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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Australian Human Rights Commission

Australian Human Rights Commission


CHAIR: I welcome officers from the Australian Human Rights Commission. Thank you for joining us today. Would you like to make an opening statement before we go to questions?

Prof. Croucher : I will if I may, thank you. First of all, I'd like to welcome the new committee. As with previous committees, we'd like to extend an offer to provide briefings on any of the matters that we deal with. We've found that a helpful engagement with the committee in the past.

I thought, as it is a new committee, I'd give you a quick snapshot on the commission's work prior to going to questions. As the national human rights institution of nearly 40 years standing, the Australian Human Rights Commission plays a significant role both domestically within Australia but also within the Asia-Pacific region as well as internationally. Under our statutory mandate, the commission's work falls broadly into two areas. There is our longstanding complaint-handling role under federal discrimination law and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, which is led by me as president, and there is also our policy, advocacy and education work, which is led by our commissioners.

Our commissioners, by way of example, are currently leading major projects, and I thought I'd just give an illustration of the kinds of projects that they are involved in. Our Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Kate Jenkins, who is attending with me at the invitation of the committee today, is leading a national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace, which will report early next year. Our Human Rights Commissioner, Mr Ed Santow, is leading a major inquiry into human rights and the impact of new technology, which will shortly release a discussion paper to frame the second round of consultations. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Ms June Oscar AO, is leading the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project, amplifying the voices of Indigenous women and girls, and that is also to report early next year. Our National Children's Commissioner, Ms Megan Mitchell, who will be concluding her now seven-year term as Australia's first Children's Commissioner next year, will shortly release her seventh annual national children's report, which reflects on Australia's progress under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, following Australia's periodic review just recently in September.

Our new Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Ben Gauntlett, is considering follow-up measures in relation to Australia's progress under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities following Australia's appearance for its periodic review under that convention, also last month. The Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Hon. Dr Kay Patterson AO, is undertaking educational and implementation activities in relation to the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians, or elder abuse. Our Race Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Chin Tan, is conducting national consultations with members of the Australian Muslim community about their needs and experiences of discrimination, Islamophobia and hate speech, and their right to practise safely their religion, with a focus on building social cohesion. As president of the commission, I am leading the Free and Equal: An Australian Conversation on Human Rights project, which will provide a reform agenda for human rights in Australia by the middle of next year. That project is providing a coalescing focus for all the commissioners' work. I think that will provide you a quick snapshot overview of the range of work undertaken by the commissioners, but today it is just myself and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner with our chief executive, Padma Raman, to provide answers to any questions you might like to raise with us.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for that run down. One of the issues that I particularly wanted to go to is the project that June Oscar is leading, the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project. We've had ongoing reports from Ms Oscar, and I'm wondering when the report will be tabled.

Prof. Croucher : Thank you for your question. The report is being written up at the moment. As to the precise tabling date, that will be, as required under the act, within 15 sitting days of when it is provided. We anticipate early next year.

Senator SIEWERT: I probably should have reframed that. You can't tell me exactly when it's going to be tabled. My question was more: when it's going to be finalised? Because I understand it's a very, very significant piece of work, and I'm anticipating some very significant and important findings. I'm aware that it'll be a bit later, as I understand it, because of the significance of the project and the extent of the work.

Prof. Croucher : We're anticipating completion at the end of March. The tabling would flow from that time.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I just go to the work of Dr Patterson and the work that she's doing on elder abuse. I'm aware of some of that excellent work. Has Dr Patterson or the commission considered the issues around sexual abuse in aged care? I'm aware of some work that's being done there, but I'm not seeing it being picked up more broadly. There's a great deal of concern that, while elder abuse is now, rightly, getting addressed, the issues around sexual abuse, which I realise can be quite confronting in aged care, is an issue that, listening to some of the work that's going on, isn't getting the attention it requires.

Prof. Croucher : I would anticipate that matters such as that would be covered by the royal commission that is looking at aged care at the moment. I will need to corroborate with Dr Patterson's team on whether they have done specific work on the topic, but otherwise I think Dr Patterson has taken the approach of leaving the royal commission to do its work and that her work will be complementing the initiatives to get greater implementation of the recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's report on elder abuse.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, what was that?

Prof. Croucher : The Law Reform Commission's report on elder abuse, which I had the great privilege to lead in my last role. Dr Patterson has been most interested in ensuring as much implementation of the recommendations in that report gets done as she can during her term.

Senator SIEWERT: I realise that the royal commission is being undertaken at the moment, but we're not waiting for the royal commission to finish before we do other reforms in aged care. In fact, there is very active discussion around a whole lot of reforms going on, including more legislation introduced just last week, so I'm not sure why we're leaving sexual abuse to be addressed until the royal commission reports.

Prof. Croucher : I know from my knowledge of Dr Patterson's work that she has been focusing on some of the topics that perhaps don't get as much attention, like the risk of homelessness for older women—that's been a particular concern in her work—and addressing issues of stereotyping ageism problems. But I can certainly ask her team if they have done any specific work on that.

Senator SIEWERT: While I'm not taking away from those two very important issues at all, I would argue strongly that sexual abuse in aged care is something that is definitely not getting the attention it deserves. Again, I appreciate it's a very tricky topic, but it's one that is not getting the attention it deserves. I'll ask again, why isn't that issue—given the importance of the other two issues—getting the attention it deserves?

Prof. Croucher : I think you raising it today gives it attention.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for that, but I want to know, where to from here. You've said you'll raise it with her team. Could you take it on notice?

Prof. Croucher : I'd be very happy to.

Senator SIEWERT: I appreciate it. I have one last question and then I'll hand over. I've raise this before, and I'm wondering if this has been raised with you again since I last asked. Have you had complaints, specifically about access to the disability support pension?

Prof. Croucher : I can't answer that off the top of my head, but I'll provide that response on notice as well.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could, and could you also take this on notice: the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations released a series of three reports on the DSP and the effectiveness, or the ineffectiveness, of the DSP as it relates to the extra cost of health for somebody living with a disability on both DSP and Newstart, and the issues around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and disability. The third one, for the minute, escapes my recollection, but there's a series of three very excellent reports. Have you or Doctor Patterson had a chance to look at those reports in terms of their impact on older Australians?

Prof. Croucher : Again, I'll have to consult her.

