Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 15 Hansard (Thursday, 10 December 2009) . . Page.. 5642 ..
in the ACT to deliver better quality services to the community and to government. The commission serves in both oversight and advocacy roles and actively promotes improvements in the delivery of human services. The commission has broad functions dealing with complaints about discrimination, health services, disability services and services for senior citizens as well as developing awareness in government and the community of human rights.
As the commission has established and evaluated its complaints-handling processes, it has identified a series of improvements to the act and related legislation to enable it to better achieve its role. The amendments in this bill are the result of the commission’s experiences over time. These amendments can be broken into three categories: procedural issues under the Human Rights Commission Act, updates to the Discrimination Act, and a minor change to the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act.
In relation to the first matters, many of the bill’s amendments seek to streamline and clarify the role and powers of the commission in complaint handling through amendments to the Human Rights Commission Act. These amendments include giving the commission greater flexibility in dealing with complaints and ensuring the commission can consider complaints quickly and efficiently by joining respondents. The bill also clarifies that the commission can close complaints with no further action when they are formally withdrawn by complainants.
The amendments provide greater protection for complainants and those that assist the commission in considering complaints. Protection from civil liability for complainants and those who assist the commission was previously in the Discrimination Act and the now repealed Community and Health Services Complaints Act 1993.
When the Human Rights Commission Act 2005 was enacted, it included equivalent protection from civil liability only for officers of the commission. This bill would amend the act to ensure that protection is afforded to all members of the community who honestly and without recklessness assist the commission in its consideration of complaints. While section 170 of the Legislation Act 2001 arguably provides protection from civil liability in these cases already, the addition of this new provision makes the matter free from doubt.
An example of the need for this protection would be in circumstances where a professional may face a defamation action for providing a negative assessment of a peer, even where that assessment was honestly held and not provided recklessly to the commission. As the commission takes complaints in relation to health services, services for people with a disability, and services for children and young people, the ability and confidence of professionals to report questionable behaviour by their peers is crucial to the commission properly exercising its functions.
The amendments to the Human Rights Commission Act also include requiring the commission to give a copy of a complaint and related documents to the relevant health profession board when the commission considers that a complaint about a health service indicates that a registered health professional may be contravening or may have contravened the required standard of practice. Section 12 of the Health Professionals Act 2004 details how the Human Rights Commission Act and Health