Australian Human Rights Commission submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
15 February 2017
Additional documents - 17 February 2017
Opening Statement to the Free Speech Inquiry - 17 February 2017
1. The Commission made a submission to this inquiry on 9 December 2016 and appeared before the Committee to give evidence in person on 12 December 2016. It tabled some documents on that occasion and answered some questions on notice.
2. Since providing that evidence, the Commission has considered closely many of the written submissions published by the Committee and the evidence given at the public hearings. In light of this material, the Commission has given further consideration to amendments to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (AHRC Act) dealing with the way in which complaints to the Commission are handled.
3. The Commission’s previous recommendations and the additional recommendations in this supplementary submission are designed to:
• assist the Commission to deal early with unmeritorious complaints;
• reinforce procedural fairness in the Commission’s processes; and
• protect respondents from unmeritorious legal proceedings.
4. This supplementary submission provides more specific detail on how the Commission handles complaints under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA). It also describes the circumstances in which the Commission will consider the application of the freedom of speech exemptions in section 18D.
5. Finally, this submission sets out details of outcomes in complaints under section 18C of the RDA in cases that are resolved through conciliation at the Commission and in cases that have gone to court.
6. Most successful conciliations in section 18C cases are resolved without any financial payment being made. In those matters, the most common outcomes agreed by the parties are either an apology by a respondent, or an acknowledgement by a complainant that they were satisfied that their concerns had been heard.
7. The Commission does not make recommendations about settlement, whether financial or otherwise. In 2016, only 28% of complaints under section 18C that were successfully conciliated involved a financial payment by a party. In the minority of cases where a financial payment is agreed between the parties during conciliation at the Commission, the amounts proposed and agreed to by the parties are broadly similar to the amounts that have been ordered in court proceedings.