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Statement of clarification



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^ HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION ]

STATEMENT OF CLARIFICATION

Tuesday 28 February 1995

^-O jC I (x l O iS o r im i^ c U Z iC r r x THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT WAS ISSUED BY THE HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION AT A MEDIA CONFERENCE THIS MORNING, TUESDAY 28 FEBRUARY.

TWO PAGES.

Background On Thursday 23 February a High Court decision ruled that enforcement provisions in the Racial Discrimination Act in effect since January 1993 were unconstitutional and that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) "could not enforce its findings as though

they were Federal Court orders." (Aust 24/2/ pi) One ramification of the decision is that the Federal Government is reviewing aspects of its anti-discrimination legislation.

With enforcement procedures now under review, Commissioners of HREOC believe it is critical to:

° confirm that anti-discrimination law still stands and that discrimination is still unlawful; a reassure the community that the principal activities of the Commission to investigate and conciliate complaints remain unchanged and unaffected; o stress that the High Court decision has a possible effect on only a very small number of

cases, and

° place on record those principles under which future enforcement mechanisms should be based.

Actual Impact of the Decision on Current Processes Contrary to some media speculation, the High Court decision has not "stripped" the Commission of its powers. If fact the decision affects only a very small number of cases. Most of the many hundreds of cases brought to the Commission each year are resolved by

investigation and conciliation: processes that will proceed without interruption.

Cases unable to be resolved proceed to a hearing and a determination, sometimes involving tie payment of compensation. Slightly less than 5 per cent of cases proceed to hearing. In an inexpensive and streamlined process, since January 1993, these determination have been registered in the Federal Court and it is this process alone that is the subject of the High Court

decision. Since 1993, only 37 cases have reached this stage.

AAREt EASE WPD 28 February, 1995

Interim Measures Announced by the Attorney-General The Commissioners welcome yesterday’s announcement by Attorney-General Michael Lavarch that "the Government will act swiftly to secure the authority of the Human Rights and Equal

Opportunity Commission" and that "victims of discrimination and harassment were assured of continued protection."

"We applaud the speedy response of the Attorney-General in recognising the Importance of the matter, particularly the recognition of past decisions and the short time-frame set down for the: establishment of new processes," the Commissioners said today.

In the meantime, the Attorney-General announced, enforcement procedures for the few eases affected will revert to those in place before January 199T This means that complainants needing to enforce findings made as a result of a hearing process, will be required to Start fresh legal proceedings in the Federal Court.

The Future of Human Rights Protection A review committee is already looking at the Commission's complaints procedures. Yesterday Mr Lavarch announced the addition of three new members to that committee, which will repoit in three months. The Committee will "consult widely on the most affordable, accessible and effective enforcement mechanism," he said.

The Review Process The Commissioners believe that any new enforcement mechanisms must reflect the ease, access and simplicity of the processes in place until last week.

"During this consultative period while enforcement processes are under review, we expect interested parties will contribute to the debate on the future protection Of human rights legislation in Australia," the Commissioners said today.

Critical Issues "There are a number of principles in human rights protection that we believe to be of fundamental and crucial importance in any consideration of future effective processes," they said. "These principles of EASE are:

° equity in dealing with cases and access to the processes of the Commission must apply to all complainants as well as to respondents; a accessibility also means processes must be low-cost; D specialist knowledge must be made available in any process, and

α enforceability of decisions is critical.

Commissioners can be contacted at HREOC on (02) 284 9600: Zita Antonios: Race Discrimination Commissioner Mick DodsOit, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner Elizabeth Hastings: Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Sue Walpole: Sex Discrimination Commissioner

For inten’iews with the Commissioners on this issue please contact Margie Cook on 018 114 498.

• W LEASe.W PD 28 February. 1695