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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10378

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (12:57 PM) —I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

The passage of the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1999 by the Senate is an important step in providing human rights complainants with an effective and cost-efficient process for making complaints under antidiscrimination legislation. The amendments moved by the government in the Senate were all designed to better protect the rights of persons protected by the Commonwealth human rights legislation package. The first amendment empowers the Attorney-General to formulate standards under the Disability Discrimination Act in relation to the access to and use of premises by persons with a disability. This amendment will add a new paragraph (f) to subsection 31(1) of the act to empower the Attorney-General to formulate standards with respect to the treatment of persons with a disability in relation to access to or the use of any premises that the public or a section of the public is entitled or allowed to enter or use, whether for payment or not.

The second amendment is to paragraph 31(b) of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act to make clear that, when the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquires into any act or practice that may constitute discrimination, it may inquire into any systemic practice. This will ensure that the commission is sufficiently equipped to inquire into complaints of discrimination in all appropriate cases.

The third and fourth amendments both relate to the conduct of compulsory conferences before the commission and are designed to ensure fairness and equity for all parties. The person presiding over a compulsory conference being held as part of the conciliation process for a complaint of unlawful discrimination must ensure that the conduct of the conference does not disadvantage any party—the complainant or the respondent. This will be achieved by amending item 59 of the bill to provide a new subsection (2A) in section 46PK.

In addition, the bill now provides an entitlement for a person with a disability who is unable to participate fully in a compulsory conference because of that disability to nominate another person to assist him or her at the conference. This will be achieved by amending item 59 of the bill to provide a new subsection (5A) in section 46PK. As the government noted in the Senate, this bill remedies deficiencies in the current system for dealing with antidiscrimination complaints and ensures that human rights litigants are given fair and equitable access to justice, should they choose to pursue a human rights complaint in the Federal Court. I commend these amendments to the bill to the House.