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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(SENATE-Wednesday, 9 February 2000)
- Start of Business
- ATTORNEY GENERAL'S PORTFOLIO
- ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS TRIBUNAL
- OFFICE OF PARLIAMENTARY COUNSEL
- AUSTRALIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION
- FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA
- OFFICE OF FILM AND LITERATURE CLASSIFICATION
- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
- FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA
- Australian Customs Service
- AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE
- Australian Security Intelligence Organization
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S DEPARTMENT
- Output Group 1.1Policy advice and development
- Output Group 1.2 - Support for the Attorney-General as the First Law Officer
- Output Group 1.3 -- Program delivery
- Output Group 1.4 - Performance of statutory obligations
- Output Group 1.5 - Provision of services to Commonwealth departments and agencies
- Output Group 1.6 - Provision of services to the community
Outcome 2 - Coordinated security, crime prevention and law enforcement arrangements
- Output Group 2.2 - Program delivery
- Output Group 2.3 - Provision of services to Commonwealth office holders, Commonwealth, State and Territory departments and agencies, contractors and international representatives
- Senator HARRADINE
- DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
Content WindowLEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 09/02/2000 - Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
CHAIR —I call the committee to order and resume the consideration of additional estimates. I invite officers of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to join us at the table. Dr Jonas and Mr Crompton, I understand this is your first appearance before this estimates committee. I welcome you on behalf of the committee, and we look forward to a productive association.
Senator McKIERNAN —Welcome, and I echo the Chair's words to you. Mr Crompton, I have some questions on the matter of privacy which hopefully you will be able to respond to. What remedies will be available to a person who is aggrieved as a result of the national privacy principles?
Mr Crompton —Are you asking about the private sector arrangement that the government wants to introduce into parliament later this year?
Senator McKIERNAN —No, I am asking about what is currently in place in the Public Service. I will ask you another question which will perhaps put that first question into context. Given that the decisions of the Privacy Commissioner are unenforceable by virtue of the Brandy decision, how will individuals be able to enforce their privacy rights under the legislation?
Mr Crompton —I believe that the government will be remedying the Brandy decision and its application in the federal public sector. If I am not right about that, I do need to be corrected. The private sector legislation has not been released yet, so we do not know what the government is proposing, but I presume it would be in the general arena of my being able to make a decision that would remedy a fault where somebody could not access their personal information, or where they needed their personal information corrected by somebody who held that information. In the normal course of events, you would presume the Federal Court or the magistracy could be used to enforce that decision if there were any doubt about it being implemented.
—How many times in the last five years has the Federal Court been asked to intervene in matters where there may have been breaches of the Privacy Act?
Mr Crompton —As I understand it, up until now we have been very fortunate. With the mechanisms we use to resolve privacy complaints, we have always been able to get resolution without having to go to the courts.
Senator McKIERNAN —Departments and agencies which are currently subject to the act generally comply with the determinations of the Privacy Commissioner without the need to go through the Federal Court? Isn't that the case?
Mr Crompton —There is also part IIIA of the Privacy Act. That covers the credit industry. They are covered in very much the same way in terms of handling of complaints and so forth, and they too have followed our decisions without having to resort to the courts.
Senator McKIERNAN —Is there an expectation that the private sector will go along the same lines, or will you have to wait for the legislation?
Mr Crompton —I think we would have to wait for the legislation before I could answer that. I am very keen to establish a working relationship with both business and other people in Australia to make it work anyway. We will certainly be putting a lot of effort into keeping this as a simple, alternative dispute resolution mechanism approach. It has been successful for a decade up to now, and I would like to think that I could keep it that way.
Senator McKIERNAN —Do you see a distinction between the way the Public Service acts and behaves - and the demands that are made upon them through bodies such as committees such as this and the parliament as a whole - and the private sector?
Mr Crompton —I believe a very strong case can be made out that poor handling of personal information in businesses is actually extremely bad business and that a business would not want to be known as not respecting an individual's personal privacy once this regime comes into place, and I would like to think that in most instances we will not have that kind of problem.
Senator McKIERNAN —I would like to live in Utopia as well, but I am not so sure that we are going to ever live there together. What is the approximate cost for an individual to take a matter to the Federal Court, should an organisation choose not to comply with an order of the Privacy Commissioner? Obviously, you can answer that in the context of the legislation which is currently in place.
Mr Crompton —Given that we have not been to the Federal Court for a very long time, I do not have any recent estimates. I am not sure that we have any estimate at all. I might ask the Deputy Privacy Commissioner if he has any more information, but I would be surprised.
