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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
23/05/2012
Estimates
ATTORNEY-GENERAL PORTFOLIO
Australian Human Rights Commission

Australian Human Rights Commission

[09:03]

CHAIR: Ms Branson, I welcome you and the commissioners and staff from the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is good to have you here. Do you have an opening statement for us?

Ms Branson : No, I do not.

CHAIR: We will go straight to questions.

Senator FIFIELD: Good morning. I will start with Mr Innes. As the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, you have been quite vocal in your support for a National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is good, and you have welcomed the announcement in the budget of $1 billion over the forward estimates for an NDIS, which I also welcome as a good thing. I would be interested in your thoughts, as someone who has been a strong proponent of the findings of the Productivity Commission work into long-term care and support for people with disabilities. As you know, the Productivity Commission recommended a phasing-in of an NDIS over the best part of seven years, culminating in a full rollout in 2018-19. In the time line and funding profile envisaged by the Productivity Commission, they envisaged $4 billion over the next four financial years. The government's announcement of $1 billion leaves a gap of about $3 billion. I would just be interested in your thoughts as to what the implications of that are for a full rollout of the NDIS.

Senator Ludwig: We have now stretched into policy of the government and you are asking the witness to comment broadly on matters that are hypothetical in nature, so I would ask you, Chair, to ask Senator Fifield to reword it. I do not want to stifle questions in this area. I think we both agree the NDIS is a significant reform, but I am not sure—

Senator FIFIELD: I am happy to rephrase and re-pose the question.

Senator Ludwig: It may even be more likely that the department is the appropriate place to ask questions around NDIS in any event.

Senator FIFIELD: I certainly will be in Finance and FaHCSIA, as I have in PM&C as well. I guess the context for my question is that when the Productivity Commission report was released, Mr Innes, you were very strong in your support for the recommendations and the view that government should endorse them and also in making comment on the night of the budget announcement. I think, in the context where there have been strong comments made about what should happen in relation to an NDIS, that it is therefore appropriate to ask your views as to where a government announcement differs from the recommendations of the Productivity Commission.

Mr Innes : Thank you for the question, Senator. I think that on the night of the budget announcement I said, in effect, that I thought that this announcement of funding was a good platform for the future, and that remains my view. I think that the government has in a number of ways chosen to take a different pathway to the Productivity Commission, but I am very pleased that there is a bipartisan commitment to the NDIS. It is very hard to respond to your question in any more detail. Both the Productivity Commission recommendations and the direction that the government has taken are things in the future, and I suppose it will be easy to analyse once we see how the processes roll out, but I do think that the government's allocation, as I said on the night of the budget, is a good platform for the future and that there is positive commitment on both sides of politics for the scheme to go ahead.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. So you are acknowledging that what was announced in the budget certainly is a step forward which is welcomed but that it is following a different path to that which the Productivity Commission did recommend.

Mr Innes : I think Minister Macklin and others have acknowledged that, and I think that is the case.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. I will just move to questions I have for Mr Innes in relation to accessibility to Parliament House. I recall, Mr Innes, that you wrote to the previous Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services over some accessibility issues. I was pleased to see in the budget that there was $2.5 million allocated over four years for the Department of Parliamentary Services to upgrade accessibility to Parliament House. When I asked the Department of Parliamentary Services in estimates what the scope of those works were they were yet to be determined. I was interested as to whether the Department of Parliamentary Services has consulted with you at all as to what might be priorities for accessibility to this building—wearing your hats both as the relevant commissioner and as someone who is a frequent visitor to this place.

Mr Innes : I certainly had communications with the department and I had responses to the correspondence that I sent. I do no recall the dates of that correspondence but if you were seeking to see that we could make it available. There has not been an ongoing consultation and I have not been as efficient as you as yet and raised the issue of what works this will cover. You are ahead of me. I would be happy to talk to the department, as I am sure would other representatives of disability organisations on the issue. The work seems to have progressed to some extent from my observations this morning as we came through the basement area, and that was where I experienced my difficulties. I am not sure what other works are envisaged but I would always be open to discussing them with the department.

Senator FIFIELD: I did suggest to the Department of Parliamentary Services that it might be good if you were one of the people engaged in consultations. Given that $2.5 million is a significant amount of money, it might save them some grief at future estimates lest they receive further letters from you over issues that could have been avoided with early consultation.

Mr Innes : Yes, thank you.

Senator FIFIELD: I will also be asking, in the Finance and Public Administration estimates, the Electoral Commissioner about the voting for blind and vision impaired people at the next election. But I thought I might take the opportunity to get an update from you as to the work you are doing with the AEC to make sure that people who are blind and vision impaired can have access to a genuinely secret ballot.

Mr Innes : I actually met with the Australian Electoral Commission yesterday on this issue. They have been working through a range of recommendations from the Senate Committee on Electoral Matters. The commissioner felt it was appropriate to meet and have discussions yesterday with me and a number of representatives of organisations of people who are blind or have low vision. I think that it is fair to say that there will be a system in place at the next election to facilitate voting for people who are blind or have low vision. As would be predictable, it will be an easier system to organise if the parliament runs its full term. If the election is earlier than that it may be more of a challenge for the Electoral Commissioner but I think it is one that he feels he can—

Senator FIFIELD: You are not hazarding a view as to the timing of elections?

Mr Innes : I am not, no.

Senator FIFIELD: Just checking.

Mr Innes : I understand that regulations are in the late stages of drafting and that the Electoral Commissioner will seek that those regulations be tabled in parliament quite soon and that that will facilitate his ability to make a system available. It is a little early to determine as yet if the system will be the best system that people who are blind or have low vision would hope for. But whatever the system is, it will facilitate the opportunity for people to vote independently. That is the key issue on these matters.

Senator FIFIELD: You are obviously in discussions with the commissioner about possible options.

Mr Innes : We were. As you would have determined, I am being cautious. I am a little loath to talk about what the Electoral Commissioner may want to announce following the passage of those regulations. But some options and processes were discussed yesterday, and I feel positive about those discussions.

Senator FIFIELD: Is it likely that what the Electoral Commission determines will have the Human Rights Commission stamp of approval, as it were?

Mr Innes : Subject to timing—that we have discussed regulations et cetera—it is likely that what the Electoral Commissioner announces will provide people who are blind or have low vision with an independent vote. There is some discussion around the details of how that may occur. I would be supportive of a process that does that.

Senator FIFIELD: Are you confident that it will be more satisfactory than the arrangements for last election?

Mr Innes : I think it will be as satisfactory as the arrangements for last election. I would like to be clear about the exact system in place before I say that it is more satisfactory. I would need to put that in the context that the arrangements for the last election were fairly satisfactory. They were certainly much better than what has occurred in previous elections. I am recognising progress.

Senator FIFIELD: I will pursue it further with the Electoral Commissioner this afternoon. I now turn to the issue of restrictions on the number of wheelchair-using passengers that some of the low-cost airlines have. We dubbed it the 'two-wheelchair policy' at previous estimates. Can you give us an update as to where that issue is at?

Mr Innes : You are probably aware that there was a determination in the Federal Court in the matter of King and Jetstar. The result of that case was that Jetstar were found to have discriminated against Ms King, but they were successful in their argument of unjustifiable hardship. That matter, as I understand it, is on appeal. I am putting aside any comments on that decision because I do not want to make them while an appeal is underway, except to say that the Australian Human Rights Commission is seeking the approval of the court to make written submissions in that appeal process. I will talk about the policy in general terms. There were some quite specific circumstances which the court took into account when it made its decision and which I expect the appeal court will consider. Putting aside those specific circumstances, I have not changed my view in general terms about the 'two-wheelchair policy'. It is still my view that it is unacceptable to have a class of Australian citizens who are treated in a different way to the majority of Australian citizens. Whilst I can appreciate that there may need to be some limit on the number of passengers who use wheelchairs on a particular aircraft—in the same way as there is a limit on the number of parents who have with them babies in prams on a particular aircraft—my view is that the limit of two is low and arbitrary. I would like to see a process outside the court system by which a more appropriate limit is determined. I think it is unfortunate that this matter has gone through a legal process when perhaps a more effective result might have been determined in a different way.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you know if any of the airlines have a two-pram policy?

Mr Innes : No airline that I am aware of in Australia has a two-pram policy but I am aware that airlines have limits on the number of prams on board. My understanding is that it is much higher. And that is an understandable limit. We are talking about a vehicle that has to defy gravity and has space and weight constraints. I do not think it is unreasonable for there to be a line drawn. I just do not share the view that the line should be drawn at two in the case of people who use wheelchairs,

Senator FIFIELD: Have you had any further discussions with the airlines since we last met in February?

Mr Innes : I sit on the Aviation Access Working Group. We have quarterly discussions with all airlines and my position has not changed. It is not necessary for some airlines to have this policy and Qantas certainly does not have the policy. It seems to me that the manner in which a business is run—the business model being different—should not provide an opportunity for airlines to limit people in the way that this policy does. As I have said, a forum such as the accessible airlines working group would be a much better place to sort out these issues than the court process. But that is not a matter over which I have control.

Senator FIFIELD: Of the complaints that you would receive in a year, what percentage would be in relation to transport accessibility issues? You might have to take that on notice.

Mr Innes : I would have to take that on notice and I am not sure whether we can drill down to the extent necessary to give you the answer to that question.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay.

Mr Innes : I have been advised, Senator, that we should be able to drill down to give you that information but we are not in a position to give it to you now.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. I am just thinking it may be worth checking with Qantas, in light of the split into separate international and domestic businesses, that their policy will not change. I am sure it will not but it may be a worthwhile question to ask.

Mr Innes : I think that is true and I will raise that at the accessible airlines working group when we next meet. I would say that I have had no indication from Qantas that there is any likelihood of that occurring, but you are right to raise it I think.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you, Mr Innes. Ms Branson, at the last estimates I asked some questions on behalf of Senator Humphries in relation to the efficiency dividend. I think you indicated that you had written to Minister Wong.

Ms Branson : I did and I tabled the letter.

Senator FIFIELD: That is right. I do not think at that time you had had a reply? I cannot recall.

