Page 4207 - Week 13 - Thursday, 19 November 2015

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The government has been engaging with justice-related statutory oversight bodies within the Justice and Community Safety Directorate to ensure that the territory has the best possible rights protection arrangements and that the maximum amount of resources is directed towards front-line rights protection and service delivery rather than to administrative costs.

This review was not about finding savings or taking funding away from these important services. Instead, it was about thinking strategically about ways to improve the capacity of these offices to deliver accessible and coordinated services. The changes in this bill are about better focusing existing resources to meet the needs of the client group and ensuring the most effective delivery of rights assistance and advocacy in what remains a constrained budget environment.

In April this year, the government released a discussion paper that set out a detailed model for a new Human Rights Commission, including the functions of the Public Advocate and the Victims of Crime Commissioner and an expanded Public Trustee. This followed discussions with the office holders themselves and was originally based on an independent review by a private consulting firm, the Nous group.

The government carefully considered the 43 submissions received from the commissioners, agency staff, community organisations and the community itself before deciding to move forward with this bill. All of the submissions, except those that have been provided in confidence, are available on the Justice and Community Safety Directorate website. Many stakeholders noted that the review presented a real opportunity for improving the services provided by the statutory offices.

Stakeholders who were supportive of changes to the current structure identified a number of issues with the existing one, including tensions within the commission in relation to the allocation of resources; complicated decision-making processes; difficulties for clients and legal representatives in accessing complaints services because of inconsistent processes between the complaints handling jurisdictions; and a lack of balance between complaints handling and individual and systemic advocacy.

Other stakeholders supported the existing operations of the commission and raised issues with the model proposed in the discussion paper, including that designated commissioners with specific titles and functions are essential; that the model did not adequately address the risk of actual or perceived conflict; and that the model did not maintain the independence of the commission. These concerns have been addressed by the government in the model set out in this bill, which, based on the feedback, maintains those commissioners’ titles and incorporates modified governance arrangements to reduce conflict and promote independence.

Turning to the provisions of the bill itself, the new commission will bring together three key agencies: the Human Rights Commission, the Victims of Crime Commissioner and the advocacy functions of the Public Advocate. A key feature of the new commission will be the establishment of the position of the President of the Human Rights Commission, together with three specialist commissioners.

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