Mr Pilgrim —No, we do not have an estimate on that figure. We do not have figures on that, but we should be able to see if we can get some. I have just been advised, though, that there is a $1,000 filing fee. But I think it would be useful for the committee if we got some more accurate figures on that and provided them to you.
Senator McKIERNAN —Would you do that for me?
CHAIR —Thank you. That would be helpful.
Mr Pilgrim —Certainly.
Senator McKIERNAN —Thank you for that offer. That was actually going to be my next question to ask you today, but you are pre-empting me.
CHAIR —Well anticipated, I think.
—Yes, indeed. Congratulations on that. Will the Privacy Commissioner or any applicant have the power to commence proceedings for a penalty? If you do, what are those powers?
Mr Crompton —Because the draft legislation is not public yet, I am not sure that it is possible to answer that question yet.
Senator McKIERNAN —That is despite your best wishes for a Utopian situation?
Mr Crompton —I agree with you that, yes, we will need to use the courts at some stage. I am not trying to deny that. I am just suggesting that in many instances there will be resolution without having to go to the courts, and until we see the legislation it is not possible to see exactly how the court resolution process will be structured.
Senator McKIERNAN —Do you know what the powers will be in respect of inspection and interrogation?
Mr Crompton —At the moment under the Privacy Act I have quite clear powers to enter premises and to call for evidence and so forth. If the structure of the amendments is kept fairly simple and those powers simply apply to the new regime that I get - which is the privacy in the private sector - then, presumably, I would able to do similar things.
Senator McKIERNAN —Do you know if the proposed legislation will apply to the misuse of information contained in existing databases?
Mr Dabb —Madam Chair, given this line of questioning about policy matters and proposed legislation, could I diffidently make the suggestion that we might take these matters up when we come to the relevant part of the department, because it does seem to be more a matter for the department insofar as anyone likely to come before the committee can handle it. That might be more useful than putting these questions to the statutory body.
CHAIR —Senator McKiernan, if that would assist in getting you the answers that you seek, perhaps that is the most effective route to take.
Senator McKIERNAN —Can Mr Dabb give me an assurance he is actually going to answer the questions when we get to that point?
CHAIR —He will endeavour to do his best, I am sure.
Mr Dabb —Of course I would. But it is a matter of the relevant specialists, again, if I could use that expression.
CHAIR —We are not on extradition now.
Mr Dabb —We are a long way from it.
CHAIR —Senator McKiernan, is that a suitable solution to ensuring you get the answers?
Mr Dabb —This does come under, if I could say, the Information and Security Law Division of the department, which has a branch which does contain people with expertise on these matters, who would know more about the policy. I cannot promise just how much help they might be to the committee, but I think they will probably be of more help than the commissioner.
Senator McKIERNAN —Thank you, Mr Dabb. I think I will concede to your advice on that matter, and we will come back. What section of the A-G's portfolio will it come under?
Mr Dabb —It is the Information and Security Law Division. Mr Ford, who was here earlier, is the head of that. There is a branch within that that deals with privacy matters.
CHAIR —And he will be back later this afternoon?
Senator McKIERNAN —What output number have we got there?
Senator COONEY —I want to just ask some questions about privacy. You have established a good relationship with business in terms of getting the regime of privacy operating well. What have you done to establish that relationship?
Mr Crompton —Thank you for that question. Since becoming Privacy Commissioner in April of last year I have set out very actively to meet many people from all the interested areas, whether they are privacy advocates, health consumers, people from big business, people from business organisations, people from various other organisations. I have put a lot of effort into meeting individuals and introducing myself and getting their opinions, one on one. I now need to move to a more organised way of doing that in the future. In thinking through a strategic plan for our next couple of years I am going to focus very much on establishing networks that will allow us to have good relationships and high impact in dealing with the different types of people who are interested in the privacy of personal information in Australia. I believe that that is going to be one very effective way of taking a small office and having a real impact on the lives of Australians.
Senator COONEY —Have you thought about or made a plan or taken any action in respect of privacy in the workplace? You get, as you no doubt know, articles in the media every now and then talking about how people in the workplace are subject to scrutiny and whether that scrutiny is fair and reasonable. Related to that is the question of scrutinising customers whilst scrutinising employees. Have you looked at that at all?