Ms Branson : No, I had not at that stage received a reply. I did receive one either in late January or early February this year indicating that no move would be made by the department of finance on the issue, drawing my attention to the possibility of interdepartmental reallocation of the dividend. That is where the matter has been left.

Senator FIFIELD: Are you able to table a copy of that reply?

Ms Branson : I could do so. I do not have it with me, but I could do that.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. Can you give us an update as to what the likely effect of the efficiency dividend is or will be on your operations?

Ms Branson : It is still a matter under consideration. We have not finalised our work plan for the coming financial year and the structure of the commission, to a very limited degree, is under reconsideration. We have that loss of funding and of course the ordinary efficiency dividend as well. On the other hand, as you may have seen in the budget papers, there is some additional funding coming to the commission, first, to establish the National Children's Commissioner. There is also some additional funding to assist the Age Discrimination Commissioner to counter negative stereotypes about ageing people so far as the economic potential of senior Australians is concerned. Those two sources of funding of course will be used for the purposes for which they have been given to us, but it involves some reconsideration of how, in particular, the policy section of the commission will be structured.

I think a fair statement, in summary, is that we will allow natural attrition to reduce staffing numbers to some limited degree in areas that do not get that additional financial support and in other areas of the commission that will need to provide support to the Children's Commissioner—I am thinking of areas like complaints handling. It is our experience that the number of complaints go up with a new commissioner, simply because of the higher public profile for the area. The legal section, the human resources and finance sections, I fear, will be asked to, yet again, handle a heavier workload.

Senator FIFIELD: It will be fewer staff doing the same amount of work, essentially?

Ms Branson : Essentially, yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: We might as well stay with you since we were following the disability issues first. Have you looked at the issues around captioning of parliament, particularly through the website?

Mr Innes : I have not. I am sure that colleagues in the disability field have and I would have thought that there was now technology available that would make it possible. After all, we are captioning live television programs effectively. But it is not an issue that I have pursued.

Senator SIEWERT: Has anybody raised it with you?

Mr Innes : I am not trying to avoid your question, but that is a broad question. I have certainly talked about it over the years with a range of people in the disability field. I do not recall it being raised with me in the last 12 months or the last few years, when the technology is at a point where it is perhaps more achievable than it might have been five years ago. Certainly, I am aware that the matter has been under discussion, but I do not know if it has been under discussion by the relevant authorities that would need to do it.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you seen AFDO's shadow report to the UN on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

Mr Innes : I have the report in my inbox; it was sent to me last week by AFDO. I was overseas last week and it is one of the documents I am yet to look at. It has been in process for some little while—and that is not a problem, in the sense that I think Australia's appearance before the UN committee will inevitably slip to 2013 or, sadly, even 2014. So I have not yet had an opportunity to read it, but I certainly have it.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Did they ask for your input into that report?

Mr Innes : We have been working informally with AFDO and the broad range of people in the sector who have been preparing the report. But, because it is a non-government organisation shadow report, I have not had, and I have not sought to have, any overview or sign-off on the content or the process. One of the things that the commission has to do is decide whether it seeks to put in a shadow report. I have been waiting to make that decision, because I thought that we would be informed by the report put in by non-government sector. So, obviously, I want to look at the report and then we will turn our minds to the question of resourcing and capacity and make a judgment on that. So we have been engaged in the process but we do not have any oversight or any editorial input into the report.

Senator SIEWERT: I was not suggesting that you had had overview of it. In preparing the report, there are some pretty big and significant issues that they are talking about that they obviously believe still need to be addressed in Australia, and I was just wondering whether they had consulted you in developing the report.

Mr Innes : Yes, there have certainly been discussions—and I share the view that there are still some pretty big issues that need to be addressed. I am not across the detail of how they list them or prioritise them, but in general I share that view.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Did I understand you previous answer correctly in that you are still to make up your mind as to whether you are going to prepare a report?

Mr Innes : Yes, that is right—and I thought that that decision would be informed by the AFDO report, so I have been waiting to see the shadow report from AFDO in order to make that decision. There is no time pressure in terms of Australia's appearance, as I indicated.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. When you talk about whether you are going to need to make a report, is that based on whether you have access to resources or whether you think AFDO has covered the issue and there is not such a pressing need for you to do a report?

Mr Innes : I would probably say both.

Senator SIEWERT: What sort of resources would you need to complete a report if you felt you needed to?

Mr Innes : I am sorry, Senator, I missed that question.

Senator SIEWERT: Would you need additional resources in order to complete a report?

Mr Innes : As President Branson points out to me, when I say that I need to make that decision, of course it would be a commission report, so the commission would need to consider that issue. The commission has in the past, when it has made such reports, done it from within its resources. But it is a question of determining what we do or do not do at a later time if we do that work. That is the decision that we have to think about—and, as I say, that the commission would have to think about. That may impact on the question of whether we prepare a report, or the nature of that report—it may well be that it is a shorter, less arduous task because of the work that AFDO and the sector have done. So I am not seeking resources to prepare that report. I would expect, if the commission decides to go ahead, it would do so from within its own resources.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to touch very briefly on the NDIS. Have you had discussions, or concerns raised with you, about the level of input from people with disability into the design of the NDIS?

Mr Innes : Yes, I have. I have had concerns raised with me about the level of input and consultation on a range of issues, and I have had since the time I have been deputy commissioner and commissioner. I have also had concerns raised with me that there is too much consultation in the disability field. So, inevitably, you will get concerns on both sides of the point in those sorts of processes. However, I would have to say that my sense at the moment is that there is a lot of consultation on the design of the NDIS with the disability sector, and that consultation has been made a major part of the process. I am on one of the four groups that have been set up to provide advice on the design of the scheme. So, at this stage, certainly I have heard those concerns but it is not a view that I currently share.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Could I now ask Mr Gooda some questions, please. Have you reviewed the Stronger Futures funding programs that were announced about a month ago? Have you had a look at them? And have you looked at the budget and at funding across the board for Indigenous programs?

Mr Gooda : I was in New York when the budget came down. We have had a cursory look at the overall budget but nothing in detail at this stage.

Senator SIEWERT: I appreciate your comments about the budget, but the announcements on the Stronger Futures 10-year funding programs were made in April. Have you had a chance to look at those?

Mr Gooda : We generally welcome the 10-year commitment to funding. It is something that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been asking for for quite some time—that there be a commitment to funding over that period of time, so it is something that we generally welcome. But, again, we have not gone down into looking at the details of matching the funding against what they are saying is going to be achieved in the Stronger Futures legislation.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you intend to do that?

Mr Gooda : Absolutely.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, thank you. As part of that process, will you look at the overall funding budget to see whether funds have been cut from other programs from across the rest of Australia?

Mr Gooda : We are aware that some programs have been cut. Again, we have been lobbied by certain sectors around languages and things like that, which have been cut. Again, it takes some time to go through all of that. We are working generally across the Aboriginal portfolio—people like NACHO and the National Congress of Australia's First People, so we can actually have a consistent view across the Aboriginal sector.

Senator SIEWERT: When do you expect to have that work done?

Mr Gooda : We are working on it. I could not put a time on it, but it will not be that far away.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I did not expect an absolute time, but I was looking for the quantum. So, a couple of months?

Mr Gooda : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, thank you. Did you see the comments yesterday from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for the Pacific about Australia not referring Stronger Futures to the Human Rights Committee?

Mr Gooda : I have seen those.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you have any comment on that? Do you think that should have been referred, or should be referred to the committee?

Mr Gooda : Our view is yes, if it is possible to put it through that scrutiny committee. We understand the time frames such that when the legislation was presented to parliament preceded the formation of that committee. We understand the technicalities of that, but we still think it is open to government to use that scrutiny committee to look at these bills. However, the commission is not supporting the withdrawal of the bills to make sure that happens, similar to what, say, the congress are proposing.

Senator SIEWERT: Why is that?

Mr Gooda : We have done an examination. Our views are in our submission.

Senator SIEWERT: If you do not support the withdrawal, what process would you foresee then of it going to the committee?

Mr Gooda : I still think it is open to the government—not following the letter of the law but if they so wished it to go through that process I think it is open for them to do that.

Senator SIEWERT: I am trying to clarify. You are not saying to withdraw the bills. You are saying perhaps do not put them through until it has been reviewed.

Mr Gooda : No, I am not saying that.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the point of reviewing if the bills are currently before the Senate?

Mr Gooda : We have been asked several times about what would provide comfort to people in the Northern Territory to rebuild the trust between government and Aboriginal people. We think this is one way they could do that.

Senator SIEWERT: So get it reviewed as a matter of urgency before they go through the parliament?

Mr Gooda : That is what we are suggesting, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I just wanted to clarify what 'withdrawal' meant and you are not saying withdrawal—

Mr Gooda : I understand the congress's point is withdraw it, re-present it, and then it would be captured under the provisions of the scrutiny committee. We are not suggesting—

Senator SIEWERT: It is a process thing.

Mr Gooda : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. My understanding is that the Attorney-General can refer the bills anyway.

Mr Gooda : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you been engaging with the issues around those with a cognitive and intellectual disability and imprisonment?

Mr Gooda : Yes, we have.

Senator SIEWERT: You would be aware there is a building campaign around that. Have you been engaging with that?

Mr Gooda : Yes, we have. Commissioner Innes and I have met with the Aboriginal Disability Justice Group several times. Commissioner Innes and I both met with people in Western Australia about last Christmas particularly around the case of Marlon Noble in WA. We remain concerned and we are continuing discussions about how the Human Rights Commission can support the Aboriginal Disability Justice Group to raise the issues that they are confronting. When you look at what happened with Marlon Noble it is a particularly worrying case: a man spending over 10 years in jail for something that he has never been convicted of nor likely ever to face trial. Our understanding is that it is repeated several times in Western Australia. We know that it is happening in the Northern Territory. So it is a concern, not only in the Aboriginal area but also for people with cognitive disabilities more generally as well getting captured in the justice system but then being referred into the mental health system. In Marlon Noble's case there was no capacity for the mental health system to deal with his issue so they just put him in jail for 10 years.

