Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022; Second Reading
The coalition doesn't oppose the Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022. The bill requires that appointments to the commission are made through a merit based and transparent process that is publicly advertised. The bill amends the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Racial Discrimination Act and the Sex Discrimination Act to clarify that the maximum term of appointment for the president and commissioners is seven years, including any reappointments. The bill makes consistent qualification requirements for all commissioners by inserting a provision requiring the person to have appropriate qualifications, knowledge or experience.
The government is making these amendments at the behest of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. Earlier this year, the global alliance threatened to downgrade Australia's human rights body's accreditation from an A status institution to a B status institution. Such a downgrade could mean that Australia's human rights bodies might not be able to fully participate in some international fora. It's worth looking more closely at the work of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. Accreditation processes in institutions like these are really designed to assist developing countries without a strong history of independent institutions, not countries like Australia who have a very strong history of independent institutions but from time to time have become victims to the activist grievance politics of international institutions.
Some examples I will give in relation to the work of the global alliance's accreditation arrangements demonstrate that the global alliance often applies its accreditation processes inconsistently and produces strange results. For instance, Sweden's NHRI, the discrimination ombudsman, was downgraded to B status in 2011. The subcommittee determined its mandate was too narrow as it focused on equal rights but didn't consider non-discrimination. The subcommittee was also concerned it lacked independence, because government appoints and can remove the ombudsman without clear criteria. So Sweden, despite its strong human rights record, has a B status NHRI.
Belgium's national human rights institution, or NHRI, the interfederal centre for equal opportunity, was given B status accreditation in 2018. The subcommittee was concerned its mandate was too narrow as it didn't cover the full range of human rights and was only responsible for combatting racism and discrimination. It acknowledged that, while in practice its mandate was interpreted broadly, it didn't have clear legislative backing for a broad human rights approach. It noted also there was no legal provision that required the NHRI to participate in international human rights processes and that it failed to submit reports to all UN treaty bodies during Belgium's periodic review.
In March 2022, in the same review that Australia was threatened with a downgrade, some other countries which seemed to excite the same criticism as Australia had received from the global alliance nevertheless had their A status confirmed. For instance, Benin was accredited for the first time. Benin was given A status despite the subcommittee expressing concern that its appointments weren't independent or transparent. The report said the subcommittee:
… is of the view that the process currently enshrined in the Law is not sufficiently broad and transparent. In particular, it does not:
It sounds like the same criticism as the criticism made about Australia. Nevertheless Benin received A status.
Gambia was accredited for the first time and was given A status despite the subcommittee expressing concern that they were not provided with evidence of provisions or practices that ensure ethnic, geographic, religious and minority representation.
Austria was re-accredited with a status despite the subcommittee noting:
…that the process currently enshrined in the Federal Constitutional Law is not sufficiently broad and transparent. In particular, the process does not:
Mexico was re-accredited with a status despite the subcommittee expressing concern that the enabling legislation was 'silent on the criteria used to determine the suitability of the candidates' and that 'the grounds for dismissal of members of the Advisory Council are not specified in the Law'.
Germany also had it accreditation deferred, like Australia. The subcommittee found the mandate of Germany's NHRI was too narrow too narrow because it did not have sufficient inquiry and investigation functions. The subcommittee was concerned vacancies weren't publicly advertised. It advocated for uniform practices of publicly advertising vacancies and assessment of applications against predetermined objective and publicly available criteria. The subcommittee noted in practice terms of office were four years but this wasn't specified in the relevant legislation.
You can see that there is a very different level of application of the work of the global alliance, and we shouldn't genuflect uncritically to its work. But despite its shortcomings, it is important to maintain Australia's membership of the global alliance so we can use our influence to reform those institutions. Australia's ongoing position as a leader of human rights in our region and further afield ensuring that the Human Rights Commission can retain it's A status accreditation. This will mean some important things for the Human Rights Commission and for Australia more broadly. It will mean that the Human Rights Commission can continue to have an independent voice in UN for a, including the Human Rights Council and some of the bodies of the UN General Assembly.
The Human Rights Commission provides an additional Australian voice in UN discussions on human rights on top of that of our professional diplomats who represent us in these bodies. The Human Rights Commission is also able to engage directly with its counterpart bodies, which allows us to show leadership in our region and continue to build human rights competence in NHRIs through collaboration.
In not opposing this bill we stand by the high-quality appointments to the Human Rights Commission that the coalition made in government. I particularly want to observe, note and thank them for the service and the contribution they have made to the discussion and protection of human rights in this country.
In particular, I want to acknowledge the President of the Human Rights Commission, Ros Croucher; the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins; the Aboriginal social justice commissioner, June Oscar; the disability discrimination commissioners that we appointed, Alastair McEwin and Ben Gauntlett; the Children's Commissioner, Anne Hollonds; the Age Discrimination Commissioner, Kay Patterson; the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan; and the three human rights commissioners that served during our time in office, Tim Wilson, Ed Santow and Lorraine Finlay. All of these people are distinguished Australians who made particular contributions to safeguarding and advancing human rights in this country and beyond. As the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, I particularly want to commend the work that Tim Wilson did and was praised for by Indigenous leaders on Indigenous property rights. That is work that I wish to continue to pursue in my role as shadow minister.
