Page 206 - Week 01 - Thursday, 16 February 2006

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commencement of the Human Rights Commission (Children and Young People Commissioner) Amendment Act 2005, which is being amended in amendment 1.2.

The requirement in the Public Advocate Act to refer systemic matters to the Human Rights Commission will not commence until the Human Rights Commission Act commences. It sounds a bit like the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, and basically what it means is that there are a number of consequences that flow from this act not being able to be commenced on 1 March, and those seem to have been taken into account in the bill. So in terms of the technicalities it is fine. In terms of scrutiny report, obviously there is no comment.

It does, however, raise the fundamental issue of whether we do need a Human Rights Act. It is now February 2006, close to 20 months or so after the act commenced. As I think I probably indicated when the Human Rights Commission legislation was passed in August last year, it is setting up another layer of bureaucracy. One of the criticisms voiced of human rights acts by opponents around Australia has been that they tend to establish another level of bureaucracy, and this is clearly something we are seeing here.

From the advertisements, these are quite well-paid jobs, as one would imagine—six-figure jobs. I think the amount set aside in the budget this year for this whole area went from $5 million to over $7 million, and I wonder what benefit we are actually seeing. Some of the benefits, if you can call them that, seem to be a propensity to highlight the likes of people such as criminals, prisoners—people who commit offences. I have expressed concerns before, and I still flag them, that I have not seen too many examples of a human rights act—and perhaps some of these commissions related to that—to deal with the concerns of ordinary, law-abiding Canberra citizens.

I have expressed concerns such as the example of a fellow who wanted the right to play poker machines in his club when he was off duty. He accepted he could not do it when he was on duty there. A regulation was changed to ensure that persons in that situation could not play poker machines or have a punt on the TAB at any stage. There are a number of examples I have raised of ordinary citizens whom the Human Rights Act simply has not been able to assist.

That is in contrast to some of the complaints, and positive steps taken, in relation to people who have claimed under the Discrimination Act that they have problems. That act has been with us since 1991. The Human Rights Commission seems to be able to deal quite satisfactorily with assisting ordinary people with everyday problems in relation to discrimination. So, again, I just make the point that it is early days yet, but we are seeing an exponential increase in the amount of bureaucracy around the Human Rights Act. I have yet to see any real benefit to ordinary law-abiding citizens as a result of that act. I know this is going to pass, and it is probably even too late for me to say this—because I am sure the government will not do anything as it is one of the pet projects of the Chief Minister—but surely, if you are really serious about overcoming a serious budgetary problem, you could do worse than look at areas of government such as this, to see if you do need this level of bureaucracy. Quite clearly, we would say that you do not. I make those points, but in terms of the actual bill, it will obviously pass, and in terms of the technicalities of it, it will do what is proposed for it to do.

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