Senator SIEWERT: One of the issues that certainly I am finding and I have asked about here before is that we keep getting told at a national level that it is a state and territory responsibility yet we see similar sorts of circumstances occur across Australia. Have you looked at what the Commonwealth's role could be—other than encouraging the states—in addressing the issue because we are making fairly slow progress? I have had a report again this week of another instance in the Northern Territory which you have probably also heard about. These instances keep occurring. What can we do, in your view, from a national perspective to address these issues?

Mr Gooda : You are right in saying the criminal justice systems and the mental health systems are run by states and territories. Again, I think we have to refer to our international obligations regarding people with disabilities, particularly around mental health and cognitive disabilities, and keep pursuing it that way. We have a good relationship with the Attorney-General and even though we have not raised it with this Attorney-General we have with the previous Attorney-General.

Mr Innes : Senator, I was just indicating to Commissioner Gooda that I actually have raised it with the current Attorney-General whilst he was overseas, but we have not had a chance to talk about it because we have only both got back quite recently. But I have raised it with the current Attorney-General and I have also been in Darwin in the last couple of weeks looking at some of the situations in the Northern Territory. I have not interrupted because I agree with everything that Commissioner Gooda has said so far. We are of the view, as Commissioner Gooda was saying, that we have international obligations, under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and other international instruments. We think it does need some involvement at a national level, but clearly that will require input from the states. We know that the justice CEOs are looking to address the matter and have a working party. The department is probably better placed to advise you on that than we are. We are also hoping to have some further announcements or details on some work we would like to do later this year to try to draw out some of the best ways forward.

Senator SIEWERT: Do I understand correctly that you just said that you will be making announcements later in the year about some programs you are going to be undertaking?

Mr Innes : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: I presume I cannot yet ask what they are going to be?

Mr Innes : We are still finalising that, so I am not trying to withhold information. What we do would be done in conjunction with other organisations, and we have not yet finalised those plans. But you can be assured that they will be publicly advised when they are finalised. It is a large and complex issue, and one where we need to work out what we can best do. What we would be trying to do is to find best practice examples both here and overseas and try to work with state and Commonwealth governments to encourage the implementation of those sorts of examples in other places.

Senator SIEWERT: I think the next question involves both Mr Innes and Mr Gooda. On the issue of hearing impairments for prisoners, I have no doubt you are both aware of the high rate of hearing impairment for Aboriginal prisoners. I understand that there are some issues with this for prisoners, but in particular Aboriginal prisoners, given their high rate of hearing impairment. We know from the Darwin Correctional Centre that 90 per cent have some form of hearing impairment or hearing loss. Have you looked into the ability of prisoners to access hearing services?

Mr Innes : I talked to some people about that when I was in Darwin recently and it does appear to be a problem. There seems to be a distinction between those who are receiving hearing services when they go into the correction system—from the information I received, those services seem to be able to continue—and those who are not. If they are not receiving those services beforehand and it is determined whilst they are in the correction system that the person does have some level of hearing impairment—and as you say, the rates are incredibly high in the prison system—then the services are not available. There seems to be some problem between the relevant departments to be able to access the services.

I think that is a concern, but the greater concern is the point you made in relation to the rate of people with hearing impairment, particularly Aboriginal people in the justice system. One of the conclusions I have been starting to draw is that when a person has a hearing impairment, in many cases unrecognised, it is, I think, potentially disadvantaging them in their progression through the justice system. I think that is a very large problem, as well.

Senator SIEWERT: In regard to the effect it is having on them in the justice system and, secondly, the issue about being able to access services, have you raised these issues with Australian Hearing Services?

Mr Innes : I have not spoken to Australian Hearing Services since I went to the Northern Territory, but I have had conversations about the issue prior to that time.

Senator SIEWERT: Is it your understanding that Australian Hearing Services are considering providing services to prisoners, but particularly Aboriginal prisoners, who I am worried about in this context?

Mr Innes : As I said, I have not spoken to them since I have been to Darwin, so I am not sure that I can comment to that level of detail. But it is something I will be taking up.

Senator SIEWERT: Could I ask you to take it on notice. Could you also take on notice a question to update us on your interactions with Australian Hearing Services? Or I will just ask at the next estimates.

Mr Innes : I am happy to update you at the next estimates. But I do not know when, based on their availability and mine, I will have the chance to discuss it with them. It is an ongoing issue and I am very happy to keep you advised both inside and outside Senate estimates on work we are doing.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there a way that you can start tackling the issue of how people's hearing impairments are affecting their access to services and treatment in prison?

Mr Innes : Sorry, did you ask, 'Is there a way?'

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Innes : It is one of the many issues that we are trying to look at as part of our work on the experience in the justice and correction system for people with disability. The answer to your question is that I am sure there is a way. Whether that is the issue, or one of the issues we focus on, or whether there are other focuses yet we have not quite determined. That certainly is an issue of concern. I suppose the discussions I want to have with Australian Hearing Services will inform that. For instance, if that is something they are progressing then the commission may well look to do some work in a different area. I would like to have had those discussions before we made that call.

Senator SIEWERT: I have some questions for Ms Ryan. I recently spent quite a bit of time with a lot of job seekers, particularly older job seekers, and I have received a lot of anecdotal complaints about services and support that older job seekers have been receiving from JSAs. They feel that they are being discriminated against in terms of not getting access to the Employment Pathway funding, having to seek their own training, they are not supported with ideas and they feel that they are not getting focus. They are being discriminated against for younger easier to place job seekers. Last time I was here we talked about discrimination in the workplace. Have you had complaints about people's treatment in employment services?

Ms Ryan : The vast majority of complaints that come in under the Age Discrimination Act are in relation to employment discrimination. They are not entirely, but mainly, complaints from people who believe they have been regarded as too old for a job, or for the recruitment agency to take any notice of them or for the training they need to get back into a particular area. So, it is a very widespread issue. Most of the complaints relate to private sector employment and private recruitment agencies, but we do get some relating to government services.

As you are aware, Senator, when complaints arrive at the commission and our complaints people investigate them, if it seems that there is an incidence of age discrimination, then the person making the complaint is offered a conciliation. Our complaints people then contact the perpetrator of the alleged discrimination. That could be a government agency, a recruitment agency or an employer. A conciliation can then take place. It is through that route of the complaints that come to the commission that we become aware of particularly difficult areas. But in general, as I go about and speak in many forums around Australia about the issue of age discrimination in the workforce, I never go to such a meeting or forum without hearing of more cases. It is a very widespread problem.

Senator SIEWERT: Just then you were talking generally about more focus on workplaces. Have any of those complaints related to treatment through job employment services?

Ms Ryan : Through government employment services?

Senator SIEWERT: No, through employment services—from JSA, which is—

Ms Ryan : Yes, some have. If the person makes a complaint and the organisation they are complaining about agrees to come into a conciliation, that often leads to a change of behaviour or a change of communication. It is quite a constructive exercise.

Senator SIEWERT: This relates to the next issue I want to ask about, which is the $1,000 incentive that the government has announced for employing older workers. Were you consulted in the government's decision-making on that?

Ms Ryan : No, that was not a recommendation that I had made. The government's consultative forum on employment participation for older people discussed the possibility of financial incentives. Specifically that was not a proposal I had made. But now that the decision has been put into the last budget, it gives a strong signal to employers, particularly small business employers, to look again at the possibility of hiring an older person. $1,000 is not a huge amount of money. The person has to be in employment for three months before the employer is eligible for it. It is just a small incentive that may cause small business employers, in particular, to think again when they are recruiting and to look at the older, experienced employee. I say small businesses in particular because there are a raft of other programs run through DEEWR to assist employers dealing with older workers. But small businesses tell me that they do not have the resources to identify those programs and to go through the necessary processes. This one seems to be quite a simple, straightforward, small but targeted incentive. Let us hope that we see it leading to the employment of more mature aged people.

Senator SIEWERT: I presume that you will be monitoring that?

Ms Ryan : We will be monitoring through ABS statistics and so forth. I hope that the department will monitor, to the extent that it can, the effects of these programs as they are put in place. The consultative forum has recommended to the government that, when incentive programs, projects and grants are established, it is really important to know, over a period of time of course, whether we can measure any improvement as a result of those programs.

Senator SIEWERT: What other measures do you think need to be put in place to address the issue, presuming that people do not think that this incentive program will be the be-all and end-all of dealing with discrimination against older workers?

Ms Ryan : I wish it were, but I do not think that. The most important change that we need to make is a change in the perception of employers about the employability, the productivity capacity, of older workers. That is where the stumbling block is. We have the Age Discrimination Act. We can take complaints under that and people with discrimination employment complaints can also take their complaints to Fair Work Australia. Also, state equal opportunity commissions will take complaints on this kind of discrimination. So our legal mechanisms are there. But, first of all, I think a lot of employers do not have front of mind the fact that we do have laws against employment discrimination on the basis of age. Certainly, recruiting agencies, human resource professionals do not focus enough on why they find it easier to place a younger person than an older person. I am finding the most powerful lever for change is to work with employers themselves and employer bodies to understand that business growth and business profitability relies on better use of older workers. It is that business case, I think, rather than small grants programs, as much as they can be helpful in individual cases, that will lead to looking at the workforce in a completely different way and taking off that barrier that says: 'Once a person has reached 50 or 55 we don't want to consider them anymore.' The attitudinal change of employers, I think, is the biggest thing that will lead to better employment opportunities for older workers.

Senator BRANDIS: Ms Branson, let us start with your replacement, and I made some valedictory remarks about you at the last estimates so I will not embarrass you by repeating them. Can you tell us please—and, Mr Wilkins, feel free to jump in if you can be helpful here—how far advanced has the process of selecting a new chair of the Human Rights Commission been and when may we expect the successful candidate to be announced?

Ms Branson : I think that is a question for the department. It is an appointment to be recommended to cabinet by the minister. The Australian Human Rights Commission does not run the selection process, but I understand Mr Wilkins is closely involved. So perhaps I could suggest he answers that question?

Senator BRANDIS: Mr Wilkins.

Mr Wilkins : I can tell you, Senator, that I convened a selection committee that has interviewed a number of people and a report has been provided to the Attorney-General and, on the basis of that, she will no doubt be either asking for further interviews to be undertaken or making a decision to take to cabinet colleagues.

Senator BRANDIS: Has a shortlist been finalised?