Senator SIEWERT: And there are also issues around women living with a disability. Could you also take on notice whether our new disability commissioner has had a chance to look at it yet.

Prof. Croucher : Certainly. I'll ascertain the answers with the relevant team.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you very much.

Senator KITCHING: Professor Croucher, good to see you. Can I ask a couple of questions regarding Ms Christina Ryan, the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute. I'm not sure whether you're aware that recently Ms Ryan visited Parliament House, on 17 September. She was handled by security staff in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable: her belongings were handled without her permission and she was asked to move clothing. I understand that Ms Ryan has previously made two complaints to the commission about the Department of Parliamentary Services. What are you able to tell me about those complaints?

Prof. Croucher : I'm not able to disclose anything.

Senator KITCHING: That is fair enough.

Prof. Croucher : We have strict—

Senator KITCHING: What about the dates of the complaints?

Prof. Croucher : I can't even provide that.

Senator KITCHING: Can you advise whether you've received any other complaints about the Department of Parliamentary Services?

Prof. Croucher : I certainly couldn't off the top of my head.

Senator KITCHING: That's fine.

Prof. Croucher : But those matters are also handled within the constraints of our confidentiality provisions.

Senator KITCHING: So you wouldn't be able to give the number of complaints where the Department of Parliamentary Services would be the respondent either?

Prof. Croucher : I can check to see whether we have received such complaints and whether I can give you a generalised response.

Senator KITCHING: That would be great; thank you. A media article which detailed this incident quoted the department as saying:

The department will ensure that if any shortcomings are identified they will be appropriately addressed.

Is the commission aware of whether any shortcomings have been addressed?

Prof. Croucher : I can't discuss, nor do I have specific knowledge of, any particular matter to which you refer. What I will say is that, when complaints are handled through our processes, it is very often the outcome that we get systemic changes of the kind that you have described.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. Does the commission provide, or does it suggest, cultural and sensitivity training for organisations, and are you aware of whether the Department of Parliamentary Services have completed any such training?

Prof. Croucher : We undertake a whole range of trainings, and certainly disability training is one of the highlights of the kinds of support work we can provide, but I'm not aware of any such training being given to the body you refer to.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. We'll put that on notice back to the department. You would also give training to organisations on how a visitor to Parliament House wearing religious garments should be treated, for example?

Prof. Croucher : Providing education training initiatives is part of the really good work that we can undertake, and we have done it regularly and continue to do so.

Senator KITCHING: I'll leave it there, but thank you very much for that.

Prof. Croucher : And maybe I could give you one illustration. One of the recent resources that we developed was 'How to have a conversation about racism'. It's an illustration of the kinds of support resources that we provide.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you, and thank you for the work you do.

Senator WATERS: I have a number of questions. Let's start off with the work that you've done about sexual assault on campus. I understand that the report was released in 2017, which I think was just a smidge before your time—correct me if I'm wrong. No? I'm in a time warp! Anyway: on the 2017 report, which led to various recommendations—and I understand you wrote to universities earlier this year effectively to find out what's been done—can you give me an update on how they're tracking with acting on those recommendations?

Ms Jenkins : That report was released on 1 August 2017. I commenced in 2016, so time flies. It was the first major piece of work I completed in the role. Since that time—it's now more than two years—we have written at regular intervals to ask all 39 universities to update us on their progress, particularly against the nine recommendations we made towards the universities. We've found that the universities have been very keen to respond to those requests, and we put their responses on our website. So, anyone who is interested to see the progress and the steps that have been taken can look at our website. I think originally we contacted them at three months then 12 months and then I think 18 months. I know that information is used by TEQSA, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, and it has been taken quite seriously from universities. So, I'm very heartened and encouraged. I'm absolutely clear that this issue has not been resolved or solved, and I look forward to the next survey that will be done in the coming year to measure progress and that it be made publicly available. But there has been a lot of activity since that time, which I think really reinforces for the commission and for the public that having a really strong review based on data publicly available supports organisations to make positive progress on things like sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Senator WATERS: Indeed. That was a very important body of work. I can go and chase up some of those details. Thank you. But are you able to give me a distillation, in general terms, as to whether those recommendations are being acted upon and implemented? What's your rough assessment of the various responses the 39 unis have given?

Ms Jenkins : All universities accepted most of the recommendations, and most universities accepted all—if that makes sense. So we have seen a huge amount of momentum. If I go to the areas of the recommendations, one was about governance and leadership. Most universities have established specific groups within the university, led at a senior level of people who are tasked to implement the recommendations to report against them, including getting external advice. There were also recommendations about education and prevention, and I think you'll even have seen in the newspapers that a lot of universities have really improved their consent training and training for students in particular when they start on appropriate conduct.

There were also recommendations about responses. We observed that students generally didn't know where to respond and had difficulty getting the help they needed. So there has again been a lot of work done to review policies to ensure that the services available are appropriate. Some universities have partnered with sexual assault services to provide a more regular service to make sure that more support is available. The second-last area was measurement and transparency. When some of us ask for this information it is part of us taking the initiative, but we asked for universities to actually publicly report against how they were going and to do another survey, and that is planned for the next 12 months.

The last area of action was that we asked that all universities that had residential colleges conduct an independent review of those colleges. The statistics told us that, while something like seven per cent of students lived on university campus, 34 per cent of sexual assaults happened in residential locations. So what we identified was that they were a more high-risk area and our survey had not particularly targeted that information. Many universities have undertaken that review and most have publicly published the results. The commission did the review for the University of New England, but there are a number of other reports out. I think it's really helpful to be able to read those reports and understand the different drivers and what action has undertaken.

As a general comment, all of those areas have had action. I am very positive about it. I absolutely have been told by students and communities that universities have changed as a result. From within universities, the thing I have been told—and I'm sure it's not true across the board—is that one of the biggest changes has been a better engagement with the student population, and also student services, with the leadership to collectively bring about change. Having said that, I absolutely expect that the next survey will still show us that we should be concerned about sexual harassment and sexual assault. We know it is a huge community-wide problem, and the stats tell us that groups of young people face a higher risk than the broader community. I absolutely would not say that this work is done, but I think the advocacy from people outside of universities has been really important to create the spotlight and the change that we are seeing. That spotlight continues, and I think it is warranted. I look forward to more action from the universities.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. That was a really useful summary. I will stick with that issue before we go to the detailed UNE report, which I'm also interested in. Are any of those nine recommendations pertaining to the unis being less acted on, or are any unis doing less than their comparators? Are there any real outliers that you think warrant special mention?

