Australian Human Rights Commission
|Statutory authority overview|
|Preceding Statutory authority||
|Jurisdiction||Commonwealth of Australia|
|Statutory authority executives||
The Australian Human Rights Commission is a national human rights institution, established in 1986 as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and renamed in 2008. It is a statutory body funded by, but operating independently of, the Australian Government. It has the responsibility for investigating alleged infringements under Australia's anti-discrimination legislation in relation to Commonwealth Agencies. Matters that can be investigated by the Commission under the Australian Human Rights Commission Regulations 1989 include "discrimination on the grounds of race or nationality, colour or ethnic origin, racial vilification, age, sex or gender, sexual harassment, marital or relationship status, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, care status, actual or potential pregnancy, breastfeeding, trade union activity, criminal record, medical record, impairment or physical disability".
The Commission falls under the portfolio of the Attorney-General of Australia.
|1||Marcus Einfeld||President, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission||1986–1990|
|4||John von Doussa||2003–2008|
|5||Catherine Branson||President, Australian Human Rights Commission||2008–2012|
- 1 Einfeld was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1997; however, his commission as a QC was revoked on 26 November 2008.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioners
|1||Mick Dodson||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner||1993–1998|
|2||Zita Antonio||1998–1999 (acting)|
Disability Discrimination Commissioners
|1||Elizabeth Hastings||Disability Discrimination Commissioner||1993–1997|
|2||Chris Sidoti||1998 (acting)|
|3||Susan Halliday||1999 (acting)|
|4||Sev Ozdowski||2000–2005 (acting)|
|6||Susan Ryan||2014–2016 (acting)|
Human Rights Commissioners
|1||Brian Burdekin||Human Rights Commissioner||1986–1994|
Race Discrimination Commissioners
|1||Irene Moss||Race Discrimination Commissioner||1986–1994|
|3||Bill Jonas||1999–2004 (acting)|
|7||Gillian Triggs||2013 (acting)|
Sex Discrimination Commissioners
|1||Pam O'Neil||Sex Discrimination Commissioner||1984–1988|
|4||Moira Scollay||1997–1998 (acting)|
|7||Justice John von Doussa||2007 (acting)|
Age Discrimination Commissioner
|1||Pru Goward||Commissioner Responsible for Age Discrimination||2005–2007|
|2||Justice John von Doussa||2007 (acting)|
|4||Susan Ryan||Age Discrimination Commissioner||2011–2016|
|5||Kay Patterson||Age Discrimination Commissioner||2016–present|
National Children's Commissioner
|1||Megan Mitchell||National Children's Commissioner||2013–present|
The following have served as Privacy Commissioner, initially at HREOC and then at two other Offices:
|1||Kevin O’Connor, AM||Privacy Commissioner (at HREOC)||1989–1996|
|3||Malcolm Crompton||Privacy Commissioner (at HREOC until July 2000, then at OPC)||1999–2004|
|4||Karen Curtis||Privacy Commissioner (at OPC)||2004–2010|
|5||Timothy Pilgrim PSM|| Privacy Commissioner (at OAIC); |
Acting Australian Information Commissioner (from 2015)
On 1 January 1989, the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) established the Privacy Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission (or HREOC as it then was). The Privacy Commissioner continued in HREOC until 1 July 2000, when a new Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) was established by the federal Parliament, and the Privacy Commissioner was separated from the AHRC.
In 2010, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) was established and the previously independent Office of the Privacy Commissioner was subsumed into it. The Privacy Commissioner now came under the supervision of the new Australian Information Commissioner, who could exercise the Privacy Commissioner's powers.
From 2014, the incoming Australian government under PM Tony Abbott attempted to abolish the OAIC, succeeding in having the Australian Information Commissioner (Prof John McMillan) unexpectedly retire early and FOI Commissioner (James Popple) resign, and cutting OAIC's budget. But the Senate failed to pass the necessary legislation (Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014). Several former judges suggested this pursuit of the abolition of a body created by Parliament without its support for that abolition raises constitutional and rule of law concerns. Then-Privacy Commissioner Pilgrim was appointed as Acting Australian Information Commissioner in July 2015 for three months, filling all three OAIC roles on a part-time basis (and now also administering the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 (Cth)). He was reappointed as Acting Australian Information Commissioner in October 2015 for three months, and again on 19 January 2016 until 19 April 2016.
In early 2016, it remained unclear whether the Privacy Commissioner role would be returned to the AHRC if the abolition of the OAIC were to succeed.