Mr Wilkins : I have done the interviews.

Senator BRANDIS: How many people have been interviewed?

Mr Wilkins : Around half-a-dozen or so. I cannot remember off the top of my head.

Senator BRANDIS: About six. And were each of the people who have been interviewed respondents to the advertisement for the position?

Mr Wilkins : I do not know.

Senator BRANDIS: Because the position was advertised, was it not?

Mr Wilkins : Yes, that is right.

Senator BRANDIS: Do you know whether any of the people whom you have interviewed have been approached informally and encouraged to apply?

Mr Wilkins : No, they have not to my knowledge. There has been a process, which is a perfectly conventional one, where an advertisement is put in the press and a headhunter is asked also to investigate whether there are people who should be considered for interview. You are probably familiar with that type of process and, to my knowledge, that is the only process that has occurred.

Senator BRANDIS: Who was the headhunter retained by the government?

Mr Wilkins : Executive Intelligence Group.

Senator BRANDIS: Did they produce their own recommended shortlist?

Mr Wilkins : No, that is not the way the system actually works. They produce a list of people they think may be okay for the position and the committee then looks at that, including the complete list of people who apply. The committee then looks at that and arrives at a shortlist, working on some of the intelligence and advice obtained by the headhunter and makes a decision as to who the short list should be and then interviews the short list and makes a report to the minister

Senator BRANDIS: Were all of the people on the department's short list people who had been recommended by the headhunter, or were there people on your short list who were not the subject of a recommendation by the headhunter?

Mr Wilkins : I do not quite recall, but I think they were all recommended by the headhunter.

Senator BRANDIS: When did the interviews take place?

Mr Wilkins : I cannot recall.

Senator BRANDIS: Across which range of dates?

Mr Wilkins : There were a couple of days: 19 April and 24 April.

Senator BRANDIS: Do you anticipate another round of interviews or has that part of the process now been completed?

Mr Wilkins : I think that has probably been completed, but I cannot necessarily rule that out, because it is open to the cabinet to ask for further interviews for further particulars et cetera.

Senator BRANDIS: Has a decision been made to settle upon one name to be recommended to cabinet?

Mr Wilkins : I do not know, because we made a report to the Attorney-General, and that is a matter for the Attorney-General.

Senator BRANDIS: Did your report to the Attorney-General identify one preferred candidate?

Mr Wilkins : I do not know if I can actually indicate that without—I am not sure it is necessarily proper to indicate that.

Senator BRANDIS: I am not going to ask you the name of the candidate. It is really a process question. I just want to know the point which the process has reached, and specifically I want to know whether the process has reached a point beyond which the selection committee has settled upon a name. That is all.

Mr Wilkins : I am not sure that that is an appropriate question. There are a number of ways in which these things can occur. You can write a report that says: 'These are the strengths and weaknesses of the various short-listed candidates that we interviewed,' and then say, 'There is a panel of people; these are their strengths and weaknesses,' and it is ultimately a matter for the minister and the cabinet to decide.

Senator BRANDIS: I understand that, and I am well aware of the limitations—the prohibition indeed—on asking about advice to government. But I do not think my question trespasses beyond the bounds, because I am not asking of the substance of anything that you have recommended to government. I am merely asking whether a recommendation has been made.

Mr Wilkins : The answer is that no recommendation has been made.

Senator BRANDIS: All right. Do you know whether the Attorney has taken a submission to cabinet yet?

Mr Wilkins : I do not know that.

Senator BRANDIS: Ms Branson, can you tell us what, if any, involvement the commission has had in this process.

Ms Branson : The headhunter spoke with me on the phone, and I believe she spoke with a number of commissioners—possibly all commissioners—about our understanding of the qualities that would be required of someone filling the position. I spoke to Mr Wilkinson on the same topic at a personal meeting when he came to see me in my office in Sydney, and I was a referee for one candidate. That has been my involvement in the process.

Senator BRANDIS: Does the fact that you chose to be a referee for one candidate indicate that you had a preference for that candidate?

Ms Branson : No. I was not aware of the complete list of candidates. This was someone well known to me, in respect of whom I thought an adverse inference might be drawn were I not a referee, and I was very happy to be a referee.

Senator BRANDIS: Was any member of the commission part of the interview panel?

Ms Branson : No, we were not.

Senator BRANDIS: Do you seek to be?

Ms Branson : I did raise the issue about whether it might not be appropriate, and that was as far as I took it.

Senator BRANDIS: Obviously your suggestion to that effect was unavailing.

Ms Branson : I understood that the Attorney did not choose to have the sitting president involved in the selection of a subsequent president.

Senator BRANDIS: Or any other member of the commission, it sounds to me.

Ms Branson : I infer that is the case.

Senator BRANDIS: Let me turn to another topic. You will recall that at the last estimates I asked you a few questions about the proposed recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution.

Ms Branson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Of course, the debate, particularly from the point of view of the appropriate time to put a referendum question to the public, has moved on a little since then. You are aware, no doubt, that Mr Leibler, the co-chair, as recently as a fortnight ago expressed the view that, given what he described as the toxicity of current politics, the next election was perhaps not the best time to put the referendum question. Does the Human Rights Commission have a view about that?

Ms Branson : We have not met to consider that, no.

Senator BRANDIS: Since I asked you about these matters in the February estimates, has there been any further engagement by the commission with the expert panel or with the government in relation to the progression of the issue?

Ms Branson : Mr Gooda, one of the commissioners, is of course a member of the expert panel, so in that sense we are constantly in contact with the expert panel. But anything more detailed than that I would have to refer to Mr Gooda.

Senator BRANDIS: That is fine. Mr Gooda, the experts panel's work is largely done, at least up to the point of settling upon a series of recommendations, isn't it?

Mr Gooda : That is right.

Senator BRANDIS: Can you respond to the question I asked Ms Branson? Has there been any engagement since the last time we met at estimates involving the commission concerning the progression of this matter?

Mr Gooda : The minister for Indigenous affairs wrote to the President following the Prime Minister's announcement about a program of a community conversation, asking whether the commission wanted to nominate a person to the reference group. I have been nominated. I have met once with the reference group that was set up by Reconciliation Australia.

Senator BRANDIS: And that is all that has happened?

Mr Gooda : In my role, I have made a commitment that I will pursue this during my time. It is not part of the role of the expert panel. As far as we are concerned, once the expert panel reported to government that was the end of our remit. But I continue to go out and talk to groups that come and ask on a fairly regular basis about constitutional recognition.

Senator BRANDIS: Do you share Mr Leibler's view, Mr Gooda, that the next election is not the best time to put this question?

Mr Gooda : That was the view of the committee. I would leave the other commentary up to Mark Leibler.

Senator BRANDIS: I am sorry. I do not understand. In the report of the committee there was a recommendation that the question not be put at the next election. My reading of the report was that there was a recommendation that the matter not be put until there was a bipartisan consensus on the particular referendum question. Are you telling us that it is the view of the expert panel that the question should not be put at the next federal election?

Mr Gooda : No, I am not saying that.

Senator BRANDIS: What are you telling us?

Mr Gooda : I suppose it is my view that it probably should not be put, but my reasons are separate to what Mark Leibler said about toxicity.

Senator BRANDIS: That is fine. I am merely asking you whether you agree with his conclusion, not necessarily with his reasons. So you think it is best that it not be put at the next election, as Mr Leibler, for his own reasons, also thinks it should not be put at the next election?

Mr Gooda : That is a personal opinion—

Senator BRANDIS: Sure, but you are an important player in this, Mr Gooda. Your opinion counts for a lot. Do you have a view about that, Ms Branson, by the way?

Ms Branson : I think Madam Chair has counselled me before about giving my personal views. If she is happy for me to do so, I indicate that my inclination is to agree with Mr Gooda.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you. Ms Broderick, my attention has been drawn to a speech you gave launching the Jessie Street Trust's See Hear Speak initiative on 22 March. Do you recall that speech?

Ms Broderick : I recall the event, yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Can you explain to the committee the purpose of the See Hear Speak initiative?

Ms Broderick : The initiative was one that the Jessie Street Trust brought about or created. It was mainly a social media campaign to take out the message about sexual harassment, particularly to young people.

Senator BRANDIS: What were the objectives of the campaign?

Ms Broderick : The objectives of the campaign were to take the message that sexual harassment is unlawful in Australia, that women had rights, and that there were mechanisms—

Senator BRANDIS: Just women or men and women?

Ms Broderick : Sorry, that sexual harassment per se is unlawful under the act and that there were mechanisms, including complaining to the Australian Human Rights Commission, that people could follow.

Senator BRANDIS: There were the three injunctions—See Hear Speak—and you say in your speech that the purpose of the speak injunction was to encourage people to speak up about sexual harassment.

Ms Broderick : That is right.

Senator BRANDIS: So that is one of the three objectives of the campaign?

Ms Broderick : Yes, that is correct.

Senator BRANDIS: In furthering those objectives you are publicly advocating and enhancing public awareness of the policy of the Australian Human Rights Commission to encourage the prevention and appropriate response to complaints of sexual harassment.

Ms Broderick : That is right.

Senator BRANDIS: This is really, as you say, a community awareness campaign but it does not reflect a change of policy on the part of the Human Rights Commission. It is an advertisement to the public of its policy.

Ms Broderick : It is about lifting awareness of sexual harassment, because we have done a number of prevalence studies which find that, particularly in paid work, sexual harassment is prevalent across Australia.

Senator BRANDIS: Sure. Can I give you a copy of the Human Rights Commission's guide to effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment? I have got copies for members of the committee as well so that we do not have to delay matters while we photocopy them. Unhelpfully this document is not paginated but if you turn to the fourth sheet under the item, 'Developing and implementing a sexual harassment policy', on the right-hand column, 'What are the essential elements of a sexual harassment policy', among the various dot points I want to draw your attention in particular to the last two. They are 'Information on where individuals can get help, advice or make a complaint' and 'A brief summary of the options available for dealing with sexual harassment'. Perhaps more importantly, on the next page on the topic, 'Complaints procedures' there is the subheading 'How do I take appropriate remedial action when sexual harassment happens'. The author of the document says in the left-hand column about point 2, 'A good complaint procedure' and the first dot point says, 'Conveys the message that the organisation takes sexual harassment seriously'. Further down, the fifth dot point says, 'Alerts an organisation to patterns of unacceptable conduct and highlights the need for prevention strategies in particular areas.' A couple of dot points later it says, 'A good complaint procedure can help to minimise the harm suffered by the person harassed.' Then, at the foot of the left-hand column, there are another series of dot points introduced by the words:

Employers should ensure that their complaint procedures:—

and up to the first dot point in the right-hand column—

give an undertaking that no employee will be victimised or disadvantaged for making a complaint …

Those are all good principles, aren't they, Ms Broderick?

