Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 3 July 2008) . . Page.. 2689 ..
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (12:05): These bills—this is the 18th Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill—are described as omnibus bills which consist of minor and technical changes. And, more or less, they are; but never entirely so.
Among the provisions that were described as being merely technical last time we debated an amendment to this legislation it was one which would have removed a provision enabling people who were appealing to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to apply to the Attorney-General for legal assistance. It was the view of the Assembly in the end that this was not a technical and minor matter, and the Attorney-General—it was greatly appreciated—agreed to leave that particular provision in the AAT Act.
In the bill that is before us today, one area of complexity and contention was identified by the scrutiny of bills committee. It is an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act which is presently required to tell any person if a complaint has been made about them. The amendment makes it clear that the commission need not consider complaints that it considers lack substance, are vexatious or cannot be made under the act or are being investigated by another body. In these circumstances, under this amendment, the commission would not be required to contact the person about whom a complaint has been made.
Of course, even where a complaint is frivolous or vexatious, it might be important for the person being complained about to know. Similarly, if a complaint is being referred by the commission to another body, it would seem fair to advise the subject of the complaint of that action as a matter of course. This should not be a discretionary decision. It should be mandatory. Receiving notice of such potentially serious matters is hardly likely to be considered nuisance or junk mail by the person involved.
The government has made it clear that the commission will not continue to notify someone about complaints made about them when it is clearly repetitive, aggravating and vexatious. It has also made it clear that when the commission refers a complaint to another agency that other agency will advise the person subject to the complaint. But I consider that a better approach would be to let the person who the complaints are being made about request that they are no longer to be informed when such frivolous and repetitive complaints are received.
Repetitious, aggravating and/or vexatious complaints can provide warning that a personal conflict may be in danger of escalating into physical danger for the subject of the complaints. Under the proposed amendments, the government will become the only entity with the full knowledge of the nature and extent of the complaints it receives about a person. I hope that departmental officials are sufficiently qualified and alert to the possibility that the content and changes to the content of such complaints may amount to evidence of possible danger to the recipient, and that they take action accordingly. This could be by informing the police or giving the recipient the possibility of obtaining copies of all the complaints about them.
I am a little uncomfortable that those procedures that would safeguard the relevant person are more asserted than demonstrated in the government response. But if we