On 18 March 2016, the Commonwealth Attorney-General advertised for expressions of interest in the positions, to commence in July, of Age Discrimination Commissioner, Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner.
The Commission investigates alleged infringements under the following federal legislation:
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)
- Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)
- Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (formerly Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986)
From its introduction until 2000 the Commission also hosted the Commissioner administering:
- Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)
One of the more visible functions of the Commission is to conduct public inquiries. Some examples of inquires conducted include:
- Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry into financial and workplace discrimination against same-sex couples
- Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families ( Bringing Them Home report)
- National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2004)
- National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014)-ongoing As of 9 January 2014
- Homeless Children Inquiry
- Pregnancy Discrimination Inquiry
- Inquiry into the Accessibility of electronic commerce and new service and information technologies for older Australians and people with a disability
- Inquiry into Human Rights and Good Governance Education in the Asia Pacific Region
Gender identity and sexuality
Private members bills introduced from both the Australian Greens and the Australian Democrats have tried to add sexuality and/or gender identity to the list of matters that can be investigated by the Commission, which has always failed to pass at least one house of parliament since 1995, because of a lack of support from both the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition in the federal parliament.
In late 2010, the Gillard Labor Government announced that it was undertaking a review of federal anti-discrimination laws, with the aim of introducing a single equality act that would include sexual orientation and gender identity. This was abandoned and instead the Gillard Labor Government introduced another bill – which is mentioned below.
On 25 June 2013, the Australian Federal Parliament passed the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 with overwhelming support in both houses and became law from Royal Assent three days later by the Governor-General. It became effective from 1 August 2013, making discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgender and for the first time in the world, Intersex people, illegal at a national level. Aged care providers who are owned by religious groups will no longer be able to exclude people from aged care services based on their LGBTI or same-sex relationship status. However, religious owned private schools and religious owned hospitals are exempt from gender identity and sexual orientation provisions in the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013. No religious exemptions exist on the basis of intersex status.
Human Rights Awards and Medals
Since 1987, the Human Rights Awards have been presented at the Commission's annual Human Rights Medal and Awards ceremony.
The Human Rights Medal is the highest award of the Human Rights Awards to individuals "for their outstanding contribution to human rights in Australia".
In 2008 the Young People's Human Rights Medal was awarded for the first time.
Other awards are:
- Human Rights Community (Individual) Award.
- Human Rights Community (Organisation) Award.
- Human Rights Radio Award
- Human Rights Television Award
- Human Rights Print Media Award
- Human Rights Arts Non-Fiction Award
- Human Rights Law Award – sponsored by the Law Council of Australia
The Commission is one of some 70 national human rights institutions (NHRIs) accredited by the International Co-ordinating Committee of NHRIs (ICC), a body sponsored by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Commission's "A status" accreditation allows it special access to the United Nations human rights system, including speaking rights at the Human Rights Council and other committees. The Commission can present parallel reports ("shadow reports") to UN treaty committees examining Australia's compliance with international human rights instruments. It has been very active in developing NHRIs throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and is a leading member of the Asia Pacific Forum of NHRIs, one of four regional sub-groups of NHRIs.
- "Table 2". APS Statistical Bulletin 2014-15 (Report). Australian Public Service Commission.
- "Previous Office Holders". President & Commissioners. Australian Human Rights Commission. 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
- "Einfeld stripped of QC status". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 November 2008. Retrieved 26 November 2008.
- Ed Santow, head of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, will succeed Tim Wilson as Human Rights Commissioner: Sydney Law School e-News 31 May 2016.
- "The slow death of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner", Canberra Times, 1 September 2015
- Tim Smith, David Harper, Stephen Charles, "Senate's last chance to save FOI watchdog and protect the rule of law", Canberra Times, 22 June 2015
- Commissioner Pilgrim was reported to have recognised the implications of uncertain tenure: "This has, naturally, created uncertainty and speculation particularly amongst administrative law and open government advocacy circles about the ability of the OAIC to be effective and perform the important role that it holds for the community in the privacy and FOI spaces."
- AHRC Commissioners, expressions of interest, March 2016
- "National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2004". Australian Human Rights Commission. 13 May 2004. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
- "National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014". Australian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
- Australian DemocratsAustralian Democrats Press Releases
- Red Book plan a step towards gay marriage, The Australian, 15 December 2010
- Australian Parliament, Explanatory Memorandum to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013, 2013
- Australia outlaws LGBT discrimination under national laws for first time, 25 June 2013