Mr Crompton —Only in some respects. One of the things that we have looked at is an emerging issue now, which is the use by employees and others of the email and the Internet, the web, at work. We have already published guidelines at our Internet site on how the federal public sector should structure up their web sites for the purposes of meeting good privacy practice. We have issued draft guidelines on the use of email in the workplace, and in the near future we would like to finalise those guidelines. It is very clearly a new and emerging issue all the way around the world as to how one gets the balance right there. I have not done more work more generally on the workplace. Again, that simply reflects the fact that there is not at the moment a privacy regime in the private sector.
Senator COONEY —Have you been in touch with comparable organisations to your own overseas to see how they handle the problems?
Mr Crompton —Specifically in the workplace?
Senator COONEY —Yes.
Mr Crompton —No, I have not.
Senator COONEY —I suppose you will look at it more closely when the legislation comes into operation.
Mr Crompton —I will give a general answer to that. The reason why the privacy of personal information is becoming more of an issue now than perhaps it has been in the recent past is the development of the information economy. The information economy is one of the major reasons why we are seeing globalisation becoming such an issue so that, if we do not have privacy regimes around the world that are similar to each other, we will actually come up with a lot of law that will be complicated for people to follow and possibly not be very effective. So, yes, I do need to be well in touch with colleagues around the world.
—Have you got enough resources to do that? Perhaps I should not have asked that. That is always a hard question. Are you in a position to enable you to be in touch around the world on an ongoing basis?
Mr Crompton —I have every indication that the answer to that is yes. For example, I was at a conference of privacy commissioners in Hong Kong last year. I expect to be able to see a number of the colleagues once or twice a year. I have established email and other telephone contact with these people as necessary. They are a very willing and cooperative group of people to be dealing with. As far as I am concerned, all the signs are very positive.
Senator COONEY —Are you conscious of the understandable desire of other countries not to have their privacy regime prejudiced through Australia? I am not suggesting that it would be, but are you conscious of that being an issue?
Mr Crompton —It is very clearly an issue, particularly with regard to the way the European Union has structured its regime for the protection of the personal information of its citizens, where there are rules in place that essentially say that the personal information of a European citizen should not be sent to a country where there are not adequate privacy arrangements in place.
Senator COONEY —Do you feel that you will have enough power to be able to comply with that? You have not got enough power to do it at the moment, but are you hoping to acquire that?
Mr Crompton —I presume the only extent to which an Australian parliament can pass a law is where it relates to Australians, Australian citizens or something that relates to Australia, so I cannot be necessarily protecting the privacy of Europeans as an Australian commissioner.
Senator COONEY —Perhaps I did not put that as clearly as I should have. Given technology now, as I understand it, information can flow around the world very rapidly. You have call centres all over the place and the Internet, email and all those things that you are talking about. Information will be readily exchangeable across borders. As I understand the European situation, they were a bit concerned about having regimes in place in areas where information might go and about securing that information while it is in that place. Are you confident that that situation will be reached?
Mr Crompton —I have not been involved with OECD work, and maybe there are some people from the department who have been closer to that work and can give a better reading of it than I have, but I have read some OECD material which suggests that jurisdiction - namely, whose jurisdiction applies in certain circumstances to the flow of all sorts of bits of information, not just personal information - around the world in this information economy is a real issue that is still to be worked through and resolved.
Senator COONEY —Do you intend to look at that, or do you think you will wait for developments?
Mr Crompton —At some stage it will definitely have to be addressed, yes. I am not sure that it can be my first priority. If the government does introduce and the parliament does pass this privacy in the private sector regime during this year, then very clearly my priorities will have to be about getting that regime running properly as soon as I can. That is obviously my first priority, and I am not sure that I will be able to look at all of the other issues at once.
—With breaches of privacy, as they now occur and as they might occur if you get a broadened jurisdiction in the private sector, do you intend to be proactive, or will you just await complaints as they come to you?
Mr Crompton —That is an extremely good question in that I believe that simply waiting for complaints will not be good enough. It is why I want to establish networks now. It is why I am seeking to speak to audiences publicly often already. It is why I am trying to build informal as well as formal networks with people. It is why I am paying very close attention to the establishment and growth of our web site. It is why, when I do a presentation that is public, I make sure that that presentation is available on our web site so that people can see it.
My message is to produce, from the considerable pool of evidence that there is, the eye-catching material that would prove to the person or people whom I am dealing with that good privacy is good business and to let them know that that almost certainly is the way to go for them anyway. But, from what I am hearing about the government's proposed legislation, there will nevertheless be mechanisms through the complaint mechanism where my first message, which is that good privacy is good business, still fails. I nevertheless have something I can do about it through the complaints mechanism. At the moment, I am apparently getting a very good reception.
