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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 66


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (15:48): I congratulate Senator Moore on her contribution. Senator Moore is a very active member of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Human Rights.

Senator Moore: A regular attendant.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes, indeed. So thank you. I rise to speak to the 2016-17 annual report of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Human Rights, because this is an important committee and does extraordinary work. The secretariat is a very hardworking, professional secretariat and should be congratulated on the work that it has done throughout the year and on putting this report together, along with, of course, the chair of the committee, Mr Ian Goodenough.

The role of the committee is to scrutinise legislation before the parliament and to consider these matters with respect to their impact on human rights under our international obligations. First and foremost, the committee was set up to act preventatively in order to safeguard human rights through the legislative process. To that end, we work together to examine various pieces of legislation, ensure their compatibility with human rights and report to the House and the Senate on this. We are also an educative body and, where possible, seek to raise awareness of legislation that promotes human rights and broadcast work that safeguards human rights.

The previous period for which this annual report is reporting was very busy for the committee, with a total of 405 bills and acts considered as well as 2,942 legislative instruments. It is important to let the Senate know what some of the most commonly engaged rights that were identified in legislation are and what the committee has put together in this annual report. There's a section on it. It's very important for all the senators and the members of the House of Representatives to actually go and grab a copy of the annual report, if they haven't already done so, and read through the work of the committee and what the committee has done. It is important to see some of the issues that are continually raised within the committee. The report that we have before us puts together these issues in a very clear way as to some of the things that can be done. Senator Moore talked about these things in her contribution, particularly around the compatibility statement. There is work that needs to be done there.

I will just take a few moments to talk through some of those most commonly engaged human rights which have been identified in legislation and commented on during the reporting period. They are listed in order. They are: the right to privacy, the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to a fair trial, the right to a fair hearing, the right to an adequate standard of living, the protection of the respect for family life, the right to social security, the right to be assumed innocent, the right to freedom of expression or opinion, the rights of children and the best interests of the child. As you can see, this is extremely important work that this committee carries out. What we saw in the committee was that a number of the key rights came up time and time again. That was most notably through social security, workplace relations and migration legislation. I'm pretty proud of the work that this committee does and that the very, very active committee members have undertaken. I'm proud that the committee has been able to complete such important work.

While the nature of much of this legislation has clearly been contentious, we on the opposite side of the chamber can work compatibly, at times, to project our views across the chamber. The work of the committee is undertaken in a cross-party fashion to ensure that our human rights obligations come first and foremost. Indeed, some of the legislative measures that we looked at over the course of the last year were highly political matters. We examined the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 and the Building and Construction Legislation Amendment Act 2016. We considered the grounds for the cancellation of registered organisations and what may be displayed or prohibited from display. These are matters that I and my colleagues from other parties have had widely diverging views on. We were able to work together in the committee nonetheless, considering the human rights implications of these pieces of legislation, in order to ensure that the right to freedom of association, the right to collectively bargain and the right to freedom of expression continue to be upheld in Australia now and into the future.

In assessing the impact of legislation on the rights of Australians, the committee considers the seven core treaties to which Australia is a party. Most notably, I'm proud to consider the impact of legislation on Australians with respect to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a matter of great importance to me in my capacity as shadow minister for disability and carers. Australia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities alongside 80 other countries in 2007, the same time I joined this committee. At this time the convention had already been in development, as people have been calling on the UN to adopt such legislation since the early eighties. When we looked at how this convention was enacted and safeguarded in Australian legislation, the committee often did so with respect to the right to freedom of expression or opinion. After all, in a society that is not inclusive and accessible to all, how can one truly engage in full freedom of expression or opinion? This was therefore a matter that we looked into across approximately four per cent of the legislation we reviewed, including in relation to the workplace relations legislation and the migration legislation.

It is critical that we continue this work as a committee, also acting as a check and balance for the legislative process to ensure that at all times we are safeguarding the rights of persons with disability. The role of this committee is to continue to provide scrutiny across all legislation and across all areas of human rights to make sure that this is not something that we are addressing only with singular pieces of legislation at isolated moments in time. That is why the committee often refers to statements of compatibility. And, as I've mentioned, Senator Moore in her contribution went through some of the details and some of the issues and concerns the committee has around statements of compatibility that have been supplied. The statement of compatibility with human rights accompanies the bills and the legislative instruments. It is a requirement that bills and legislative instruments provide a statement of compatibility with human rights, but it's not a requirement that such a statement take a specific form. This is one reason statements of compatibility can be highly variable and unfortunately one reason they're often lacking key details. We've seen through this process that if we don't have statements of compatibility that are thorough and that address the detail of the legislation we continue to have to go back to ministers asking them to provide information about the statement of compatibility.

While it is indicated in the annual report, signed off by Mr Goodenough, that timeliness in terms of reporting during the last period was an issue, most of the legislation that we've seen before the committee did adhere to the requirements set out under the statement of compatibility, and we actually did see that most of the— (Time expired)

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.