House debates

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights; Report

4:49 pm

Photo of Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights I present the committee's report entitled, Human rights scrutiny report: thirty-fourth report of the 44th Parliament

In accordance with standing order 39(e) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

by leave—I thank the honourable member for Moreton for the granting of leave. He appreciates the importance of human rights issues.

Of course, I rise to speak to the tabling of the joint committee's report. This report examines the compatibility of bills and legislative instruments against our international human rights obligations. This report considers bills introduced into the parliament from 2 February to 11 February and legislative instruments received from 11 December 2015 to 21 January 2016.

The report includes the committee's consideration of 12 responses to matters raised in previous reports. Thirteen new bills were assessed as not raising human rights concerns. The committee will seek a further response from the legislation proponents in relation to two bills. The committee has also concluded its examination of four bills and eight regulations.

As members would be aware, the committee's reports generally only include matters that raise human rights concerns. The committee is, typically, silent on bills and instruments that are compatible with human rights. This means that often good work of ministers in ensuring compatibility of legislation with human rights goes unnoticed. It is on that basis that I seek to draw to members' attention an instrument recently made by the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash, entitled 'Social Security (Parenting payment participation requirements—classes of persons) Specification 2016 (No. 1)'. I can see that has everybody's attention!

The instrument limits certain parenting payments to particular classes of persons, with the objective of encouraging them to progress towards and achieve beneficial education and employment outcomes. The statement of compatibility for the instrument identifies the limits this places on the right to social security and other rights, and provides an informative and evidence based analysis that clearly addresses each element of the committee's analytical framework. A statement of this quality allows the committee to accept the conclusion that the instrument is compatible with human rights without the need to write to the minister, seeking further information. And thus I do encourage other ministers and legislative proponents to consult this statement of compatibility as a fine example of how to use the committee's analytical framework to assess and provide justifications for measures that might otherwise limit or appear to limit human rights. I commend the minister and her department for their engagement with the human rights considerations and the work of the committee.

The report, of course, includes the committee's final consideration of a number of pieces of migration legislation. There are the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2015, the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2015 and the Migration Amendment (Conversion of Protection Visa Applications) Regulation 2015. This legislation makes a number of technical changes to clarify the extent to which various protection claims will be allowed to be made under the Migration Act.

While recognising the importance of Australia's border protection policy and the humanitarian imperative of saving lives at sea, the committee does make a number of findings of incompatibility with human rights in relation to these pieces of legislation. One of the central issues is the extent to which it is compatible with our human rights obligations to remove statutory protections and to replace them with administrative safeguards and the minister's non-compellable powers, which, of course, are non-compellable. The legal advice to the committee is that administrative processes alone are insufficient to meet the international human rights standards.

I must say I think it is important to distinguish between powers and obligations of a minister accountable to parliament and that of a minister in a government without a robust democratic system and standards of government that exist here in Australia. However, regrettably, human rights law does not make these distinctions, and this is reflected in the report's considerations and conclusions. Where those conclusions do identify concerns, the report usefully provides suggestions as to how the migration bills may be improved to better meet our international human rights obligations.

As always, I encourage the few members left—and others, of course—to examine the committee's report to better inform their understanding of the committee's deliberations. With these comments, I commend the committee's 34th report to the 44th parliament to the chamber.