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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 562

Senator GILES —My question, which is to the Attorney-General, arises from an article in today's West Australian which gives an account of the greatly increased work load of the Human Rights Commissioner in Perth, following the enactment of the sex discrimination legislation. Apparently the Commissioner has received 500 calls in the month since 1 August, seeking information and making complaints, leaving him with little time in which to fulfil his other crucial role as educator. In view of the fact that the Perth experience is not isolated, I understand, can the Attorney-General say what steps are being taken to develop a structure and staffing adequate to the demands and expectations engendered by this long-awaited legislation?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Substantial financial commitment was made to the Human Rights Commission in the recent Budget with an 82.5 per cent increase over 1983- 84, with funds of $4.5m for 1984-85. The Commission's overall staffing level was increased from 34 to 44 largely in anticipation of the increased demands that would be made upon it with the sex discrimination legislation. Certainly, through the Commission, we have been constantly monitoring work loads and staffing needs, and the Government is determined to ensure that the Commission's presence in each State is effective. That is part of our concern for the protection of human rights being made effective throughout Australia. The approach of the present Government is much to be contrasted with the support for the Human Rights Commission under the previous Government, which had a low priority indeed. Under the previous Government it is true that the Western Australian office suffered from lack of resources. This Government is reviewing the operation of the Human Rights Commission and, in particular, the operation of its officers in the outlying States, if they might be so described. I add in that respect Queensland, where obviously there are acute staffing problems at the moment which need urgent remedial attention. We will be introducing quite soon-I am now able to say this-legislation aimed at improving Human Rights Commission operations throughout Australia by virtue of a complete restructuring of the existing Commission. We are also working closely with those governments which have demonstrated some interest in protecting human rights. The Western Australian Government has advised that it is intending to introduce its own sex discrimination legislation soon. When that is done it may well be that co- operative arrangements similar to those which are already in place with Victoria , New South Wales and South Australia could be established. That would certainly help relieve the strain of dealing with anti-discrimination complaints, whether they arise under Federal or State laws.