Ms Jenkins : No, I don't. I've seen a lot of work across the universities. There have been things that have been piloted at different universities that interest me to see—apps in some places restorative justice systems in others, and different partnerships. I wouldn't say there is one fabulous uni and I wouldn't say there are any that are terrible. I think they are all really conscious that this is an important issue that needs action. I could go through and provide you with some specifics, but, like the sexual harassment inquiry that I'm conducting, it worries me when we take an issue and then highlight one and say it is the particularly bad one. Actually, I think they all have a concern and I don't want anyone to say they are the good one or the bad one. I do think there are some excellent leaders who are really passionate about the topic. Even then, some of those universities aren't the best universities. So I'm hesitant to name anyone in particular for that reason.

Senator WATERS: That's fine. I think you've done that question justice. Would you mind providing on notice some more examples of some of the actions that have been adopted. I am interested in whether you think they could potentially have a broader application outside of the university context. Could these be useful mechanisms to tackle sexual harassment in other places? You mentioned the apps and the restorative justice. If you've got the time, it would be great to have a summation of all the different ways—pilots and things that have been trialled—and a reflection on whether you think there is a broader utility and a potentially broader application.

Can I take you now to the UNE report about the res colleges. You mentioned that a number of other universities had commissioned independent reports on this issue, but I think it is only UNE that has asked you to do the report.

Ms Jenkins : Yes.

Senator WATERS: Firstly, how many of those other res colleges have commissioned independent reports?

Ms Jenkins : I have known that at moments in time but, right now, I can't tell you exactly. I can come back to you and give you that number.

Senator WATERS: Okay. Thank you. Can you recall if it is the bulk of them or just a tiny fraction?

Ms Jenkins : There are quite a few. If there are 39 universities, I want to say it is more than 20—

Senator WATERS: So it's more than half?

Ms Jenkins : I do believe that. And I also do recognise that some universities really don't have residential colleges of the nature that that recommendation related to. So I wouldn't expect it of them.

Senator WATERS: Can you come back to me on notice with the relevant proportion of unis that have res colleges and how many have acted on that recommendation to undertake further research.

Ms Jenkins : Yes.

Senator WATERS: Coming now to the UNE review, what were the key findings?

Ms Jenkins : Off the top of my head—and remembering that I have done a whole lot of other work since that time—we still identified that sexual harassment and sexual assault did occur regularly. That was consistent with the previous survey, so the statistics didn't tell us that much difference. In particular, there was still a very gendered nature to the experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Whilst it certainly was experienced by men as well as women, it was predominantly women who experienced it and predominantly men who were the perpetrators. We identified that there were still issues about initiation ceremonies or hazing conduct, and that the service of alcohol was still an issue in relation to those things. We looked at things like the student support services out of hours, who were the lead students, and how well they were trained to be able to deal with disclosures or concerns as they arose. I am doing this off the top of my head. There are five or six key themes and the recommendations were steps that could be taken by all the colleges around those particular areas.

Senator WATERS: Broader application. Okay, that's good. Thank you. I will stick with sexual harassment. I find this area really interesting, so my apologies to everyone else for going on at length. The sexual harassment survey which you conducted last year—and I think that is the fourth time it's been done—found that 85 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, which is a phenomenally large amount, yet only 17 per cent pursue complaints. I would like to hear what you think are the main barriers to women reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.

Ms Jenkins : As you know, Senator Waters, those results have been used for our national inquiry that is currently underway, where we are focusing very heavily on what can be done to assist with making people feel more comfortable to report and, more importantly, to prevent.

Senator WATERS: Good. And I have some questions on that soon, too.

Ms Jenkins : We have identified that only 17 per cent of people who experience sexual harassment complain. The statistic I use even more frequently than the statistic you have used—about 85 per cent—is that one in three Australian workers has been sexually harassed in the last five years. The reason I intentionally use that statistic is that I fear that people think sexual harassment is something that used to happen in the old days. Certainly, some of the media reporting—the one that got a lot of coverage in 2007 was Don Burke. If you are of an age, Don Burke is from a long time ago in the past. So quite often when I am talking about this I do focus on the more recent sexual harassment. The stats are that 39 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men have been sexually harassed in the last five years. Again, as I said before, four in five of the harassers are men, both men and women are more likely to be harassed by a man and, in particular, young people are at the highest risk.

Those are some of the stats that that survey told us. Those results are really important, because most people think this is from the past. I'm often told, 'Surely, things are better?' I know these questions are coming up. Actually, we need to highlight that things are not better but we can do better. It has been consistent over the four surveys we've done since 2003 that reporting is very low. About 17 per cent is where it has stayed. It hasn't increased. Indeed, I would point out that that survey was done after the Me Too movement started. I don't foreshadow any huge increase in complains about sexual harassment because what I've heard from talking around the country is that women and men don't want to complain but they do want it to stop.

The fears about sexual harassment are: 'I won't be believed'; 'It's not serious enough for me to do anything about'—so it feels like it has to be much more physical or more serious—'Nothing will happen as a result'; 'I will suffer as a result' or 'I actually don't want to effect this person's career; I'd just like the conduct to change.' There are multiple reasons why people really say, 'I don't want to complain.' Some of it is about feeling like it's not serious enough, because the narrative is that you shouldn't complain unless it's really bad. I think, underneath it, from most of the conversations I had, it was about, 'I can't afford to lose my job,' and that's true for everyone everywhere. It feels too risky.

In lots of the thinking we're doing, we're still very interested in a victim-centric process, but also really focused on stopping the victims being the ones required to raise the issue and shifting the responsibility to employers to make sure that they're responsible to stop the sexual harassment, not waiting for someone to complain and seeing if they're prepared to have the courage and fortitude to survive a complaint process before action is taken.

Senator WATERS: What can be done by your office and indeed by workplaces to better breakdown the barriers that mitigate against people who are being targeted for speaking out?

