Page 3029 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005

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provided in the bill, together with the requirement to act promptly and efficiently, is capable of supporting a much more efficient approach to dealing with complaints than an arbitrary and essentially unenforceable time limit.

The explanation in the explanatory statement indicates that the intention is that the Human Rights Commission should carry out some sort of preliminary inquiry before allocating the complaint and that, in addition, there would be some further intermediate process in which a decision about whether to take further action would be made. However, the proposed amendment would not, in my opinion, achieve the effect described in the explanatory statement. Inserted into the flexible consideration process established by the bill, it would simply give the Human Rights Commission an unacceptably long period in which to decide which of the commissioners should be responsible for acting on the complaint. It would also be inconsistent with the requirement in clause 45 (2) (e) for the Human Rights Commission to give a written progress report to the complainant every six weeks.

The proposed amendment appears to be based on current provisions that divide the processes of dealing with discrimination complaints and community and health service complaints into separate actions. That artificial separation of the process of looking into issues raised by a complainant has been replaced in this bill by a continual process in which the Human Rights Commission can choose a range of options to action complaints, as appears appropriate and consistent with the requirement to act promptly and efficiently.

One important reason for this change is the need to accommodate a range of complaints, particularly as the current provisions prescribe different processes for different kinds of complaints. I understand full well and sympathise with the reason and apparent justification for which Dr Foskey proposes this amendment. It is just that the government does not believe that it will enhance the timeliness of treatment of complaints received by the commission.

I have no issue with the reasons behind Dr Foskey’s amendment at all. I sympathise, in fact, with what it is that she hopes to achieve. It is just that the government does not believe that the model proposed by Dr Foskey is any more efficient. Indeed, we are concerned that it is not as efficient as the existing provisions within the legislation. So I certainly support the aim of Dr Foskey’s amendment. Indeed, it reflects the government’s desire as well. We hope to achieve exactly the same outcome. It is just that we propose different models for achieving it. The government is inclined to support the model that is incorporated in the bill.

MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (12.10): We certainly have sympathy for what for Dr Foskey is proposing, although I think that 90 days would be far too long. “Promptly” is not a terribly well defined word. One would hope that “promptly” means a lot sooner than 90 days for what Dr Foskey is intending. I suppose this is a case of waiting and seeing just how promptly these complaints are actually looked at, how quickly initial consideration is done and then a decision to allocate is made. Surely that is something that one would expect would take a lot less than 90 days. But “promptly” is certainly very broad. It will be interesting to see how this actually pans out. There might well be some justification for Dr Foskey bringing back something similar to this, but perhaps a lot less than 90 days.

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