Page 1509 - Week 05 - Thursday, 7 April 2005

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The Human Rights Commission will have statutory functions that will allow it to present an independent, fair and accessible mechanism for the resolution of discrimination, heath, disability and community services complaints; to provide for Canberra’s vulnerable people and service providers an opportunity to contribute to improving the provision of health, disability and other services; to provide education to the ACT community on human rights and commission review mechanisms and services; to collect information about the operation of the Human Rights Act and related legislation and publish the information; and to provide a reporting process to the ACT government on the resolution of health, disability and community service complaints in addition to human rights and discrimination issues within the ACT.

The Human Rights Commission will be comprised of the president and commissioners who, in a collegiate manner, will decide how best to carry out the functions of the commission. Although the president will have the responsibility for day-to-day administration of the commission’s activities and will have a casting vote in meetings of the commission, the president will not have any powers or function separate from those of the commission. The role of the president will be similar to that of the president of the board of a company or a chief executive officer who also has a place on the board. This will free up the commissioners from day-to-day administration matters and make better use of the specialist skills that individual commissioners will bring to the commission.

When the new commission structure was announced in The right system for rights protection, it was envisaged that the president would have all the statutory powers and responsibilities and would delegate them to the commissioners as appropriate. In developing this bill, however, the statutory powers and functions have been vested in the Human Rights Commission itself, and the members who make up the commission—the president and the commissioners—exercise functions on the commission’s behalf. Although this difference in approach will mean very little in practice, it will ensure that the commissioners share in the decision making about how the commission should deal with matters that come to it, allowing the commission to gain additional benefit from their specialist knowledge.

The commissioners will represent the commission in their areas of expertise and will retain their profiles as specialists. In this way the community will have the benefit of expert commissioners in the areas of health services, discrimination, human rights and disability, and community services. Other specialist commissioners could be added to the commission in the future. These specialists will be able to speak with authority in their own areas, while at the same time sharing accommodation, administrative services and conciliation services.

The commission established by this bill will have broad and flexible powers to look into complaints about health services, disability services and discriminatory behaviour. Uniform procedures for the consideration of complaints will make it easier for commission members to make decisions about the allocation of resources of the office and will facilitate joint consideration of complaints that raise issues across the boundaries between speciality areas.

This bill does not significantly alter the way in which a complaint will be dealt with, as its provisions are based on existing provisions about health and discrimination

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