Ms Broderick : They are. They are important principles.

Senator BRANDIS: They are very important principles, we would agree. Both the Jessie Street Trust's See Hear Speak initiative and the standing policy of the Australian Human Rights Commission, as embodied in this document on effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment, among other things enjoins all employers to treat complaints of sexual harassment seriously, does it not?

Ms Broderick : Yes, it does.

Senator BRANDIS: It would be quite inappropriate and indeed, may I venture to say, contemptible, for an employer to make light of a complaint of sexual harassment. Would you agree?

Ms Broderick : Yes, I would agree.

Senator BRANDIS: Or to ridicule the complainant? Would you agree?

Ms Broderick : Yes, I would agree.

Senator BRANDIS: And in particular, might I venture to say, to ridicule the complainant by attacking the bona fides of the complainant in the media. Would you agree?

Ms Broderick : I agree.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes. You see—you might have anticipated where I am going with this, Ms Broderick—I, like many people in this building, on both sides of the partisan aisle, was very concerned when a senior minister in the government, Senator Bob Carr, publicly ridiculed Mr Ashby, who as we know has filed proceedings in the Federal Court and made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission concerning sexual harassment and victimisation he says that he suffered at the hands of Mr Slipper, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Senator Carr, notoriously, said that—

Senator Ludwig: Hang on a minute.

Senator BRANDIS: I am sorry; I have not finished asking my question.

Senator Ludwig: I am not sure—

CHAIR: Senator Brandis, and Minister as well—

Senator Ludwig interjecting

CHAIR: Minister, just a minute before I call you. I am sorry, but I am seeking some advice about whether we are actually straying off the consideration of budget estimates here. In the meantime, Minister, I think you were going to raise an issue of relevance perhaps.

Senator Ludwig: To the extent that you are reflecting adversely on Senator Carr. I think you can ask more broad questions around this. I do not have a difficulty with you asking about the broad issues. But I think you are now straying into the specifics of a particular case. In that instance, as I understand it, it is a matter that is being progressed before the courts. I would wonder whether you reflect upon that and reflect upon the comments you are now making and choose to ask more general questions about discrimination in the workplace and refrain from dealing specifically with a specific issue.

Senator BRANDIS: Have you finished?

Senator Ludwig: I have finished, Senator Brandis.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you. Ms Broderick, you would be familiar with the comments by Senator Bob Carr, who infamously tweeted, and I quote, 'This Ashby seems as practised as a kabuki actor,' specifically in the context of Mr Ashby's complaint about having been, as he alleges, sexually harassed by Mr Peter Slipper—comments which he elaborated and took further in an interview he gave from Tokyo last Friday, which you may or may not have seen. I am not going to ask you to deal specifically with Senator Carr's unfortunate remarks, but I wonder if you would give us your views, please, Ms Broderick, about the importance of senior officers of an employer—in this case, the Australian government—responding to allegations of sexual harassment, using their position and their access to the media to publicly ridicule and humiliate a complainant.

Ms Branson : I wonder if you would allow me to answer that.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, Ms Branson.

Ms Branson : It has been reported in the press—accurately—that a complaint about the circumstances against which you framed your question has been made to the Australian Human Rights Commission. In the circumstances, I would ask that we be free not to comment, even in your broader question, because it might be seen to imply a view about aspects of that complaint which I think ought to be handled in the ordinary course of complaints handling at the commission and without members of the commission being seen to express views about it.

Senator BRANDIS: I think that is fair enough. That is why I approached the question the way in which I did, while identifying a current notorious instance—which I am aware the commission has currently seized—in order to give context to my question, nevertheless asking you only to speak in the broad.

Ms Branson : My concern is that the answer in the broad will be understood to imply something about the particular, and I think that in the way it has been phrased that would be an understandable conclusion by someone listening to what is being said here today.

Senator BRANDIS: Is it consistent, Ms Broderick, with the guidelines and indeed what you had to say on 22 March—in particular, the guideline dealing with complaints procedures, that no employee will be victimised or disadvantaged for making a complaint—for the employer to publicly attack and ridicule the complainant?

Ms Broderick : There is protection under that act against victimisation. The act is quite clear on that—that sexual harassment is unlawful, and so is victimisation.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, but I want to focus most particularly on this specific guideline of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Let me read it again: 'give an undertaking that no employee will be victimised or disadvantaged for making a complaint'. Does attacking, ridiculing and questioning the bona fides of a complainant through the media constitute subjecting that complainant to victimisation or disadvantage?

Senator Ludwig: Again, Chair, I think what we are now doing is descending from the specific to the broad, but the broad can be associated with the specific. In this instance, there was a range of comments in the media at that particular time, including one by Senator Joyce, the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, who told reporters:

If you are going to play marriage guidance counsellor, you've got to hear both sides of the story.

In the same press conference the Queensland senator also said that Mr Ashby seemed 'only slightly less dodgy than Slipper'.

Senator BRANDIS: Is this a point of order, Madam Chair?

CHAIR: No.

Senator Ludwig: A range of comments were made at that particular time, and I am just not sure that we are going to advance that case here, because it is a matter that was seized by the commission, and they should be left to deal with their work.

CHAIR: Senator Brandis, I understand where your questioning is going. I think you have had a response from the President of the Human Rights Commission that they have a current complaint with them and are dealing with that. I do want to just gently remind you that this is all about budget estimates. There may well be other forums in which you can pursue this line of questioning.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you. Ms Broderick and Ms Branson, just dismiss from your mind for the moment the specific case of Senator Bob Carr.

Senator Ludwig: Chair, I do not think that is possible given that we have just canvassed it at the first instant and then gone to the particular issue. I think they will be associated together. That is what Senator Brandis is trying to achieve by this line of questioning. I think it transgresses across the commission's work to act independently in relation to complaints made, and it is simply airing again in the media. So Senator Brandis has joined Senator Bob Carr and Senator Joyce in this same pursuance of airing this matter in the media and using his privileged position in estimates to do that, and I think it is inappropriate.

Senator BRANDIS: Thanks, Senator Ludwig. You heard what I said, Ms Broderick. I want you to address the principle, please. We know there have been instances or alleged instances, but I just want you to keep yourself to the general principle. My question is: do you consider as a general principle that for a complainant to be attacked and ridiculed and have their bona fides questioned in the media would constitute victimising or disadvantaging the complainant within the meaning of your guidelines?

Ms Broderick : Senator, I will not speak about specifics. As I said, sexual harassment is unlawful under the act. Victimisation is unlawful under the act. Each case, I suppose, needs to be looked at on its specific merits, and that is what happens through our conciliation process.

Senator BRANDIS: Indeed.

Ms Broderick : I cannot theorise about what may or may not be victimisation except to say that, if there is a finding of victimisation, it is unlawful under the act.

Senator BRANDIS: Indeed, but I want to know what these guidelines mean. What I am asking is whether, among the conduct comprehended by the words 'victimised or disadvantaged for making a complaint', you would consider that attacking the complainant in the media by ridiculing and humiliating them or attacking their bona fides would constitute, as a general principle, victimising or disadvantaging the person for making a complaint.

Senator Ludwig: The difficulty again, Chair, is that he is now asking for an opinion in relation to the guidelines.

Senator BRANDIS: That is right. I am absolutely asking for an opinion—

CHAIR: Senator Brandis, just—

Senator BRANDIS: what the Human Rights Commission understands its guidelines to mean.

Senator Ludwig: I let you finish your question, Senator Brandis.

CHAIR: No. Both stop now. Senator Brandis, let us just have one at a time today. Minister, you go first.

Senator Ludwig: Thank you, Chair. Senator Brandis has asked for an opinion from the independent Human Rights Commission about a particular guideline. It is a question that he can ask about broad issues, but in this instance he is seeking a particular opinion. An opinion is not something that would normally occur in estimates—where the Human Rights Commission would then interpret their own guidelines.

Senator BRANDIS: Madam Chair, as you know, having chaired this committee for some years now, it is the most commonplace thing in the world, never objected to, for an agency that is responsible for implementing a policy to be asked questions as to how it views the implementation of that policy and, in particular, what the guidelines governing the implementation of the policy mean.

CHAIR: Senator Brandis, I understand that. As you know, matters of opinion are handled by the officers at the table according to the sensitivity of the information they have before them. We know the context of this. There is a complaint before the Human Rights Commission already. Questions you are asking may or may not be related to that complaint.

Senator BRANDIS: That is right.

CHAIR: I am sure Ms Broderick will attempt to answer your questions as best she can, knowing the details of the circumstances in which they are asked.

Senator BRANDIS: Thanks very much, Madam Chair. I appreciate that ruling. Would it be useful, Ms Broderick, if I re-put the question?

Ms Broderick : I think I understand the question.

Senator BRANDIS: I just want to know whether publicly ridiculing, humiliating and questioning the bona fides of a complainant in the media would be within the prohibitions set out in the guideline I have addressed your attention to.

Ms Broderick : Victimisation can come in many forms. It can be being demoted. It can be being fired for making the complaint. It can be being attacked in a public forum. There are a range of things that could amount to victimisation. And it would be important, if you were looking at specific cases, to see what the behaviour was in that particular case, so I cannot say about any specific cases—

Senator BRANDIS: No, I am not asking that.

Ms Broderick : but, more generally, the types that I have enumerated or listed there are the things that we are talking about.

Senator BRANDIS: Thanks, Ms Broderick. I think that is reasonably responsive. So you do think that being publicly attacked does fall within that guideline?

Ms Broderick : I cannot add to what I said before, Senator.

Senator BRANDIS: It is one of the several categories which may fall within that guideline.

