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Tuesday, 19 February 1980
Page: 70

Mr VINER - When the Commission commences operations, which is expected to be later this year, it will assume over-all responsibility for implementing the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act. However, the Commissioner for Community Relations will have the responsibility, subject to any direction the Commission may issue, to investigate and resolve complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act. The Commissioner will concentrate on this important area of his work, while the Commission assumes responsibilities for promotion, research and education as part of its broader functions in these areas, and having in mind the responsibilities of other bodies.

The Government fully recognises the importance of the objectives of the Racial Discrimination Act, which implements Australia's obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. I assure honourable members that the Racial Discrimination Act will continue to be implemented with as much vigour and determination as before. The objective of the present amendment is to achieve a measure of useful administrative rationalisation, while preserving the thrust of the legislation. Indeed, with the greater resources which will be available to the Human Rights Commission, and the hoped for cooperation with State agencies, it should be possible to give the public quicker, more accessible and more effective service.

Although the provisions of the Bill are somewhat complex, the objective is simple: To retain the essential provisions of the existing legislation while adjusting the associated administrative arrangements. The key clauses are clauses 4 and 5. By these, the functions of the Commissioner are vested in the Human Rights Commission, but it is made clear that the Commissioner continues to exercise investigating and conciliating functions in the same way as before, except that they will now formally be done on behalf of the Human Rights Commission. Members of the public can be assured that, from their point of view, business will continue to be as usual. Indeed, the new arrangements will make the machinery more accessible. Where the Commission establishes cooperative machinery with a State, or its own offices in a State, these will provide agencies for access to the Commissioner and the remedies provided by the Act which are additional to those already available, contrary to what has been suggested in some quarters.

Most of the other clauses are technical in nature, and are designed to achieve within the framework of the existing legislation the objectives I have just mentioned. Clause 9 will preserve in the new arrangements the right of a person aggrieved by an act he or she considers to have been discriminatory on grounds of race to institute a proceeding in a court. That right is given by section 24 of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the effect of clause 9 is to authorise a member of the Human Rights Commission, as well as the Commissioner, to sign a certificate which would allow suitable proceedings to be brought. Clauses 15 and 16, together with clause 29 of the Human Rights Commission Bill, will have the effect of requiring the Human Rights Commission to report to Parliament on its functions under the Racial Discrimination Act. Clauses 10 and 14 ensure that persons who bring matters before the Commissioner are given legal protection from intimidation or legal actions solely on grounds that the complaint has been made. I believe this Bill represents a significant and practical step towards a co-operative and coordinated approach to the implementation of human rights policy. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen) adjourned.

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