Senator COONEY —I suppose breaches of privacy can be done in such a way that the victim does not know. It might not even be a victim. That would be so, wouldn't it?
Mr Crompton —And I think you will find that that is happening in regimes around the world wherever there is a privacy regime of any sort.
Senator COONEY —Thank you.
Senator MASON —Senator Cooney sparked my interest when he spoke about workplace privacy. A couple of issues have been mentioned in the press recently about that. One of them was the use of video cameras in the workplace. There was also, of course, the mapping of the human gene pool and using DNA to detect people's susceptibility to disease and so forth. You mentioned before the world wide web and the promiscuous use of personal information. Are you looking at issues like that in the future? When the human gene pool is mapped, that will have a potentially enormous impact on individual privacy, won't it?
Mr Crompton —It will. You have asked me two questions for the price of one, so let us try to deal with them one by one.
CHAIR —We are trying to be economical, Mr Crompton, in time, if nothing else.
Mr Crompton —With surveillance in the workplace, it is clearly good practice to advise people that you are doing it and to gain their consent to do it. It is when it is covert that it becomes a problem. I think you would find that, under certain circumstances already in this country, if there is not surveillance, then companies are probably failing in their fiduciary duty. For example, dealing rooms or any of those sorts of places are under very strict surveillance, and it is a condition of employment. The people there know that they are under that surveillance. They have accepted that. They can choose not to work there if they do not like that regime. There will always be circumstances where surveillance is appropriate, agreed, open and aboveboard. Clearly, there will be circumstances where that is not followed.
Let us turn to the Human Genome Project. We need to remember that, by the time they finish the Human Genome Project - I am told that that is in 18 months time and that most of the genome has not yet been mapped; they are essentially taking an exponential approach to solving a problem - we will know the genome, meaning the DNA sequence, of the model human being. We will not have even begun to pull out the meaning of that sequence necessarily for all of those sequences. We will simply know what the sequence is. We will not have understood the differences and variations across pools of the population, let alone individuals.
One of the things that I think we need to be very careful of is the difference between understanding the genome and genetics versus DNA testing which, at least for the kind of DNA work that I am hearing is to be done by police forces, is not actually about understanding genes but about understanding certain DNA sequences where that DNA does not code for genes.
Senator MASON —To identify people?
Mr Crompton —It is to identify people, but it does not identify the genes that they have, because you are actually picking DNA sequences that are between genes.
Senator Vanstone —Can I just add something in relation to CrimTrac, which has a vastly improved national fingerprint service as its first component and the DNA database as its second. The DNA that is being used in Australia will be the same as in Vietnam. We hope there is a common usage in a range of other countries because that will make the interchange of information a lot easier. There will be 10 DNA sites. Only one of them is anything identifiable, and that is gender. So we will know, for example, that the same person has attended 10 premises that have been burgled because the DNA is exactly the same. We will know whether they are male or female. We will not know anything else about them.
Apparently the scientists refer to them as `junk' sites. That means that they are not, as has been indicated, indicators anything like hair colour, height or whatever. They have some linking purpose but nothing identifiable. So when you take the combination of them, you can say that it is four billion to one that there is someone else with this same combination of junk sites. So you can say that they are the same person but you cannot tell anything about them other than their gender.
You have to use the old-fashioned policing methods to find the relevant person - you do not have to, there are other ways you might find them with the DNA. They might, for example, get picked up at a pub brawl, agree to - or have a magistrate indicate they can - have a mouth swab taken. You get their DNA and, all of a sudden, you can say that this is the same person as the person at these 10 sites and then you go into the investigation of the burglary at the 10 sites. Or you might find them by other, more old-fashioned police methods and then, by a process of agreement - or a magistrate's approval if there is not agreement - get a DNA sample and say, `Right, we now know who this is.'
CHAIR —Mr Crompton, have you completed responding to Senator Mason?
Mr Crompton —I think I have.
CHAIR —Before I turn to Senator McKiernan, I want to seek a comment from Dr Jonas. In previous hearings, we have heard about the education focus of the commission in terms of a lot of work that the commission has been doing. I wondered if you might update us, against the background of your initial period as Social Justice Commissioner, on the priorities that you have been implementing there.
