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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 2969

Senator REID(10.42) —Will the Minister tell us why the Human Rights Commission is being moved to Sydney? I have not heard one argument advanced which is in any way convincing. It seems to me that the very purpose of the national capital is for organisations such as the Commission to be based here. I really cannot think of any sensible explanation as to why it should be shifted. The argument for having a national capital and for having the organisations of the Federal Government based here primarily makes great sense. It has been advanced frequently. The head offices of all sorts of departments and other organisations have been moved to the national capital. Now we are suddenly faced with this quite unconvincing move of the Human Rights Commission to Sydney.

What will be located in Canberra in place of the Commission? Will there be an office in Canberra? If so, to what extent will it be staffed? I point out that in the years 1984-85 and 1985-86 the Canberra office handled 1,233 complaints. By comparison, during the same period the Brisbane office and the New South Wales delegates reported respective case loads of 520 and 1,135. Of the complaints handled in Canberra, 10 per cent were from the Northern Territory and Tasmania and 33 per cent were from Australian Capital Territory residents. The remaining 57 per cent and many of the other complaints related directly to national policy.

It seems to me important that the Commission should be retained in Canberra because the overwhelming majority of the respondents and the departments involved are in fact based here. I think we are entitled to be told exactly what the cost of this absurd move will really be to taxpayers. I cannot imagine that the Commission can function without an office in Canberra. At the same time it will have to build an additional structure in Sydney. Things will be moved up and down from Canberra. I think it will cost, if the move is done properly, twice as much as at present. I do not think there is any simple way that the move can be explained especially when it is considered that it is a national organisation that should be based here. But what about the Australian Capital Territory employees. I know they have been told they can move to Sydney and they will get other jobs. But the employees of the office here seem to have had scant regard paid to the fact that they are human beings. They thought that they had prospects for a career structure here. They are virtually being told that they are being thrown out of the place.