Ms Broderick : I talked about a public forum before—being attacked in a public forum, as I said before.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes.

Ms Broderick : I cannot add anything further to that.

Senator BRANDIS: That will do.

Proceedings suspended from 10:34 to 10:53

Senator BRANDIS: Ms Broderick, I can understand quite properly why you do not want to go into the details of the Senator Bob Carr case, because that is the subject of a present complaint currently before the commission. I am not going to ask you to comment on the details of that case; but it is certainly true that it is absolutely within the rights of the Human Rights Commission and of yourself as the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, in particular, to criticise individual politicians if they say things that might tend to give encouragement or comfort to sexual harassment or to discourage the making of complaints about sexual harassment. That is part of your job as an advocate for the principles in your act, isn't it?

Ms Broderick : My job is to speak out and yes, I suppose, on occasions to perform advocacy and education around sexual harassment.

Senator BRANDIS: Absolutely, and part of that advocacy role extends, where appropriate, to criticising the conduct or public utterances of politicians, does it not?

Ms Broderick : On occasion I speak about a whole range of matters with a whole range of people, not particularly politicians.

Senator BRANDIS: No, not particularly. But, in other words, just because somebody is a powerful politician in high office does not mean that they have any immunity from the lash of your tongue, as it were, if they say something which attacks the principles of the act.

Ms Broderick : On occasion I do speak out. If that is what you are asking me, yes, on occasion I do speak out.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, and good on you. So you should. Indeed, my attention has been drawn to a report as recently as today's Australian newspaper, where you are quoted as commenting on some remarks attributed to Ms Isobel Redmond, the Leader of the Opposition in South Australia. It is said that Ms Redmond said that young women facing sex discrimination at work should 'ignore it and it will just disappear', or words to that effect are attributed to Ms Redmond. You are quoted as saying that you understood that women 'feared complaints could adversely affect their careers', and then:

However, I don't agree that women shouldn't seek legal redress. Without a critical mass of complaints being lodged, behavioural changes will not take place, attitudes will not change and sex discrimination will not be reduced.

Those words are ascribed to you in direct speech. That is what you said and that is your view?

Ms Broderick : But that was not in relation to a particular comment. It was generally in relation to the fact that, not speaking about a particular incident but speaking generally, women do fear bringing complaints. We know that. There is good research around that. We need a critical mass of complaints to work to educate the community but also individuals to seek legal redress so that sex discrimination will be eliminated. It is a general statement about it.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, and not just women but men as well.

Ms Broderick : That is right.

Senator BRANDIS: In particular, gay men, because they are a vulnerable group within the community who are particularly susceptible to being sexually harassed in the workplace, aren't they?

Ms Broderick : The research shows that 22 per cent of women have been sexually harassed in paid work and about five per cent of men.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes. So, given that five per cent of men constitutes hundreds of thousands of people in this country, this is a problem for both men and women, both straight and gay, and there is no one group rather than another group so defined which is more or less important to your work?

Ms Broderick : Sexual harassment is prevalent across Australian workplaces.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, and something should be done to discourage the bringing to light of complaints about sexual harassment, which is the point of the remarks attributed to you in this morning's paper?

Ms Broderick : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you for that. Ms Branson, let me finally ask you a couple of questions on the Children's Commissioner. This is the most recent of the commissioners who have been attached to the apparatus of the Human Rights Commission?

Ms Branson : I think the legislation to create the position will shortly enter the parliament, but we are very hopeful that there will soon be a new commissioner joining us.

Senator BRANDIS: That will be the seventh—is that right?

Ms Branson : If you count the Human Rights Commissioner, yes, that would be right.

Senator BRANDIS: Can you please give us an outline of what role you envisage for the Children's Commissioner and, in particular—I know that the legislation addresses this but I would like your thoughts, please—the extent to which the commissioner will be primarily concerned in taking their guidance from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Ms Branson : It is not easy to speak in detail about what the new commissioner will do, because the views of the appointee would need to be taken into account in formulating that and the commission is already doing work around the rights of children. But we see this appointment as providing an important focus within the commission and therefore nationally for advocacy around the rights of children. My expectation is that the Convention on the Rights of the Child will be very informative of the work that they would do. We have children's commissioners and guardians already doing excellent work, very often with a welfare focus. This national position we would see as having a rights focus and, for that reason, being significantly informed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We see them focusing particularly on vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the Australian community, so we are hopeful that they would work with Commissioner Gooda around Indigenous children and young people who are, in significant numbers, facing real disadvantage. But there are other groups of vulnerable and disadvantaged children in our country as well.

Senator BRANDIS: In the budget the government has allocated across the forward estimates $3.5 million to establish the office of the children's commissioner. Does that go straight on to your allocation or is that money treated separately?

Ms Branson : My understanding is it will come in to our core funding budget, but we would regard ourselves as under an obligation to use it to establish the office of the children's commissioner. That funding will enable us to provide staff: not a substantial number of staff, but staff for that commissioner—probably a personal assistant and two other support staff. As I indicated earlier, the funding of itself is not adequate if we choose to give those staff, which we regard as essentially the minimum with which a commissioner can effectively work, adequate resources for what we would expect to be a rise in complaints made under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It will also not have the capacity to support the additional demands on support services of the commission, such as the legal office if demands are referred to the legal office. It will not enable us to provide further lawyers and there will be further demands on our finance and human resources people. It is not adequate to provide additional funding there either.

Senator BRANDIS: This question might be for Mr Wilkins. In the Attorney-General's press release of 19 April announcing this allocation in the budget—

CHAIR: Do you want to hold this question until the department is before us?

Senator BRANDIS: I could, but given we are dealing with this topic at the moment it might be more efficient use of my time to deal with it straight away. If Mr Wilkins is not able to deal with it straight away then we will raise it with the department. In the final paragraph if the Attorney-General's press release of 29 April, the Attorney-General's says:

Funding for the establishment of the Children's Commissioner will be fully offset from savings across the Attorney-General's and the Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolios.

Although this is new money for the Australian Human Rights Commission, it is not new money in aggregate. As the Attorney-General says, it is fully offset from savings elsewhere in government. What functions which the offsetting funds paid for will now not be performed or will be performed instead by the children's commissioner rather than departmentally?

Mr Wilkins : It is really impossible to say, because there is no specific function that is hypothecated to this particular function. So there are a range of efficiencies and savings measures, as you will appreciate, across a full panoply of FaHCSIA and the Attorney-General's Department. It is sort of notional. I could say it will mean that we will do correspondence quicker, but that would be misleading because that is not how it works.

Senator BRANDIS: So when we say that this is being fully offset by savings in these three departments, the fact is that the $3.5 million is, effectively, an arbitrary cut to the budget in a sum equivalent to the amount that is being given for the establishment of the Children's Commissioner?

Mr Wilkins : It is probably wrong to say that it is an arbitrary cut to the budget. It is, if you like, part of the overall efficiency of departments.

Senator BRANDIS: It is like an efficiency dividend that dare not speak its name, is it?

Senator Ludwig: Unlike your $70 billion black hole, I guess.

Mr Wilkins : No. It is simply overall savings. It is not necessarily the case that any function disappears. It may be that some functions are done more efficiently.

Senator BRANDIS: In other words, there is no substitute for functionalities?

Mr Wilkins : No. There is a new function being given to the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is being paid for by money taken off the budgets of those three departments.

Senator BRANDIS: Lastly, Ms Branson, has any thought been given to the relationship between the Children's Commissioner and the guardians or children's commissioners of the states and territories and the work that they currently do and, if so, how do you see that relationship being managed?

Ms Branson : There has been quite long-term consideration of that issue. The Australian Human Rights Commission and, in many cases, since I have been here, me personally attend the meetings of the state children's commissioners and guardians. The topic of the possibility of establishing a national Children's Commissioner has been under consideration there for some time.

There is an organisation of those individuals. Some time ago they made a submission to the Attorney-General supporting the establishment of a national Office of the Children's Commissioner. I think, unlike the Australian Human Rights Commission, they urged that it be placed within the Australian Human Rights Commission. I have seen a letter, written by the president of that group, congratulating the Attorney-General on the announcement she made about the appointment. Within that group there is a high level of confidence that a national commissioner will enhance their work and that the cooperative relationship that already exists between them and the Australian Human Rights Commission will continue.

Senator BRANDIS: My understanding of the way the state children's commissioners, or guardians as they are called in some states, operate is that at least in most states they do casework with particular cases. The Children's Commissioner will not have any casework, will they?

Ms Branson : Certainly not.

Senator BRANDIS: Effectively, it will be an advocacy function, won't it?

Ms Branson : It will very much be an advocacy function, a coordination function and an identification of issues function as well. We see them as having a strong potential to work with our other commissioners, as I have indicated, with Mr Gooda in Indigenous communities and with Dr Szoke in some of our CALD communities. They are broadly supporting our work but with a particular focus on children. Mr Innes, I am sure, will work very closely with this commissioner around the rights of children with disabilities.

Senator BRANDIS: You said coordination, but you are really talking about coordinating the advocacy. Essentially, this is an advocacy role?

Ms Branson : Yes, it is an advocacy role.

Senator BRANDIS: Madam Chair, I am finished with the Human Rights Commission.

Senator PRATT: While you are at the table, Ms Broderick, I want to ask about the UN Commission on the Status of Women and their recent meeting in, I think, March. The outcomes of that meeting have been widely criticised by those advocating for women's rights, largely critiquing it from the point of view that the commission did not make enough success in putting women's rights above cultural rights. I wonder whether you might be in a position to comment on that.

Ms Broderick : You are right. The 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women was held in late February, early March. It has been largely criticised because the commission did not reach what they call a set of agreed conclusions. Ordinarily, at the end of each CSW there is a statement around agreed conclusions. I have been going for the last four years and, for the first time, the Commission on the Status of Women did not reach a set of agreed conclusions. Having said that, there was a lot of important dialogue. There were many good sessions. I think the work the Australian delegation did around highlighting domestic violence in rural communities, particularly the challenges for women living in those communities, was quite effective work.