—Yes, and thank you for the welcome before. One of the things that the commission as a whole has committed itself to is increased public education. In the area in which I am working, we have currently identified a number of topics where we will work collaboratively with the states. One of those is in a greater dissemination of the resource we have already developed called Tracking your rights, which is an information resource for indigenous people. Another is that we are committed to - and we have only just identified it; we have not started working out how we are going to do it - a broader educational program, outside of the one for indigenous people, informing the wider community about rights as they relate to indigenous people.
As part of my own specific program, I am changing the nature of the reporting that I am doing. I still have to put in the two reports each year - one, the social justice report on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights by indigenous people and, two, the native title report about how the Native Title Act impacts on that exercise and enjoyment. But, rather than doing all of the work at one period of time as has happened before, I am going to break that up and do it in smaller reports throughout the year - or smaller issues papers, smaller discussion papers or smaller education resources. The first one we have identified that we will do is an education paper and a discussion paper as it relates to reconciliation and indigenous rights, and we will be doing that in about three or four weeks time.
CHAIR —It will be distributed in three or four weeks time?
Dr Jonas —We hope so. We are hoping that we can get it out in time to assist the reconciliation process and the Reconciliation Council.
CHAIR —I was going to ask whether you had any relationship with the Reconciliation Council in that process.
Dr Jonas —Yes, we do. I am actually on the documents reference committee of the Reconciliation Council, so I meet with them fairly frequently.
CHAIR —Is there a time frame attached to the broader educational program that you referred to in the middle of those comments?
Dr Jonas —We have identified that we will meet with the states, and we will talk with them two or three times, within the next six months. But, in terms of a total time frame for educating the entire community about indigenous rights, we have not put a time frame on that yet. But we have only identified it as a project, and we have not got down to the nitty-gritty work with the states yet.
CHAIR —At what level do you meet with the states?
Dr Jonas —We meet twice a year with the equal opportunity commissioners or the antidiscrimination commissioners, and we made the decision to do that work at that level. Of course, it will be done at officer to officer level as well as we proceed.
Senator COONEY —Can I follow up something you just said then - you might want to answer it now or later on - and that is the cooperation between the states and the Commonwealth. You meet a couple of times a year. The states have the ability to adjudicate and to give damages in the commissions they have. How do you see the Commonwealth fitting in, given that you have a regime of bodies at the state level that carry out very effective work, one, in deciding issues and, two, in giving decisions that are effected?
Dr Jonas —If you do not mind, I would like Ms Temby to answer that one.
—We have close relationships with the states. Obviously, those relationships change from time to time over the years in the management of complaints, referral of complaints, exchange of information and management of public education campaigns. The commission would see that the states and the commission would operate as a totality, affording citizens a range of opportunities for redress of their complaint mechanisms and also affording communities at a local level, a state level, appropriate public education. So the commission would see us fitting into a whole and welcomes the work of the states in their particular areas of expertise.
Senator COONEY —But they have a fairly wide range of expertise, haven't they? You are talking about indigenous people. Victoria is my state. It has regimes that can look to discrimination on the grounds of race and gender whether or not you are a member of a union, and so on. I wonder, if they have such a wide range and we have difficulty, as we have under Brandy, what we should expect of the Commonwealth body.
Ms Temby —The Commonwealth body handles all complaints against federal agencies - so, federal agencies and their relationships with the public and with their own employees. They have redress to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Racial hatred matters, for instance, are federal matters. There are often issues of election of jurisdiction and where it is better in terms of the outcomes in the particular circumstances of that complainant's problems or issues, as to where they will go on a matter and lodge a complaint. We have referral and exchange arrangements between our agencies. At officer level, information is often given to complainants but, essentially, complainants do make their own decisions as to where it is best for them to go to seek redress.
Senator COONEY —How many complaints would go to VCAT in Victoria and how many would come to the Commonwealth commission in the same state? I do not want to go too deeply into it, but I was just wondering where you see the Commonwealth commission being most effective.
Ms Temby —I see the Commonwealth commission being extremely effective in national leadership, public education and the entire range of programs across indigenous and other issues at a national level, but we also have a very effective complaints handling mechanism. The changes with the Federal Court that will be occurring on 13 April will, I think, also give complainants another, very powerful avenue of redress through the courts.
Senator McKIERNAN —Perhaps I will ask Mr Dabb in the first instance - although it may be more appropriate to ask this question at a later time - about the HREOC report Pregnant and productive which was presented to government in June last year and has not yet been responded to. Or is it appropriate to leave that until a later time?
