Page 3030 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (12.11): I am disappointed in the response from members on this amendment. It does seem to me that our amendment was circulated with enough time for negotiation upon it. I think that the loss of a time limit is regrettable and I do want to be assured by the experience of what happens that the government is not ducking the time limit because it wants to reduce its accountability. I also want to express my concern that resourcing is absolutely essential to prompt response. Therefore it is something that we are going to have to watch if we do not accept time limits.
We have already seen the problems that have occurred in relation to the long delays experienced by people making complaints to the health services commissioner, for instance. Compare that to the timeliness that has been evident in relation to discrimination complaints, where there is a 60-day timeframe. So I guess that, in the absence of time limits, and do remember that we are just talking about time limits to let people know how and if their case is going to be taken up, we need to make sure that the commission regularly reports on the time that it is taking for the initial consideration of complaints.
I will be very inclined to ensure that the government monitors this very closely and reports back to the Greens and all the community organisations and others that have expressed the need for the timeframes. So I am disappointed that neither the Liberals nor Labor see the necessity for time limits.
Clause 45 agreed to.
Clause 46 agreed to.
Division 4.2—proposed new note.
MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (12.14): I move amendment No 1 circulated in my name, which inserts a new note to division 4.2 [see schedule 2 at page 3108].
This is a simple amendment to overcome concerns expressed by several groups that both Mr Smyth and I spoke to. It relates to two main concerns. Firstly, what happens with a complaint that is frivolous or vexatious? Secondly, what happens with a complaint that might be being dealt with elsewhere? There is a real concern by some groups that there has been forum shopping. There is often forum shopping and we need to ensure that forum shopping is actually discouraged.
I note in clause 47 that complaints may, but do not need to, go through a number of steps. There is allocation, which you would think would be the first one. Then there is consideration, conciliation, closure and reporting. People do not have to go through those steps in the order in which they appear. I note that closure is towards the bottom of the list.
Further in the bill—in fact, in clause 78 (2)—there is a provision that the commissioner must close a complaint if it is frivolous, vexatious or not made honestly or if the matters raised by the complaint have been, or are being, dealt with by a court or tribunal or have