The Government has today passed the most significant reforms to the Australian Human Rights Commission in almost 20 years.
These reforms will improve the complaints handling processes of the Commission and ensure that the recent cases of the students at QUT, and the complaint against the late great cartoonist Bill Leak do not happen again.
The Government acted swiftly to respond to community concern about the abuse and the misuse of the Commission’s processes, highlighted in the recent Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (PJCHR) Inquiry into Freedom of Speech.
It has been clear that the Commission’s model for resolving complaints has not operated as effectively as it should.
The Commission will now have the powers it needs to terminate unmeritorious complaints as soon as possible. It will also be required to act fairly and expeditiously in dealing with complaints, and to notify respondents about a complaint.
The Government’s reforms will restore public confidence in the Commission’s processes, and improve its efficiency and governance arrangements.
In implementing these reforms, the Government has worked constructively with the Commission, its President – Professor Gillian Triggs, stakeholders and the Parliament.
While the Government is disappointed that the Senate voted against strengthening section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the procedural changes agreed to today will ensure that the Human Rights Commission will never again be able to be used to prosecute ordinary Australians who merely want to express their right to free speech.