Mr Moss —I could probably answer the questions myself. If you care to ask them now, I will have a go at them.
Senator McKIERNAN —When will the government respond to the report?
Mr Moss —The government's response is under consideration. I cannot say exactly when it will respond, but I would expect that it would not be too long. It will be in the near future, I think I could say.
Senator McKIERNAN —Could you narrow that down to, say, the first half of this year?
Mr Moss —I can't really, no. I would certainly expect that it would be in the first half of this year, but I could not give any more detail than that at this stage. It is under very active consideration.
Senator McKIERNAN —The report recommended a number of changes to the Sex Discrimination Act. Are you in a position to inform the committee about whether or not those recommendations are going to be acted upon? I am talking particularly about the removal of discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
—You will understand that I am unable to pre-empt the government's response. All I can say is that all of the recommendations are under very close, serious consideration, including those you mentioned.
Senator McKIERNAN —Is there anything further that you can tell the committee about the progress and content of the government response?
Mr Moss —I regret that I cannot at this stage because, as I say, the response is still under consideration. Until it has been properly considered at government level and the response finalised, I could not pre-empt any of the responses.
Senator McKIERNAN —Who else is involved in the preparation of the response? I do not mean individuals; I mean departments other than Attorney-General's.
Mr Moss —There are a number of other departments. Certainly the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business is one. I think I would have to take the question on notice concerning the precise list of the rest because I am not sure that I could recall precisely who is involved. But there have been a number of departments involved in an interdepartmental committee that we have chaired.
Senator McKIERNAN —Please take that on notice. I guess we will come back to this in May in any case.
Mr Moss —I am happy to.
Senator McKIERNAN —Thank you.
Senator COONEY —I heard about pregnant mothers, but what about nursing mothers? Has the commission any thoughts on nursing mothers?
Ms Temby —The commission of course abhors discrimination against women in any of its guises, particularly breastfeeding women, pregnant women and women in the workplace.
CHAIR —All of those matters were considered in the report that we have just been alluding to, I believe.
Mr Moss —There are, as I recall, specific recommendations in the Pregnant and productive report about breastfeeding, and they will be given the same consideration.
Senator COONEY —That is a fairly mild way of going around it - just to give it consideration.
CHAIR —You will have to brush up on those, Senator Cooney.
Mr Moss —They are being given active consideration.
Senator COONEY —That reassures me. I was getting worried. Are there any legal difficulties in bringing the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into domestic legislation?
Mr Moss —Once again, the experts on that area are not here at the moment, but I can go as far as saying that the basis upon which Australia and many other countries have traditionally approached their obligations under international treaties is that those treaties do not require countries to implement them in any particular manner. As I say, in terms of our traditional approach, it has not generally been the practice to enact legislation that embodies the treaty, but to ensure that our ordinary legislation complies with the treaty. That is the basis upon which Australia would have acceded to the ICCPR and continues to maintain its obligations under it.
—I take it that there are no technical problems in doing that? You would have to go through it, I suppose, but there would be lots of it that you could put into legislation without any great problems.
Mr Moss —As I say, I think the government's attitude is and traditionally has been that the legislation and practices in Australia already comply with the convention, and therefore it is neither necessary nor desirable to reflect it in legislation.
Senator COONEY —This not a party political question because another government is doing this, but I am going to persist with this question. If you did have a lot of the ICCPR put down in Commonwealth legislation, it would give the hardworking commission that we now have before us more work - perhaps more productive work, but they are already doing productive work - and also a larger ability to see that we go about our lives free and unharassed.
Mr Moss —As I recall, the ICCPR is one of the treaties to which the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission can have regard and in relation to which complaints can be made.
Senator COONEY —We have put it in the back of the act, but is there nothing to stop us giving more authority to it than it presently has?
Mr Moss —No, except that, as I say, it has been Australia's traditional approach not to embody treaties specifically in legislation as such.
Senator Vanstone —Some people, Senator Cooney, as you know, take offence at the proposition that a parliament would deign to tell people what their rights are. You and I have every right under the sun, saving except for those that are restrained by parliament. You have asked a policy question and you have had three goes at dragging Mr Moss into it. He has evaded that very well; he can have a gold star. You know the answer to that question; I know you do.
CHAIR —I am sure that Mr Campbell's imminent arrival this afternoon will herald another endeavour by Senator Cooney. As there are no further questions in relation to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, I thank you, Dr Jonas, and the other officers for your presence here this afternoon.