Ms Jenkins : You would be aware that my office has been supported by government to do a large national inquiry on sexual harassment. Our focus right now is 100 per cent on identifying, as a country, how we can change this. We're part of a global conversation about sexual harassment, and we have done as well as the survey. We've got 460 submissions, we've had consultations right across the country in regional and metropolitan centres and we're currently in the throes of writing a significant report that we will launch early next year that goes to the key changes that we believe would make a difference in Australia. We know there is international interest.

I'll give you some headlines of the areas that we will be looking at. Firstly, we've identified that we could make some changes, definitely, on awareness and education right across our community. It's surprising how poorly educated people are on sexual harassment now. Secondly, we're looking at how the laws interact. We have the Sex Discrimination Act. We also have workplace laws and safety laws that have a role to play. We are looking really hard at how they can be strengthened to help prevent sexual harassment. Lastly, we're looking at the role in workplaces of what employers are doing and how they should do it differently. As I describe all that, we've had uniform interest and positive response to what we're trying to do. It's no longer this view that you're just being difficult. We have definitely heard from government. There's an interest from employers and employees in unions. We feel it's the right time, and we hope—I really hope—that there'll be real traction when that report comes out and that it's really significant and the most substantial piece of work on this topic since the Sex Discrimination Act started.

Senator WATERS: Well done. I wish you all the best with the report. Chair, I've got two other really small blocks I could probably knock off in a couple of minutes. I'm sorry I've taken so long.

CHAIR: I want to facilitate you being able to go to other committees if you wish, but I'm conscious that I need to share the call around. Labor senators, are you troubled if I—

Senator KIM CARR: How about 10 minutes on the Human Rights Commission? I did indicate to you earlier today that we would do our best to get things back on track. To those who are listening in: I will certainly be seeking to put on notice questions to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and the office of the Ombudsman so that we can just move this along a bit.

CHAIR: Okay. Crossbench senators, I guess, will need to—

Senator KIM CARR: I understand that, but it's just to advise other committee members that my intention is to push this at a greater speed.

CHAIR: So you've got about 10 minutes here. I've got a few questions here—

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, I've got about 10 minutes.

CHAIR: Senator Steele-John?

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Yes, I've got about 10 or 15 minutes worth of questions.

CHAIR: In this context, and given that most of the time in this session has been occupied, without judgement of course, by Greens senators, I'll let you finish, Senator Waters, and then we'll go to Senator Carr.

Senator WATERS: Thank you, Chair, and thanks everybody else for your patience. I have a few quick questions on some other topics, Ms Jenkins. Firstly, equal remuneration orders. I understand that various folks can apply for those, including yourself. My question is: have you ever had cause to do so?

Ms Jenkins : No, I haven't had cause in my term—

Senator WATERS: On behalf of others, of course, not on behalf of yourself—I would hope.

Ms Jenkins : No.

Senator WATERS: I understand that section 13 of the federal act provides that it doesn't apply to state government agencies because obviously the state laws do, but some of those state laws have got quite restrictive caps on available compensation. Do you keep a record of how many complaints you receive that you can't deal with because of that section 13?

Prof. Croucher : May I take that? We could check to see whether that has come up, just as a general matter.

Senator WATERS: Okay.

Prof. Croucher : The issue of the relationship of the federal legislation to state legislation is one of the topics that we've included in our discussion paper on federal discrimination law reform.

Senator WATERS: Okay. I'm not across the paper. Has that one been put out already?

Prof. Croucher : Yes; that's part of the national conversation project that I mentioned in my opening remarks.

Senator WATERS: Okay; I didn't quite clock that. I think it's an important topic. Would you mind taking on notice how many folk you have had to say to, by virtue of section 13, 'go elsewhere'?

Prof. Croucher : We may be able to provide a generalised answer to that question.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. And I'll certainly take a look at that discussion paper. An ANAO report has previously recommended that those state based compensation caps be removed. I'm wondering if your office has undertaken any advocacy in that regard.

Ms Jenkins : This question did come up in the national inquiry, and we have considered it. Generally speaking, it's a state jurisdiction and so it's not something we would be involved with, but we have given it some consideration for the national inquiry.

Senator WATERS: All right. Thank you so much for your time, and keep up the good work. Thank you, Chair, for your indulgence.

Senator KIM CARR: I thank you for your opening statement, where you outlined the priorities for the commission, but can I draw your attention to the question of resourcing. Do you have any concerns about the level of resourcing that the commission has to actually meet your work plans?

Prof. Croucher : Resourcing is something that we always welcome. There are as many human rights projects as we could do.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, I know, and, in one sense, if you ask a public servant, 'Do you have enough money?' there can only be one answer. I asked this in all seriousness, and I want to speak specifically here about the National Anti-Racism Strategy. I don't think you mentioned that in your list, so what's happened to that?

Prof. Croucher : That's still ongoing. What I did in my opening remarks, Senator, was I singled out an example of each commissioner's work, and that, particularly for the Race Discrimination Commissioner, is something that he's developed as a different aspect, as a signature aspect of his early work. The resourcing for commissioners is always an ongoing question, but we have such conversations sensibly with the department.

Senator KIM CARR: Let me come back to this question. The Anti-Racism Strategy was launched in August 2012. It was to run for three years. In 2015 it was extended for a further three years. That has obviously expired, so what's happened to it?

Prof. Croucher : We've absorbed it into our current work plan. It's continuing, but the extent to which programs can be sustained or expanded will go back, always, to a resourcing question.

Senator KIM CARR: All right; so you're saying it's absorbed by other programs. 'Absorbed'—is that a fair description?

Prof. Croucher : The resources that are available have to be absorbed within the commission's resources.

Senator KIM CARR: How much did it cost?

Prof. Croucher : I can't give you that answer off the top of my head.

Senator KIM CARR: You will take that on notice, please.

Prof. Croucher : I certainly can do that.

Senator KIM CARR: So what anti-racism programs are being run?

Prof. Croucher : I mentioned, in response to a question from Senator Kitching, that the commission developed some resources in relation to how to have a conversation about racism. They were produced at the same time as the screening of The Final Quarter, the movie concerning Adam Goodes, was released. The commission saw developing those resources as a sensible contribution to anti-racism strategies. The series of conversations that Chin Tan is holding with Muslim communities are a part of that building of social cohesion, as one of the arms for combating racism is to build a sense of cohesion in communities.

