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Information for respondents, for complaints lodged under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act

Complaint Information Service
Friday 14 December, 2012

Information Sheet

The Australian Human Rights Commission provides a free and impartial service to handle complaints of discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment.

The following information explains how we go about assessing and resolving complaints.

1. Do we have the power to investigate the complaint?

The Commission has a legal right to investigate a complaint about an issue covered by federal anti-discrimination laws. If a complaint is made against you or your organisation the process guarantees your right to fair treatment. You are entitled to know about the complaint and to have an opportunity to respond to its claims.

You do not have to have legal advice to respond to a complaint, although you may choose to do so. You may also seek advice from other organisations, such as an industry or employer group.

2. Investigating the complaint

The Investigation/Conciliation Officer handling the complaint will contact you to discuss the complaint, on behalf of the Commission President. In some cases the matter may be relatively easy to investigate and/or resolve and will only need to seek information from you over the telephone. 

In other cases the President may write to you seeking information about the allegations and requesting relevant documents. This could include witness statements, minutes of meetings, copies of internal investigation reports and medical records. The President has the legal authority to request information that is relevant to the complaint.

The President will ask you to respond within a set time frame. If you do not respond within the time frame, or if you do not respond at all, the President may compel you to provide the requested information. 

The President will review the information you provide and may give a copy to the complainant for comment.

Stage 1

There is not enough evidence to support the complaint and the President decides to stop the investigation and close the complaint.

Or:

The President thinks there is enough evidence to support the complaint and we will try to resolve the complaint by conciliation.

3. Conciliation

If it seems that the complaint can be resolved by you and the complainant we will try to help you both reach an agreement in a fair way. We may do this by bringing you together in a "conciliation conference", which is an informal, impartial and private process. 

The conciliation officer is impartial and will set the standards for the conference. At the conference, both parties will have the chance to talk about the issues raised in the complaint and discuss solutions. 

If the conciliation officer agrees, you may have a lawyer, advocate or support person at the conciliation conference. It is not necessary for you to be represented by a lawyer but if you do have a lawyer, you must pay for the lawyer yourself.

Conciliation processes are flexible and sometimes matters can be settled by an exchange of letters, telephone negotiation through the conciliation officer or by a telephone conciliation conference.

If conciliation is not successful or not appropriate, and the Commission finds that there has been a breach of human rights, the Commission President can report on the matter to the Federal-Attorney General. The report must be tabled in parliament. 

Stage 2

You and the respondent reach an agreement about your complaint. We will help you to write up the agreement and then close the complaint file. 

Or:

If the complaint cannot be resolved through conciliation, the President may report to the Attorney General about the complaint and make recommendations for action.

4. Your questions

If you have any questions about how we will handle your complaint, please call our Complaints Infoline on (02) 9284 9888 or 1300 656 419 (local call cost).

Where can I find out more?

For further information on the Commission's Conciliation Process you can contact the Commission.

The Commission's contact details:

Post:
Australian Human Rights Commission
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001

Telephone:
Complaints Info line: 1300 656 419 (local call)
TTY: 1800 620 241 (toll free)
Fax: (02) 9284 9611

Online:
E-mail: complaintsinfo@humanrights.gov.au
Web site: www.humanrights.gov.au

If you are deaf or hearing impaired, the Commission can arrange for an Auslan interpreter if this is needed. You can also communicate with us by TTY by calling 1800 620 241.

If you are blind or visually impaired the Commission can provide information in alternative formats on request.

Disclaimer: The information on this fact sheet is intended only as a guide. It is not a substitute for legal advice.