Page 24 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 9 February 2016
I think we are going to see the singular human rights commissioner and the balance of power between the commissioners changing so that more power is vested in a single individual rather than, as it is now, spread amongst the existing three commissioners. This has an impact on the separate roles they perform but also on the competition for resources that all of them face. We need to make sure that each of the commissioners has autonomy in their various areas. That will be diminished. We are concerned that the independent roles of the commissioners will be lost in these changes. And there is concern about conflict of interest.
Going to some of the specifics, let me go to the health commissioner’s role. This is one that I am intimately aware of. It is such an important role in our health system. There are many times when constituents come to me with concerns about the health system. My first response is, “Have you gone to the Health Services Commissioner? Have you spoken through that chain? They do a good job, they look at the issues and they deal with it.” It is only when the systems, as they are, break down that, generally speaking, I seek to get involved.
Concerns have been raised about what will happen. Darlene Cox, who is the Executive Director of the Health Care Consumers Association and who is well respected across Canberra as an advocate, a voice, for consumers within our health system, does not support the changes. She has made a number of comments, and I will quote from some of those. She said, “Last year we made a submission to the government in response to their discussion paper. We supported the intent of the proposal in seeking to increase the number of staff for complaints processing and improve the timeliness of the process is important for consumers. At the time we had concerns around the perceived or actual conflict of interest of the proposed arrangement; were of the view that it is essential that the public needs to have identifiable commissioners with named titles; and that it compromised the independence of the commission as there appears to be increased emphasis on government expectations. We still hold those concerns. We are disappointed that the government’s response to the community feedback did not specifically address the three main issues that all stakeholders raised regarding conflict of interest, independence from government and keeping the designated titles of the commissioners. We are also surprised that the positions of commissioners were advertised recently without the legislation passed.”
That is pretty extraordinary. The government have not got the agreement of the Assembly for these changes but they have already gone out and started the process of advertising.
There are two concerns with this. One is the unbridled arrogance of this government in doing that. It is extraordinary to start executing the changes before you get legislative agreement to do so from the Assembly. Secondly, what an invidious position this has put the existing commissioners in. They have basically said, “We are going to sack you. You had better be good boys and girls because we are coming for you. We are going to make a decision about whether you get your jobs back or not.” What a disgraceful way to conduct business—quite outrageous. If I were one of those commissioners in a position where I wanted to speak in a fearless manner to