Senator KIM CARR: We have an awful tendency in this country, when we talk about these things, to mention Islamic issues; however, the reality is, as ASIO has identified in its annual report, that it's right-wing extremists and extremist groups and Neo-Fascist groups that have been most active in these areas. In terms of racism, it's been white supremacist groups, not Islamic groups. The recent actions in New Zealand, which were actually undertaken by an Australian, if my memory serves me correctly, demonstrated that it was these types of fascist organisations that were of greatest threat. ASIO is making this point too, even belatedly. So to what extent do you think that the failure to act on these anti-racism issues actually poses a serious threat to national security?

Prof. Croucher : I will answer that by pointing to the fact that these issues are of concern. The rise of the far Right extremist propaganda and other related activities are of concern to our Race Discrimination Commissioner. His particular concern with Muslim communities arose in the wake of the Christchurch mosque killings. It was a strategy that he embarked upon that was prompted by those killings, but it is certainly a matter of great concern to him. This is his first year in the role, and he is developing a range of programs and possibilities that can address such concerns as the ones that you've raised.

Senator KIM CARR: But I want to emphasise this point to you; I want to labour this point. Duncan Lewis, in ASIO's 2019-20 annual report, said:

The recent tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year have brought the right-wing extremist threat back into focus. This threat is not something new, but current extreme right-wing networks are better organised and more sophisticated than those of the past.

He continues:

The threat from the extreme right wing in Australia has increased in recent years. Extreme right-wing groups in Australia are more cohesive and organised than they have been over previous years, and will remain an enduring threat. Any future extreme right-wing-inspired attack in Australia would most likely be low capability and conducted by a lone actor or small group, although a sophisticated weapons attack is possible.

So I say to you: there is a serious issue that does affect national security questions, sufficiently serious for ASIO to pick it up. My question to the Human Rights Commission is: don't you have a responsibility to pick this up as well?

Prof. Croucher : I share your concerns, as does the Race Discrimination Commissioner.

Senator KIM CARR: And that means that resourcing has to be provided. You can't just absorb these questions.

Prof. Croucher : Indeed. And, as with the national inquiry on sexual harassment in the workplace, that has been supported by government funding. A range of our initiatives—we can do more with sensible partnerships, and we welcome them.

CHAIR: What part of the statute that establishes your agency says that your organisation has a responsibility insofar as there is that contact with national security?

Prof. Croucher : The language of the statute is very generalised. The role of each of the commissioners is very generalised in terms of advocacy in the areas that sit within it. The commission works within the framework of international treaty commitments that Australia has signed up to over nearly 50 years now. So it is a general concern. It's not a specific one but a general concern with matters that go to the individual human rights of everyone in this country.

CHAIR: Are you briefed or do you get access to the national security information that would be needed to be able to make informed policy decisions about how we adapt to this problem?

Prof. Croucher : Not specifically, but when matters arise of a parliamentary nature, we are always there putting in a submission and drawing human rights concerns that such legislation may raise.

CHAIR: I interrupted you, Senator Carr. I beg your pardon.

Senator KIM CARR: I want to ask about a matter that is, I think, parallel—that is the issue around the Your Right to Know campaign, which has been launched by media organisations over the weekend. Can you outline, just briefly, the status of the freedom of political communication rights in Australia and how it intersects with other rights?

Prof. Croucher : I can give you an answer on that question. The freedom of political communication is one that is implied in our constitutional fabric. So, in that sense, it's part of our common law and our constitutional interpretation. It invokes a proportionality approach, which is a familiar approach in international human rights jurisprudence as well. It is a key area on which the commission has paid attention. We have been granted leave to intervene on a number of matters that raise freedom of political communication, most recently the Banerjee matter in which we were intervening as an amicus of the court. Is that a sufficient answer to your question?

Senator KIM CARR: I wanted to be clear that you have this on your radar. In terms of freedom of political communication that you've described, that has quite clear implications for our democratic system. It's somewhat opaque, given that we don't have a formalised bill of rights type approach. A lot of this is through implied rights. What work does the Human Rights Commission undertake with journalists and news organisations in terms of their capacity and journalists' capacity to investigate matters that might be regarded as the capacity to report on the work of governments?

Prof. Croucher : I'm not entirely sure where that question is going.

Senator KIM CARR: Where is it going? Have you had any involvement at all in the Your Right to Know campaign?

Prof. Croucher : I'm aware of it both in my previous role in law reform where a range of—

Senator KIM CARR: Has the Human Rights Commission had any role?

Prof. Croucher : Not directly. We are involved in the kinds of matters that the Your Right to Know campaign may be involved in, because where they do give rise to important matters of human rights, we are there.

Senator KIM CARR: Recently there have been studies undertaken of Australia's comparative position in regard to democratic rights. At the centre down here at the Museum of Democracy, there are various approaches that have been indicated. Australia has slipped from 21st in the world in the 2019 world press freedom index quite dramatically in terms of a whole range of indicators. Are you familiar with any of those studies about our position internationally when it comes to democratic rights?

Prof. Croucher : Yes, indeed. And we provided the opportunity for people to be involved in such conversations through the national conversation project I mentioned in my opening marks. One of the key papers we have released goes to a positive framing of rights in Australia, in which it is put that, clearly, an Australian bill of rights or some sort of charter holds the strongest possibility of bringing freedom of speech into a positive legislative framework, rather than relying on the constitutional implied right to freedom of political communication. And there's a whole range of ways in that where that whole approach of having a positive framing of rights, that starts with the decision-making processes themselves and works through the parliamentary processes and even into the way the decisions are made in court, is a great opportunity. I think right now the time is really ripe for having those conversations about how we improve the way that freedom of speech, press freedom and those matters are balanced in a way that respects national security concerns but also provides the opportunity to have the arguments from a free speech standpoint.

Senator KIM CARR: Has the commission a concern about the growing sense of the culture of secrecy across Commonwealth agencies?

Prof. Croucher : The inquiry that I led in my law reform role was precisely on secrecy, and in that law reform role we made a whole raft of recommendations for changing the way that secrecy provisions, particularly the one in the Crimes Act, are framed. Indeed, it was heartening to see some response to that even last year, with an amendment to the Crimes Act provisions, which were, in very broad terms, about the secrecy provisions imposed in relation to Commonwealth information.

