Page 3028 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005

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There appears to be a strong view that the time limit for discrimination complaints should be retained. ACTCOSS have taken this further and suggested that a time limit be imposed on the initial investigation of other complaints, including those made to the health and disability services commissioners. It is our understanding that the government is keen to have uniformity, but we do not believe that this is an argument for abolishing time limits. Rather, we propose a 90-day time limit to apply to the initial investigation of all complaints to determine whether the complaint can be dealt with by the commission or should otherwise be declined. This would allow 30 days for the complaint to be allocated to a commissioner or commissioners and 60 days for an initial complaint investigation to be conducted and a decision made with regard to whether the complaint will be taken further or declined.

This would ensure that individuals know within a reasonable period of time whether the commission is going to investigate their complaint. Some of these reasons include: individuals making a complaint may be in a position where the commission’s decision to investigate or reject a complaint will impact on choices that they might make regarding services they are receiving; long delays in making an initial determination may result in evidence being lost or memories fading and individuals may lose faith in the complaints system and/or take alternative action if they are left in a position of uncertainty for an unknown length of time.

A 90-day time limit is an effective means of ensuring that the facts of the matter are ascertained in a timely manner and parties are able to come to conciliation quickly. According to experts in the field, delays in the time taken to bring a matter to conciliation reduce the potential for settlement as parties may become increasingly entrenched and inflexible as time passes. In addition, the lack of a time limit in the proposed legislation could potentially leave people without a clear and timely response to their complaint. This can result in situations where respondents to discrimination complaints will, if the opportunity is there, attempt to stifle a complaint by flooding the complainant or the investigating body with paper. The existence of a time limit goes some way to preventing this.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (12.06): As Dr Foskey has outlined, amendment No 12 amends clause 45, which provides that the Human Rights Commission must deal with complaints promptly and efficiently. It proposes to remove the requirement in clause 45 (2) (a) to allocate each complaint as soon as possible and to replace it with a requirement to allocate a complaint within 90 days after receipt, having first carried out an initial consideration.

There is nothing in the bill, in my submission, to indicate what the term “initial consideration” means and the proposed amendments do not provide any kind of definition. As a result, the amendment would have little effect, except to allow the Human Rights Commission three months to allocate a complaint to a commissioner for consideration. There seems no justification for such an unacceptably long timeframe.

I spoke earlier, in closing the bill, about the difficulties associated with providing statutory timeframes for dealing with a broad range of complaints. Problems with the proposed amendment bear out, I think, the concerns I expressed. The flexible framework

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