Page 207 - Week 01 - Thursday, 16 February 2006

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DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (11.41): The ACT Greens support the Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment Bill 2006, and we acknowledge that, due to hold-ups with the recruitment of commissioners, the start date needs to be pushed back from 1 March 2006. We also note that 1 March was quite a delay from when it was first envisaged that the Human Rights Commission would be set up. We have been assured that the new date should be around August-September of this year. I am pleased that the set-back date does not relate to the changeover of the Community Advocate to the Public Advocate, because she has expressed to me her readiness to make the change and move forward.

The amendment does raise some questions about the state of progress on practical matters such as the commission’s location, which I understand is yet to be finalised. This allows me to repeat my previous argument, that we would like to see all the commissioners co-located, with a separate entry and space given to the Children and Young People Commissioner, to ensure an appropriate welcoming atmosphere for children. I will be keen to receive an update on the location of the commission as soon as it is practicable.

I will also be keen to see how the president of the Human Rights Commission and individual commissioners manage to work in a collegiate fashion, because the initial legislation compromised individual commissioners’ ability to set their own priorities and make decisions about their own investigations and reports to government. Instead, it has handed this power to the Human Rights Commission as a whole, and this will leave individual commissioners to fight it out within.

I will also be interested to see if, once the individual commissioners begin work, there is strong evidence for their need to promote citizens’ rights and examine issues facing groups of people, beyond the current outline, which restricts them to responding to complaints and examining issues related to service provision. But all that is yet to come, and returning to the main point of today: I do support the Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment Bill 2006.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (11.44), in reply: I thank members for their contribution to the debate and I might say at the outset that the government, of course, regrets that it has found it necessary to introduce this bill today to seek an extension of the time for when the commission will commence. It is not what the government ideally would have wished.

As has been indicated, we have advertised nationally for a president and for other commissioners. The recruitment process for those did, to some extent, suffer from a combination of summer and some changes of personnel at senior levels within the department of justice. The recruitment process has not progressed. We are not in a position to commence the work of the commission as a result of that, and I, of course, regret that. It is a result of that that we are required today to seek the support of the Assembly in extending the date of commencement, and we will now continue to move on the appointments that are necessary.

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