Senator PRATT: In terms of there not being agreement, was it because there was this conflict between the human rights of women and cultural rights in some instances—by some countries seeking to put that above those human rights? I had a similar experience watching some of the debates at the UN in relation to HIV. I think they were probably more successfully resolved than in this instance.

Ms Broderick : There was a range of issues. That was probably one, but there were other issues. The thing about CSW is that the negotiations happen in the second week. They run almost 24 hours a day, and there is a cut-off time. That is one of the things I think the commission is looking at generally—whether that is the most effective way to run the negotiations and the agreed conclusions. But I do think there was some disquiet about the fact that at the 12th hour there was no set of agreed conclusions.

Senator PRATT: I suppose part of that is that for there to be an agreed outcome and for Australia to sign on to that agreed outcome. If Australia is going to sign on to that outcome we need to be confident that we are actually moving in the right direction rather than the wrong direction in the document itself.

Ms Broderick : That is right. We take back some of the key learnings when we come back from CSW and we give speeches, and so does the government and other people from the delegation. The delegation usually comprises numerous women's NGOs. There is a very small government delegation, and I also travel across to CSW. So it is about lifting the awareness irrespective of whether there are agreed conclusions or not, particularly highlighting the issues for rural women, which was the focus of this year's CSW.

Senator PRATT: In relation to Ms Redmond's address, which was raised in the media this week, I understand that you are on record as saying that you encourage people to seek legal redress and to put their complaints forward.

Ms Broderick : That is right. Generally, that is my view—that we have strong laws in Australia and yes, women will use a whole range of different techniques to work to combat sex discrimination, and the legal avenue is a very valid avenue as well.

Senator PRATT: I suppose if you have isolated complaints then you do not get the systemic change that is required. So you would advocate that people who suffer discrimination in the workplace should put complaints forward.

Ms Broderick : Change comes in a variety of forms. One is having strong laws and having people who seek redress under those laws. That is a very important part of it. But education is a very important part as well, and then interventions that will drive cultural change, particularly in paid work. So there is a whole range of activities that need to happen, but seeking legal redress is a valid option.

Senator PRATT: Thank you. I want to ask Mr Gooda some questions. I will begin by asking you about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Australia's relationship with this declaration. Where do you think we are up to in making progress against it?

Mr Gooda : I was at the 11th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues only last week. The forum celebrated the five-year anniversary of the adoption of the declaration by the General Assembly. Of course, Australia came in two years after that to adopt it. I think the general consensus of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from Australia at the forum was that we are lagging behind where we could be. I do not think that the declaration has seriously been taken up by departments. We continue to have discussions with mainly FaHCSIA about a process whereby we can have some discussion around how we could effectively implement the declaration in Australia. At this stage there is a lot of discussion going on in the Aboriginal sector but not much going between the Aboriginal sector and government.

Senator PRATT: In relation to issues of language and culture, one of the things that the commission recognises is the significance of language and culture as part of the rights of first peoples. I have noted that many communities in my constituency are struggling to appropriately support and resource the expression of language and culture, and I wondered if you might share any of those particular observations with me.

Mr Gooda : We generally agree there have been 250 Indigenous languages in Australia. There is a miniscule number of those that are spoken fluently. A lot of them have disappeared. In my own case, in Queensland the regime at the time locked my grandparents and great-grandparents up for speaking language, so we lost that capacity. In an oral culture it is very important to maintain language, so I think that the first effort that we talk about is maintaining the languages that are already been spoken and then trying to revive ones that have died. In your home state in Perth, the Noongar language revival is probably the best in the country. While there are some examples where things are happening that are not so good, I think in Perth it is safe to say that is where the best example of language revival is happening.

Senator PRATT: I note that in much of my constituency, English is the third and fourth language for many Indigenous people in places like the Kimberley. They have got their own language and then the associated languages from nearby communities. English is somewhere after that, which strikes me that we have not really done enough to assist those communities in expressing their rights to express that language in the wider Australian society within education and within arts institutions et cetera.

Mr Gooda : The Human Rights Commission has made several submissions to the body developing the new national curriculum so, hopefully, in the future that is going to happen. It is difficult. There are 250 languages. We look at New Zealand and the language that New Zealand has, but there is only one indigenous language, so it is hard to compare. Although, New Zealand has the Maori Language Commission, and there has been some talk about advocating a similar institution here in Australia. Languages are taken very seriously during our consultation on the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution. You will see that there are recommendations about recognising indigenous languages as part of our national heritage. If we are going to do that, then we have got to provide the appropriate support to maintain them.

Senator PRATT: So that would be about having an appropriate national institution to do that in the same way that we have the National Archives or the National Museum—an appropriate body that can facilitate some custodianship and cultural development of that.

Mr Gooda : That is the strategy of people like FATSIL, the federation of language group in Australia, are pursuing.

Senator PRATT: And at the moment much of that work is done within diffuse communities and diffuse departmental funding that is picked up in an ad hoc manner in your view?

Mr Gooda : Pretty ad hoc. I am not sure which department the funding comes out of these days but there are certainly different groups in Australia—and Aboriginal Australia—doing different things. Our office supported the call for a national institution along those lines, mainly so it is a place to bring all of those efforts together.

Senator PRATT: I note that many groups, because of their remoteness, their isolation and their removal from mainstream bureaucracy, are struggling a little bit with their advocacy. I have seen some improvements since the national congress has come along. I know that the congress is not part of the Human Rights Commission, of course, but it is clearly something that the Human Rights Commission has supported, so I wondered if you might comment on how it is progressing.

Mr Gooda : The congress is pretty new. In my report in 2010 I spoke about a forum in Fitzroy Crossing, the Fitzroy Futures Forum. It is probably 12 years old now and performing a really great function up there, bringing people—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—together to discuss the future of the Fitzroy Valley. Similarly, I think we have got to give the congress time to progress and establish itself. It is only about two years old now and we have only had the first elected chairs in place for over a year. I hold great hope for the congress to take up an advocacy role at the national level, but I maintain that we have just got to give it time to develop and establish itself in a credible way and not reduce the effort to support it. Certainly, from my perspective, I will be supporting the efforts of both the co-chairs and the congress itself to establish itself as this advocacy body that we so importantly need at the national level.

Senator PRATT: I have certainly noticed that its work is starting to bring together and coordinate some of the more diffuse advocacy that has happened and to work to make that more coordinated and coherent. I think that is very much needed.

Mr Gooda : Absolutely.

Senator PRATT: Thank you. That was all, Mr Gooda. I have a question which I think belongs with our race commissioner. I note that the commission did some important work with African communities. I know that some of that was in Western Australia—and I am not sure which other states that was with—but I was interested to know about the development of outcomes and actions from those consultations.

Dr Szoke : The commission has actually done some work over a number of years. My predecessor as Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, led that work. Basically it involved, in the first instance, consultations across Australia where there are settlements of African communities and then some specific follow-up work which I think was done in Sydney and in Perth. I think that the general direction or the findings that have come out from that research indicate that there are some particular areas of focus which are really around what the barriers are to those communities becoming fully active and participating in community life more generally. Some of those are the predictable barriers that might exist for any more recently arrived group—if you talk about recent being a decade or so—and a lot of those are issues around the cultural mix of groups coming into different parts of public life, including education and access to health services. Certainly employment is looming as an area where not only the first generation of settlers, but even the second generation, who are getting university degrees, are anecdotally reporting that they do seem to be facing a more systemic response to them accessing education services. The other area that perhaps is exercising us more immediately—and this is again an issue of how a federal human rights commission actually deals with issues where delivery might be at a state level—is in fact the interface between families and child protection services. The more recent consultations and a couple of events that both the president of the commission and myself and the Deputy Sex Discrimination Commissioner have been involved in highlighted what, on the part of the community, was perceived to be a lack of perhaps cultural understanding about what constitutes a family in the African community; and how the obligations are perceived to be in terms of the care and protection and safety of children and how they are interfacing with state services. We have yet to really progress that work, but it was a unanimous theme across a number of the different public hearings we have held.

Senator PRATT: Can you give me an example of what that actually means?

Dr Szoke : Again I would say that this is testimony, if you like, that is given rather than research that we have undertaken. The sort of anecdotes that arose in that context were, for example, where children were perceived to be needing to have the protection of child protection services but the grandmother or the aunties were not considered to be appropriate carers; they were in fact taken into care outside of the African community. I think there are other anecdotes that we have put in our reports around the perception that there may not be adequate physical care of children around, for example, levels of food in households where the response to that has been that the tradition of these communities is to buy fresh every day and to look after the interests in those ways.

I think the really systemic cultural barrier that comes up is the conception of the responsibility of an extended family and how seriously that responsibility is taken where there are young children who might be taken out of the context of the care of the broader family. And I must say—and I do not know, President Branson was involved in some of the consultations in Adelaide—in our discussions with the Sydney families, there were some very distressed people, particularly where a child might have been taken into care and the grandmother, the grand-aunt or the relative that was not too distant was not given what they perceived to be adequate access to the interests of the child.

Senator PRATT: You are explaining this as it is perceived by the community, and clearly it needs to be examined from the community's point of view, but with the child's best interests first.

I would imagine that these issues are the kind of thing that a future children's commissioner might consider, because there is often an intersection between the different rights and the work of different commissioners in relation to multiple disadvantages.

Dr Szoke : Yes. From my perspective, one of the challenges for a children's services commissioner is that there might be a long list of rather systemic issues that they may want to look at. The only other thing that I would say—and I am not sure if the president wants to comment—is to acknowledge that this is an issue that a number of the state child protection services are grappling with. My understanding is that they are not blind to the challenges that are facing them in the execution of their statutory functions, but I think, as with all things involving cultural competency or understanding, that is along the process of getting to the right mix.

Senator PRATT: New communities take some time, as there have been many waves of migration in Australia, to settle and overcome stigma and discrimination that they often encounter, and we have come a long way in welcoming people from different races and new communities. Notwithstanding that, each new wave who are different to the waves that have come before can often be the subject of stigma and discrimination in different contexts.

