Page 3578 - Week 08 - Friday, 24 August 2012

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expression, which the bill restricts. At least a couple of alternatives warrant consideration.

Firstly, given that sections 66 and 67 are directed only towards public acts that incite persons to hate et cetera other persons on the ground of their religion, there is a question whether the problem is better addressed by a law that focuses on offensive behaviour on any basis.

Secondly, and perhaps more critically, there is the question of what defences or exceptions apply to the operation of section 66. In particular, should the existing exceptions in subsection 66(2) be extended to apply to a public act made in the context of a religious discussion? The committee notes that this is the position under section 11 of the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

There is also the question of how complaints on unlawful conduct should be processed. At present, the time taken can be quite lengthy and, as a consequence, very expensive. A dispute will first be considered within the Human Rights Commission and, failing settlement at this point, will proceed to a hearing before the ACAT. Apart from the cost issue, there are other issues.

Experience in other jurisdictions indicates that thoroughly unmeritorious complaints will be made, and some commentators, including judges who have been called on to adjudicate, have raised questions about what publicity should be given to a matter, at least up to a point when a body like the ACAT begins a hearing, and whether that body should be required to give leave to a matter to proceed to a hearing.

These are the comments of the scrutiny of bills committee in relation to the Discrimination Amendment Bill. These matters were considered by the scrutiny committee in anticipation that this bill might be brought on for debate later in the session, but I understand from the Attorney-General that it is no longer the government’s intent to bring it on.

Standing and temporary orders—suspension

Motion (by Mr Corbell) agreed to, with the concurrence of an absolute majority:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the adjournment debate for this sitting extending beyond the 30 minute time limit.

Leave of absence

Motion (by Mr Corbell) agreed to:

That leave of absence from 25 August to 19 October 2012 inclusive be given to all Members.

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