Senator KIM CARR: But have you detected a trend towards less compliance with FOI laws, for instance?

Prof. Croucher : I can't make an observation about that. The concern about the way that national security can be used, even in a bipartisan way, to intrude upon rights without proper safeguards and counterbalances is a matter that the commission always draws attention to in the submissions that we make in relation to particular bills.

Senator KIM CARR: There's also the question of compliance with international human rights conventions. That's a matter that's been before this the parliament on numerous occasions. You've put views on that matter.

Prof. Croucher : Indeed. That's the whole framework of the interventions we make in parliament in relation to bills that are before parliament or parliamentary inquiries. The framing, in terms of our statutory mandate, is to draw to the attention of parliament where international human rights obligations would suggest a different framing of the laws.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I do not believe we have Dr Ben Gauntlett with us this afternoon—do we?

Prof. Croucher : No, he was not called.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Would you mind if I put some questions to yourself in your role?

Prof. Croucher : I'd welcome any questions you would like to put and I will answer to the best of my ability.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: And if you can't answer them, I'm more than happy to place them on notice for Mr Gauntlett to respond to.

Prof. Croucher : We'll take them on notice.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Since he took up his role in the commission, Dr Gauntlett has published two articles on the AHRC website summarising an analysis of the government's presentation to the 22nd session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that recently concluded in Geneva. The articles flag concerns specifically in relation to the continued practice of forced sterilisation of disabled people here in Australia. I've got some particular quotes from Dr Gauntlett speaking to the nature of those concerns. I'm wondering whether the commission is conducting any further work, research analysis, around the practice of forced sterilisation in relation to disabled people here in Australia.

Prof. Croucher : As you alluded to, Dr Gauntlett is the newest of our commissioners in the role, and he's had a very busy early period by virtue of the fact that he had to lead our appearance before the committee last month, so it's been very rapid. In his first year, he will be evolving, developing, the program that he will land on, and I am sure that his work will be informed by the sorts of matters that he drew the committee's attention to, but the particular areas that Dr Gauntlett seeks to pursue we will explore with him over the next few months.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Fantastic. As a follow-up to that: a Mr Andrew Walter, a First Assistant Secretary from the Attorney-General's Department, made quite a few contributions on behalf of the Australian delegation in relation to this matter; at one point he contributed that the cessation of a disabled woman's menstrual cycle would take place when it is in her best interests and would be seen as the only reasonable and practical way of dealing with the social, sanitary or other problems associated with menstruation. I'm just wondering whether the commission, in any way, shape or form, had input, or contact with Mr Walter, or indeed anyone else in relation to the delegation, before he made that contribution on behalf of Australia?

Prof. Croucher : No.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: No, you don't think they did, or—

Prof. Croucher : We don't know. We'd have to—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: You didn't engage with the delegation?

Prof. Croucher : We'd have to take that as a specific question that I would consult him on.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: All right. Thank you. I'm trying to frame this in a way that doesn't actually solicit a personal opinion. As to forced sterilisation—and I think we have been told now by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the CEDAW and the United Nations High Commissioner to Australia, who have made the point continually that Australia is a state party to the convention and has an obligation, regardless of a view of the devolution of powers to states, to have laws in relation to the prohibition of forced sterilisation—is it still the commission's position that this is a piece of implementing legislation that the Australian government should pursue?

Prof. Croucher : The issue continues to be of concern to the commission, as was raised during the course of our appearance before the UN committee. The best mechanism for that, whether it's federal or a combination of federal and state laws, is a matter that would need to be considered. But, in terms of the issue, the issue most certainly is one of concern.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I just might ask a follow-up question of the minister, in your capacity as leader of the Office for Women. Could you let me know whether your office has undertaken any work in relation to the intersections of women and disabled women and reproductive rights, particularly in relation to forced sterilisation?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure if the office specifically has. I'd be very happy to take that up with the director, of course. I did have a very interesting discussion—if I may just elucidate slightly—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Yes.

Senator Payne: with Carolyn Frohmader as the Executive Director—I believe that is her title—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Yes, indeed.

Senator Payne: of Women with Disabilities Australia, who attended a roundtable that I held in Hobart about two weeks ago of peak women's organisations, key women's organisations, in Tasmania. That was certainly an issue she raised at the roundtable, and the Office for Women convene or bring together those roundtables for me, so it is a matter which has been placed on our agenda in that context.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Wonderful. I don't know whether this might be slightly pre-emptive, but is it your intention to advance this issue with the Attorney-General's Department as to whether there is more we could do?

Senator Payne: I think that is slightly pre-emptive, but I appreciate you raising it and certainly note your interest.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Thank you very much. That will do me.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Steele-John. Senator Chisholm, are you waiting to ask questions?

Senator CHISHOLM: No.

CHAIR: You're ready for the next session? That is good. I might ask a few questions, unless coalition senators had something to raise? Okay. I'll apply the same standard.

Senator KIM CARR: Chair, I've put questions on for the Inspector General, if we want to move—

CHAIR: We can put them on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: We will?

CHAIR: Yes. Okay.

Senator KIM CARR: Are we—

CHAIR: I'd like to ask a few questions, and then—

Senator KIM CARR: It is up to you. I just sought your guidance on where we want to go for the next section.

CHAIR: Senator Chisholm, you're not wanting the IGIS?

Senator CHISHOLM: No, I'm for the Information Commissioner.

CHAIR: Let's just give Senator Patrick's office an opportunity to respond, because he may have an interest, and then, as soon as we've got confirmation there—

Senator KIM CARR: We've given them plenty of notice.

CHAIR: That's true. I agree. I just wouldn't want to be accused of unfairness. We'll give him that moment and then, with a bit of luck, we'll be able to send those officers on their way too.

I wanted to ask a question of Ms Jenkins in the context of some of the questions that were asked a little bit earlier by Senator Waters about recent reports that have been produced in the context of universities trying to do all they can to eradicate sexual assault and harassment—a cause which is of course very worthy; I wouldn't want my questions to be regarded as suggesting anything but that. What I wanted to ask, though, is: have you read the report that TEQSA has prepared called, Report to the Minister for Education: higher education sector response to the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment?

Ms Jenkins : Is that the one from January this year?

CHAIR: Yes, that's the one.

Ms Jenkins : Yes.

