Page 98 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 7 December 2004

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Mention was made by Dr Foskey of the Human Rights Commissioner and the Human Rights Act. As members are well aware, the opposition is not in favour of that particular act. I certainly am not and I have spoken out against it. But, putting all that to one side; the government is saying: “Yes, all right, we’ve got a majority government; it is in favour of that act continuing; it will continue; there will be an ever-increasing role for the Human Rights Commissioner to undertake.” But, looking at that already and talking to a few people in the community who have got some problems—they are certainly all battlers; one of them might have been quite vulnerable—it is still early days yet and I wonder just how that act, that particular commissioner and that particular office are actually going to provide, through statutory oversight or otherwise, what is needed to give them justice.

I do worry about too much bureaucracy there. I think that it is a danger and certainly a danger I can see happening in some areas. That is something we need to avoid. I can particularly see a real problem with the way the Human Rights Act is going to be interpreted and that it might well have an extra layer of bureaucracy; it is going to cost us a lot of money, a lot of bureaucratic expenditure, for maybe not the intended purpose of the act—actually helping someone who is a battler, who is really vulnerable, at the coalface. As I said, it is very early days yet. But I am aware of a couple of instances. There is one case going through the commission. I am not going to talk about that—I cannot—but I will be interested to see how it pans out. I think there may well be another lot of similar situations where this particular commission may not be able to do what the Chief Minister, the Labor Party and the Labor government hope it will do: noble aims, but whether it works in reality we will just have to wait and see.

It is terribly important, in looking at these areas, to ensure that there is the necessary holistic approach; that we try to ensure that it does not get too bureaucratic, because that is not going to help anyone, any sort of consumer, especially vulnerable people. We have to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks. We have to ensure that there is proper coordination between agencies. It certainly does not help having too many commissioners―far from it. But we certainly want to make sure that there is that coordination.

We are, after all, a small place. Dr Foskey talked about the effectiveness of those innovations, doing things differently and constantly moving forward. We can do that in a small place like this because Canberra is a city state. It is a lot easier coordinating within a department or between departments here—and I have seen that during my time as a minister—than it is in a big place like New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia or even the Northern Territory, just because of the tyranny of distance and the problems that arise.

We are better placed than most to ensure that we have proper coordination and that we can, as a relatively small community, make sure that individual vulnerable people are assisted within the system, that they do not fall through the cracks and that there are agencies able to look after them. Obviously, effective statutory oversight of services can certainly assist there, but it is important that the government in particular, because it is charged with these responsibilities, ensure that that does occur.

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