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Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Page: 2829

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Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (6:15 PM) —I move:

That the bill» be now read a second time.

The «Human» «Rights» «Legislation» «Amendment» «Bill» ( «No» . «2» ) «1998» is the result of a detailed examination by the government of the structure and operations of the «Human» «Rights» and Equal Opportunity Commission. The government's examination found that the current structure of the commission is inefficient and top heavy, and does not always operate in the best interests of the entire Australian community.

The «bill» provides for the reorganisation of the commission's membership, which will comprise a president and three deputy presidents. The commission and its members will have a common responsibility to protect and promote «human» «rights» for all Australians. In order to maintain areas of expertise, each deputy president will also have responsibility for particular subject areas. One deputy president will be responsible for «human» «rights» and disability, one will be responsible for social justice and race, and one will be responsible for sex discrimination and equal opportunity.

Most importantly, this «bill» will be the catalyst for a fundamental cultural change in the commission. The «bill» makes it clear that the new commission's priority will be to educate Australians about «human» «rights» and discrimination, and to help them to understand their responsibility, as members of the Australian community, to respect other people's «human» «rights» .

The «bill» also emphasises the commission's role to assist business and the community to avoid discrimination by issuing practical guidelines for that purpose. This refocusing of the commission's functions is reflected in its new name—the «Human» «Rights» and Responsibilities Commission.

Consistent with this cultural change, the «bill» will make the commission's power to intervene in court proceedings which raise «human» «rights» issues conditional upon it first obtaining my approval. The «bill» provides very broad criteria for the granting of my approval, which will enable me to ensure that every intervention by the new commission is in the best interests of the Australian community as a whole.

The «bill» also separates the Privacy Commissioner from the new «Human» «Rights» and Responsibilities Commission by creating a statutory office of the Privacy Commissioner. This provides the Privacy Commissioner with an opportunity to further increase the profile, and thus the effectiveness, of her work in promoting the protection of individual privacy across all sectors.

The «bill» provides further evidence of this government's commitment to the effective and equitable protection of the «human» «rights» of all Australians. I present the explanatory memorandum to the «bill .

Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.