealth over this period, with the costs of the staff being shared equally between us. In addition the Territory has fully funded its own Discrimination Commissioner.

The Minister then went on to say that this arrangement is coming to an end on 20 December this year and that there have been negotiations. What Mr Humphries should have said was that this is a direct result of cuts by the Federal Liberal Government to this very important social justice area. We see again and again the failure of this Government to say, "The Federal Government, whether it is Liberal or Labor, needs to be taken to task for the way it is treating the ACT".

I believe that the former Federal Government, the Labor Government, was treating us badly enough in the most obvious way: They cut some $300m from the budget of the ACT on giving us self-government. But there are a series of continuing issues that the current Liberal Government is acting on that make things worse, and this is one of those issues. That we are forced now to consider this legislation because that arrangement can no longer continue with inadequate Federal funding is primarily what this is about. I believe that Mr Humphries should have been a bit more open, a bit more up front, about that issue and given an appropriate bagging to his Federal Liberal colleagues.

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