Page 6 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 14 February 2006

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The Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment Bill has been prepared to amend the commencement provision in the Human Rights Commission Act to provide that the act commence on a day fixed by the minister by written notice. That amendment will give greater flexibility in commencing the operation of the Human Rights Commission and give the person taking on the role of president time to make necessary administrative decisions to enable the operation of the new commission to proceed smoothly.

The bill also provides for the Public Advocate Act 2005 to commence on 1 March 2006. Members will recall that the purpose of this act is to change the name of the Community Advocate to Public Advocate. This act arose out of a recommendation of the report of the Review of Statutory Oversight and Community Advocacy Agencies conducted by the Foundation for Effective Markets and Governance that the name of the Office of the Community Advocate be changed to better reflect the role of that office in the community. The name “Public Advocate” is intended to reflect the wide range of advocacy roles that the office carries out.

The commencement of the Public Advocate Act is currently tied to the commencement of the Human Rights Commission (Children and Young People Commissioner) Amendment Act 2005. There is, however, no need or reason to delay the commencement of the Public Advocate Act. The amendment in this legislation will mean that the transition to the Public Advocate will occur in March 2006 as originally anticipated.

This bill will not affect the operations of those commissioners or bodies currently appointed and operating, such as the Discrimination and Human Rights Commissioner, the offices she prepares and the legislation she currently administers. Similarly, this legislation has absolutely no effect on the work of another of those existing or expanded commissions currently operating, namely, the Health Services Complaints Commission, which has effectively pursued that role for a number of years.

It must be understood that the new administrative or governance structure or arrangements incorporate into a single commission the range of commissioners, bodies or organisations that provide statutory oversight functions or have a statutory oversight responsibility such as the Discrimination Commissioner, the Human Rights Commissioner and the Health Services Complaints Commissioner. Those positions currently exist and are operational but they will at any time incorporate Children and Young People Commissioner and Disability and Community Services Commissioner positions that have not yet come on line, and legislation that does not yet operate.

Similarly the other position of president, which will fulfil the complement of officers of the Human Rights Commission, is yet to be filled. The government is mindful of the importance of ensuring that it appoints appropriate people to these positions or functions. Similarly we must ensure from the outset that the operational arrangements are smooth and seamless. When the new commission is fully staffed and established and the new legislation commences, particularly that relating to the Children and Young People Commissioner and other commissioners, we must ensure that our operational arrangements and procedures have been tried, tested and developed and that the commission works effectively from the outset.

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