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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 2972

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(11.00) — Senator Durack's understanding of the formal situation as to required qualifications is correct. There is no requirement that the Chairman be a lawyer or of legal background, whereas by contrast there is such a requirement for the full time Human Rights Commissioner position so described. Essentially, the reason for the Human Rights Commissioner position having that set of qualifications attached to it is two-fold, as I understand it: Primarily, because as a full time functioning Commissioner that person will be exercising the determining power from time to time as well as the investigative conciliatory power and it is felt that because of the quasi-judicial character, if you like, of that particular jurisdiction it is appropriate--

Senator Durack —What is an example of that?

Senator GARETH EVANS —When a complaint is made under one or other of these categories-race discrimination, sex discrimination or pursuant to the Covenant. I am sorry, it is only under the sex Act at the moment but it will be under the race Act when we get to the next Bill and the provisions are brought into parallel. There is that determining power. We are discussing the difference between the power to make determinations, which are subsequently enforceable through the Federal courts, as compared with the power merely to report. We were talking previously about the jurisdiction of the employment discrimination committee. There is this more formalised power that it has been thought desirable should be exercised by someone with legal qualifications training. I suppose the other side to it is that the Human Rights Commissioner is being given a particular identified functional responsibility with respect to the various covenants, as distinct from the sex and race Acts, including such things, I guess, as the one we have been debating all morning.

Since questions of legal interpretation will arise in the application of those covenants to particular situations it was thought again desirable that such a person have a legal background. The Chairman, by contrast, is the sort of figurehead and capstone of the organisation. We need him to have promotional and administrative oversight skills, I suppose, rather than necessarily legal ones, although it is probable that in practice the most likely candidates for this job would be people with a legal background-a current or former judge or someone with such qualifications. But that is not required for the reasons I have indicated.

Despite Senator Durack's invitation to comment on particular persons, I am not able to assist him further in this respect. All I can say is that no decision has been made by Cabinet; no recommendation, to my knowledge, has been put to Cabinet as to the identity of persons concerned. Anything Senator Durack might have read or might continue to read in the newspaper must be regarded as pure speculation until a decision is made.