CHAIR: Has it factored into the work that you've been doing, or did you work with TEQSA in helping them prepare that?

Ms Jenkins : It was the other way round. The information in that report was taken from our website.

CHAIR: So it was about implementing your work in a practical sense?

Ms Jenkins : That's right.

CHAIR: On page 8 of that report, there's a section about what the appropriate procedures are for responding to somebody who makes an allegation that they have experienced this kind of conduct. It quite rightly goes through a whole lot of steps to take to protect the wellbeing of a person who's making an allegation of experiencing that kind of harm—how you care for their safety, how you make sure that they get access to security and so forth. All of that makes sense to me. What concerns me about the report, though, is that there's no section that provides for the proper way of investigating these types of concerns in a way that both protects the rights of the person making the allegation and also ensures appropriate standards of proof and natural justice to make sure that findings have an intellectual rigour that means they are respected and to make sure that we are getting these calls right—that we're not badging somebody unfairly or in circumstances where there's insufficient evidence of wrongdoing. Did that aspect—the investigatory and university-discipline-and-enforcement aspect—come into your work, which fed into the TEQSA report?

Ms Jenkins : I can't speak on behalf of TEQSA.

CHAIR: That's okay.

Ms Jenkins : How the system works is that they're the agency that considers the university as part of the government relationship. At the point that we did our research, TEQSA had not particularly focused on sexual harassment and sexual assault in universities. So, when it was looking at its funding model and whether the universities met the standards that they might set, this was not one of the factors that was a high priority. I'm not sure where it sat. So your concern about TEQSA I can't answer.

CHAIR: That's okay. I'm more interested in the underlying work you did that fed into TEQSA's work.

Ms Jenkins : And the question is a really good one. If I combine the university work with the workplace sexual harassment inquiry, the same issues apply, even though the university work was focused on students. What did come up through the university survey and the submission process—we got over 1,800 submissions—was the frustration about the responses by universities, including investigations. Primarily the complaints were from people who'd made complaints, but we also know of and had heard of fears about a lack of natural justice and how the response was dealt with. Our recommendations broadly were: when it was about responses, it included what is an appropriate and safe way, but it wasn't simply a victim focus; it was also about how you handle complaints and bring them to a conclusion.

So my comment to you would be: what you've raised is absolutely a serious concern. Historically, with corporates—and universities are no different—when a complaint of this type comes up, it goes into the hands of lawyers. I think a few people here would be supportive of lawyers, including the chair, but actually what we've heard through the inquiry is that it then spirals into a major adversarial, major investigation. So what I've heard is that the victims find that very stressful and the people accused find it very stressful and it feels like it's not fair, and the organisations find that it takes up their resources and it spirals out of control.

So some of what I would say in response to what you're saying—and the Human Rights Commission has over time really given guidance on how you deal with complaints, recognising our industrial laws and unfair dismissal laws and all those things—is that we need a new model that doesn't go straight from, 'Here's an issue' to, 'Can we sack this person?' It goes towards misconduct rather than resolving. So part of my answer to you is: I don't think it's as simple as saying we need better legal processes to make sure it works out that you get the right outcome. Still seeking justice, what you're looking for is an appropriate response that doesn't do more harm than good and a proportionate response to the nature of the issue.

In terms of the report from TEQSA, their focus, which I really welcome, is to be another voice saying, 'Universities, we're watching. We care what you're doing.' But this conversation—and generally I know universities have historically had quite a legal response. I don't think a more legal response is necessarily actually the objective, but an understanding of what the different responses are. But keeping the fairness and natural justice and the focus on the welfare of everyone continues to be important.

CHAIR: I accept what you've got to say about it being fraught. It's a really, really hard issue to get right. You're also right to say one size doesn't necessarily always fit all. There will be some things that are smaller and I guess reconcilable in a simpler way, and a bit of a spectrum to ones that might necessitate a legalistic approach. Though, if I were to observe the approach of universities so far, I'd probably make the opposite observation—that is to say, it hasn't been legally rigorous enough in many ways. There has been, in many ways, a well-meaning attempt to approach it pastorally in relation to victims, but in circumstances where a person who faces an allegation can face consequences that rival the consequences of a criminal prosecution, in the sense that they would lose their reputation, lose their ability to join whatever profession they're training for, potentially lose their ability to get a degree, lose their ability to earn an income—these are all really big consequences. And at the moment we've got a system where these things aren't being determined beyond reasonable doubt. In many cases they're not even clearly being determined on the balance of probabilities. There's no requirement for adducing evidence and no opportunity provided for a person to clearly have a right to contest the evidence against them by calling witnesses of their own. I could go for a long time about a number of the concerns that I've got.

Most universities seem to do a fairly good job of giving notice of the adverse case against a person who's accused, and they make something of an effort to allow a person to reply to the adverse case, though the execution is a little mixed. But, even in a civil case, where you're dealing with a really serious allegation, the Briginshaw standard says that the more serious the allegation is, the higher the standard to which you've got to prove it, and we don't have that operating in universities at the moment either. We don't seem to have a clear presumption of innocence. Indeed, much of the pastoral approach that's being adopted means it's probably the opposite—again, not in an ill-intentioned way but just as a consequence of an attempt to be as helpful as is possible to people who have experienced terrible things. There's no general right of appeal in most cases. There's no right to be legally represented when being interviewed for these sorts of things. And there is no internal independence of process by which a person is dealt with according to these procedures.

With that in mind, what do you think is necessary to ensure that we get the balance right in ensuring we are dealing with incidents sensitively and seriously, because they can't be trivialised, whilst at the same time protecting the rights of people who are unfairly accused or for whom the evidence might take a different colour to the form in which it's alleged?

Ms Jenkins : My comment would be that I've just spent 18 months on a national inquiry considering this, and I don't for one minute suggest that there isn't an important role for a proper process that should be fair to everyone. So I take on board your comments. I also take on board that the majority of people never raise complaints, including victims of sexual assault. I would say that, broadly, the system isn't working for most people, whichever side of this equation they're on, and that it has been really important. The national inquiry, in terms of the workplace, does have a section asking, 'What would be lower-level options, but, if it's serious enough, what is an appropriate response?' I think that would go to your concerns.