Dr Szoke : I guess I would answer that more broadly on the basis of the work that has been done by the Australian Human Rights Commission, and I could actually refer to some of the work that I have done within the context of my previous role as Victorian commissioner. There would be a number of comments that I would make. The first is that I think the African community feel that they are visible and identifiable—so to some extent some of the experience that they report in terms of public perception is not dissimilar to the sort of thing that we found with the Muslim community, particularly after September 11—and so there is a perception that perhaps they receive much more attention through, for example, media, criminal justice services and more generally in public spaces than perhaps what is warranted, and that is do with visibility.

The second is that they certainly experience what I would call more systemic issues that are challenging, and there is enormous complexity in those. I have mentioned child protection services, but I think there are other barriers that are challenging and that some of those are very basic needs around access to appropriate accommodation, sometimes as a result of the size of families and where they can adequately access appropriate accommodation. Some of those challenges are also around the issues to do with fitting the education system, bearing in mind that the children of these families are the next generation of employees and businesspeople and leaders and academics and so on. I think that to some extent our education system often is challenged by physical age versus perhaps educational age and experience of these communities. To that extent, I think it is still a work in progress, and perhaps a combination of things make the community feel that they are perhaps subject to more stigmatisation than other more recently arrived communities.

Senator PRATT: Thank you for those observations. My last question I will direct to you, Ms Branson, but Ms Broderick might also like to address it. I probably should have asked it at the outset. There have been some calls for inclusion of protection against discrimination on the basis of having been a victim of domestic or family violence and that such laws should go into the Fair Work Act et cetera, but it is also recognised that such provisions should probably also have a place in our consolidated antidiscrimination legislation. I was wondering if the commission had formed a view about that particular question but also how that might have a relationship with discrimination that people might suffer because they have been a victim of other forms of violence.

Ms Branson : It is a matter that the commission has given consideration to, but I will ask Commissioner Broderick if she will address that.

Ms Broderick : That is right; it is a matter that we have looked at. Two-thirds of women who are living in violent relationships are in paid work, so there is some evidence that one of the reasons for the low rates of disclosure of domestic violence in a paid work situation is because of, once again, a fear, in a sense, of victimisation if they would actually disclose why they need a flexible work arrangement or to take time off to attend court hearings or whatever. So the rates of disclosure are very low. I know that because I can have a good conversation with a business about sexual harassment but, when I move into the areas of domestic violence, that is seen to be a private matter. There need to be a lot of things done to help the community understand that actually it will take all of us to eradicate domestic violence as a human rights abuse from Australia. That includes community groups and government but also includes business, unions and a whole range of people. That is part of the reason behind looking at what things can be done to progress the eradication of domestic violence in Australia and particularly looking at it as a workplace issue.

Senator PRATT: In a sense, I think part of my other question about distinguishing that and other forms of violence is—clearly people may or could be discriminated against because they have been victims of other forms of violence, but it is the private nature that can undermine your capacity to say, 'Well, actually I need to change my working hours because I am now travelling from a refuge that is 20 kilometres from where I used to travel to work from,' for example.

Ms Broderick : That is exactly right, and there are some businesses who are doing some really good things in this area but I still think to have a conversation about domestic violence in business is very difficult.

Senator PRATT: Thank you.

Senator FURNER: Commissioner Broderick, just concentrating once again on the subject of sexual harassment, I understand the commission is embarking on the third survey of sexual harassment prevalence. Could you just expand on the processes involved in that—how is that disseminated?

Ms Broderick : We are actually in the field at the minute with our national prevalence survey. It is a telephone based survey. My predecessor Pru Goward ran it in 2003. She found 28 per cent of women had been sexually harassed in paid work and seven per cent of men. I ran it again in 2008 and I found it was 22 per cent of women and five per cent of men. We are now in 2012, and once again, it will be a full national prevalence survey of sexual harassment in public life and also particularly looking at it in workplaces.

Senator FURNER: What are the number of respondents to those past surveys?

Ms Broderick : We have continued with the same methodology; we have added to it a bit. I am keen that we do that, because then we can get the benchmark data and see how we are trending. But the survey population is around, I think, 2,005 individuals and, from a statistical perspective, it is representative of the Australian population as worked out by people who understand these things.

Senator FURNER: Do you think that the community is getting a better understanding of sexual discrimination as a result of these surveys?

Ms Broderick : In terms of the education work that is being done as a result of the surveys, but also of a number of high-profile cases and the work that business does. Workplaces are really starting to step up on this and, whereas five years ago there may have been a view that: if you are not hearing about sexual harassment, it is not happening. I think there is a greater understanding that maybe just because I am not hearing about it does not necessarily mean that it is not happening in the organisation, and I need to be more proactive about it. We have seen a good shift there.

Senator FURNER: High-profile cases similar to the David Jones case?

Ms Broderick : That is right. We will have an educative impact. They get the community talking about these issues and, from my perspective, that is a good thing.

Senator FURNER: What is the educational process? What does the commission do in educating people—there has been a document tabled today some guidelines. How does the commission get out into the community to explain the processes in terms of firstly dealing with complaints; secondly, how to raise those sorts of issues; and, thirdly, getting the message across that this type of discrimination is wrong? What is the process?

Ms Broderick : There are a whole range of processes, but one would be presenting many speeches where this subject is included. The other would be using the media to get the message out that sexual harassment is unlawful and what actually constitutes sexual harassment and, increasingly, using social media such as Facebook and Twitter and our own portal, where we cover sexual harassment on our Something in Common website. It is a whole range of communication methods, and of course now there is respectful relationship education coming into schools as well, so that is a important development.

Senator FURNER: At what level of schooling is that being produced?

Ms Broderick : As I understand it is from kindergarten upwards.

Senator FURNER: Is there any funding in respect to training in-house, not necessarily individuals, but organisations such as unions and that sort of avenue for people to be educated with respect to these particular programs?

Ms Broderick : There are a lot of NGOS such as the Jesse Street Trust who run their See Speak Hear campaign, which was a social media campaign. So there will be organisations from time to time that have strong communication around sexual harassment. Also, I know the unions are strong. And employer groups, like ACCI and others, are addressing these issues.

Ms Branson : It is also the case that when the commission conciliates complaints that come to it very often the resolved outcome is one intended by the parties as well as the commission to have some ongoing structural impact. So, it is not uncommon for a workplace complaint of sexual harassment to be conciliated on the basis that the employer will put in place a training program in the place of work. Or, if it is something against a local government, the local government association will take steps to ensure improved practices in the area of the complaint. So, we do see our complaints handling function as having not only an educative function to the individuals concerned but a broader educative function.

Senator FURNER: I would concur with that. In my past experience in my capacity as a union official, in some workplaces I noted that employers did not have sexual harassment policies and, as a result of complaints being put forward by members to deal with sexual harassment issues, the subsequent result was a sexual harassment policy, consultation with the workers and, hand-in-hand with the union, the development of a reasonable policy to deal with those sorts of issues. That is a common facet you would find in respect of the issue you just referred to.

Ms Branson : Across all our complaints areas we seek to conciliate outcomes that have a broader public-good outcome than just the settling of the individual complaints. We can very commonly achieve that, and it is very often what a complainant and a respondent are looking for.

CHAIR: Thank you for your evidence. I bid you farewell, Ms Branson. On behalf of this committee I want to acknowledge your service as the president of the Human Rights Commission. You have been there since 2008, I understand. I want to pay tribute to your time at the commission contributing to significant achievements in the promotion and protection of human rights in Australia. Some of those highlights include, of course, increasing the commission's role in building greater understanding and respect for human rights in our community. You have presided over a period of collaboration between the commission and the government on the development of Australia's Human Rights Framework. We also acknowledge that you have been a committed advocate for strengthening human rights in our region, as a country, and instrumental in cementing the commission as a leader in the international human rights institutions in our region and beyond.

Also, you have presided over the amendments to the sex and age discrimination acts. The commission has advocated strongly for these changes, including the protection of discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities, which you can add to your time as president. You have been there while we have established the first full-time Age Discrimination Commissioner, and you still hold the role of president today as we table the legislation for the Childrens Commissioner. Your disability-access-to-premises standard was tabled in 2010 after 10 years of cooperative work and negotiation between the commission, regulators, governments, industry and the disability community.

I will not read the rest of your CV. It is extensive. You were appointed as a QC in 1992, served as a Crown Solicitor and then as a judge in the Federal Court of Australia, for 14 years. I notice that in your professional life you sit or have sat on at least five national and international boards. In your social life, and in your service to the South Australian community, there are no fewer than five major boards there, including of course your love for the University of South Australia, your dedication to the Women's and Children's Hospital and your love of the arts.

Finally, having been awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Adelaide, in 2011, which was an outstanding achievement that recognised your contribution to South Australia and your contribution to Australian law and human rights. So, I think we are saying farewell to you from the Australian Human Rights Commission, but when I look at the work you have achieved, and your energy, I do not think we are going to see you fade away into retirement. So I look forward to your next adventure in what has been an outstanding and very proud career. As chair of this committee, I have been honoured to have had dealings with you. I place on record this committee's appreciation of you and the Australian Human Rights Commission from our dealings with you. People may not be aware of this but for nearly every piece of legislation we scrutinise we get a response about it from the Human Rights Commission. The work you churn out for us in your analytical and critical comments on legislation is highly useful and it assists the committee very much in the work we do when we look at legislation to improve what is going on in this country.

I thank you and bid you farewell from your last estimates. Like everyone else I know you will just skip out that door knowing that you will never have to come back! We appreciate your work and recognise your outstanding professionalism and your intelligence and grasp of the law and human rights and we wish you the best in your next journey.

Ms Branson : Thank you. I very much appreciate those generous words from you and the members of your committee. It has been a great privilege for me to serve nearly four years as president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, an institution that I believe performs extremely valuable work within Australia, principally, but it also contributes to the extent it can in our region and internationally. I have been very proud to be its president and I will be very sorry to leave the office.

I am very grateful to hear what you said about the submission we made. We take the role that we play in making submissions to parliamentary inquiries and committees very seriously. We are very pleased to hear that you find them of value. Thank you for your generous remarks to me, but in particular I am very pleased to hear you make positive remarks about what I believe is a very important institution in our democracy.

CHAIR: You are going to leave behind a very good team.

Ms Branson : I do know that. I have a fantastic team.

CHAIR: You will be struggling to find a team as comparable. We will now move to the Australian Law Reform Commission.