It has definitely come up in the conversations. Having been an employment lawyer for 20 years, I do know that it feels like it's got worse and worse over time, rather than better and better. I don't think that was anyone's intent, so I think now is a good time to reconsider.

My response is: I hear what you're saying in terms of the concerns. I've come from the point of being a very committed employment lawyer to realising that sometimes going more legal actually hasn't helped us. But that's not to say you absolutely shouldn't recognise everyone's rights in those processes. It really does bother me, actually, that the public reputational damage harms everyone disproportionately to the incident. I hope I can help change that narrative and that conversation.

CHAIR: The work you're doing now is looking closely at how to resolve these matters?

Ms Jenkins : Yes.

CHAIR: That's very encouraging!

Ms Jenkins : Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Henderson, do you have a follow-up question?

Senator HENDERSON: Thank you, Chair. It's not so much a follow-up question; I just wanted to ask the president a question on another matter. Are you happy if I proceed?


Senator HENDERSON: Thank you. Professor, I would just like to ask you about the work of Dr Kay Patterson, particularly her work concerning the risk of homelessness in older women. In raising this issue, I'm talking about women who are 55 years and older being the fastest-growing cohort of homeless Australians, increasing by 31 per cent between 2011 and 2016. In recognition of this trend and the increasing concern—it's something I raised in my first speech, in fact, in the parliament last week, and I was also very concerned about this as the former Assistant Minister for Housing—how seriously do you regard this issue? What do you believe the solutions are? And what sort of focus do you have on this issue?

Obviously, I note that Dr Patterson is not here today. I would have liked to ask her this question directly, but if you could give me a bit of an overview that would be very much appreciated.

Prof. Croucher : I'm very happy to. It is a concern that Dr Patterson, as a key one in her portfolio, has undertaken a range of initiatives with retirement villages. She's had conversations in places that you may not have expected. I think that perhaps the best way of responding is firstly to say it's a matter of real concern. It is something that Dr Patterson has identified not as a sleeper issue but as one of the issues that can be invisible, but is still a real issue. I suggest that she provide you with a briefing personally in relation to the work that she's been undertaking in that area.

Senator HENDERSON: I had certainly been speaking to Dr Patterson in my previous role, but I just wanted to get an update from you today.

Prof. Croucher : Yes.

Senator HENDERSON: But, thank you, I'll take up that opportunity. Could you provide on notice an overview of her work in that regard? I would be really grateful.

Prof. Croucher : Certainly, we'll provide you with that.

Senator HENDERSON: Could I ask one follow-up question. Ms Jenkins—this was raised in passing, and I accept that—you made a reference to Don Burke and what happens in circumstances where people are subjected to sexual harassment on quite a historical basis. I want to ask you to clarify that comment, recognising that people in the workplace have been subjected to serious harassment over a long period of time—and, also, that gives rise to all sorts of issues of fairness and justice in the way in which these allegations are aired. I want to ask you to clarify that, because, as we obviously understand, alleged conduct which may have happened a long time ago isn't any less serious.

Ms Jenkins : That's right. This issue has come up in the sexual harassment national inquiry. As I said, I conducted 60 consultations around the country. I spoke to people who attended those who experienced sexual harassment five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago, and they spoke to me as if it was yesterday. More devastatingly, they were able to articulate the long-term impacts of that experience. The first thing I will say is: it's become really evident to me that even if sexual harassment is resolved, even if it's settled, it can still leave people unable to get jobs in the industry they want to work in, unable to progress in the way they want to, and affected in the long term. That has come up strongly in the inquiry.

To your question: I guess I am anticipating some of that conversation. Part of the reason why the national inquiry is really helpful right now is, first and foremost, to some degree the Me Too conversation that is referenced. It was started out of the US with high-profile media personalities. The question in Australia is: is this a media problem or is this an issue that we need to do better on? The answer is: it's an issue. We've looked at the economic cost of sexual harassment. When we produce our report there will be, for the first time globally, some information on the cost of sexual harassment to individuals and business as well as to the economy.

One of the things that might go to your question is: if I talk about sexual harassment, not sexual assault—so assuming those legal rights continue—it is very clear that, for sexual harassment from a long time ago, the laws don't continue; you don't have a right of action. So one of the questions that is challenging me but I don't have a settled view on yet is: what options do those people have to seek support or help, even if they can't prosecute something that happened a long time ago in the past because of fairness to the parties? That has come up a lot. It is something that is challenging me, and I'm trying to consider how we can offer a solution. One of the things that has happened in this country and internationally is, in the absence of other avenues, people have sometimes turned to the media. That is when we end up with a conversation in the media, which isn't the same as a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. So I'm mindful of that challenge and that issue, but we haven't had the same outpouring of media on issues of sexual harassment in Australia as in other countries.

Senator HENDERSON: Taking up the point that the chair raised—and I'm not reflecting on any individual whatsoever, including the person whose name has just been raised—what is the commission doing in relation to allegations that are raised whereby the person does not have an appropriate opportunity to defend himself or herself? Obviously, if serious allegations are raised in this context—including in the work you're doing—and there is not an appropriate opportunity to have those allegations tested, that can lead to profound damage also. How do you strike the right balance, including in the context of the inquiry you are running?

Ms Jenkins : The current context is that the Sex Discrimination Act prohibits sexual harassment in certain public spaces—employment, provision of goods and services, and education. If someone experiences sexual harassment in those contexts, they can come to the Human Rights Commission and it's dealt with through our processes. If they don't come to us and they go to the media, that's not a matter that involves us. But I have been considering that and the silencing effect of that process both for individuals and for the people accused.

Senator HENDERSON: What is the result of your considerations?

Ms Jenkins : The national inquiry will be released in February. I'm still considering those matters.

Senator HENDERSON: You don't have any preliminary thoughts in relation to trying to strike that balance?

Ms Jenkins : In terms of the Human Rights Commission and our laws, currently the sexual harassment laws are as they are. We are considering what might happen with the recommendations in relation to that. But this is a global conversation about both silence and publicity, and how you balance transparency as well as confidentiality. So yes, I haven't come to a concluded view.

CHAIR: We're just going to have to sit tight, Senator Henderson, aren't we?

Senator HENDERSON: Thank you very much, Ms Jenkins.

CHAIR: Thank you very much to officers of the Australian Human Rights Commission. We appreciate your assistance today, and you are excused.