I also want to take this time, while we're talking about Australia's role in international human rights, to outline the coalition's strong international human rights record during the previous government. During the coalition's term in office, Australia was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council for three years. As a liberal democracy with a commitment to human rights, Australia delivered on key priorities during our term on the council. We spoke out against Russia's attack on Ukraine and its people; against the Chinese Communist Party's human rights violations in Xinjiang province; against deteriorating human rights situations in North Korea, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Myanmar; against the erosion of human rights in Hong Kong; against the erosion of democratic institutions in Venezuela; and against the humanitarian toll of the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
We led the Human Rights Council's action on national human rights institutions, advocating for the protection of human rights defenders. We advocated for the rights of women and girls, and we championed equal rights for the LGBTI community. We encouraged Fiji and other Pacific countries to become members of the Human Rights Council. We spoke out against the notorious item 7 of the Human Rights Council agenda, which singles out Israel for special treatment. We were consistent in raising our voice to promote the rights of Indigenous persons, to oppose the death penalty and to advocate for freedom of expression, freedom of the media and freedom of religious belief.
Our three-year membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council came to a close at the end of 2020. However, the Morrison government continued to be guided by a commitment to strengthening the reach of international human rights, through our engagement as an observer at the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly Third Committee. To ensure Australia was actively engaging in the international system, then Prime Minister Morrison commissioned an audit by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade into Australia's engagement in key multilateral institutions like the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions—GANHRI. That audit, led by then foreign minister Marise Payne, examined Australia's engagement in these institutions. DFAT's audit recognised Australia's immense contribution, noting that there was more to be done. It also acknowledged the pressure these bodies were under; there were times when their performance struggled to achieve their agreed obligations.
In the wake of that audit, our government recommitted Australia's efforts to ensure global institutions were fit for purpose, relevant and accountable to member states. The coalition's foreign policy mirrored this by supporting reforms in United Nations agencies and multilateral institutions to improve their transparency, accountability and effectiveness. The Morrison government directed its efforts to preserve three fundamental parts of the multilateral system: firstly, through rules that protect the sovereignty of nations, preserve peace and enable international trade and investment; secondly, by setting and adhering to international standards with regard to a range of issues that underpin the global economy; and thirdly, through the norms that underpin the universal human rights system and the rule of law.
A prime example of Australia's international engagement was our role in seeking an independent review into the origins of the COVID-19 virus by the World Health Organization. A record 145 countries co-sponsored that resolution, in a significant moment of global consensus. Another example of the Morrison government's commitment to human rights can be seen in its response to the situation in Afghanistan. When the Taliban overthrew the Afghan government in 2021, they committed egregious human rights violations. The Morrison government stood in solidarity with the Afghan people in the face of great hardship. The Taliban dismantled more than 20 years of gains in the area of human rights in Afghanistan. Then foreign minister Marise Payne affirmed the coalition's support for Afghan people. She said:
All Afghans should be able to enjoy their fundamental human rights. These rights are indivisible and inalienable, expressed in international human rights law, and endorsed by all members of the United Nations.
Guided by the values of democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom and the rights of all to dignity and respect, the Morrison government committed $120 million to support immediate Afghan needs and humanitarian services. It also provided $20 million to support internally displaced people in Afghanistan and those neighbouring countries that were hosting Afghan refugees. The government's package was designed to cater for the settlement of Afghan nationals fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Afghan. The Morrison government also committed to more than 30,000 places through the humanitarian and family visa programs to ensure the safe resettlement of Afghan nationals in Australia.
Not only was Australia a strong and unwavering advocate for the protection of human rights globally but we made critical reforms to our domestic law to ensure that we could continue to play our role supporting the international rules based order. An example of the Morrison government's human rights policy reforms was the expansion of Australia's autonomous sanctions laws through the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Act 2021 and the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Regulations 2021. These critical reforms gave Australia the ability to sanction individuals, as opposed to sanctioning states, for serious human rights abuses and violations. These reforms ensure that Australia may, where it is in our national interest, take action to impose costs upon, influence and deter those responsible for egregious situations of international concern but with a minimal impact on general populations.
In conclusion, Australia has a strong human rights record. This legislation will ensure that there is no impediment to the Australian Human Rights Commission participating in international fora to continue to advance Australia's human rights agenda.
I'm not going to speak for too long on this piece of legislation, the Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection And Appointment) Bill 2022. I do want to address something that the member for Berowra said. He's just walked out, unfortunately. He said that this legislation has been brought forward at the behest of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. It's clear that Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission retaining a status is an important reason for bringing forward this legislation, but so are the principles of transparency and merit based appointments. This is something that the Australian Human Rights Commission itself has asked for. The president of the commission, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, wrote to members of parliament on 1 August, this week. At paragraph 3 of her correspondence to all of the members of this place, she wrote:
The Australian Human Rights Commission (Commission) has long advocated for these reforms to strengthen the integrity and independence of the Commission and unreservedly supports the passage of the Bill and the proposal for accompanying guidelines.
Under the heading 'Why is the Bill necessary?' on the second page of the president's correspondence, paragraph 8 says:
The existing legislation is not sufficient to support the legitimacy of the Commission, as it does not require all statutory appointments to be conducted through robust, merit-based processes. This affects public confidence and trust in the Commission and its appointed Commissioners.
So while the criticism by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions has been ongoing for several years and is something that is worthy of consideration and a reason to support this legislation, what is fundamentally important to this legislation is public confidence and trust in the commission and its appointed commissioners.
As Professor Croucher finishes at paragraph 24 of that correspondence to all members of this place:
The Australian Human Rights Commission has advocated for these reforms for some time and unreservedly supports the passage of the Bill as a priority.
In fact, one of the papers that the Human Rights Commission published in the last term of this parliament as part of their national consultation, called Free and Equal: a national conversation on human rights, was a position paper published in December of 2021. It said:
One of the key findings of the Commission's work is that the existing system of federal discrimination law is primarily geared towards the remedial aspects of the obligations to respect and protect, and even with this as its main focus, it falls short of realising effective remediation for discrimination.
The commission identified gaps in the protection offered by discrimination laws and significant questions for accessibility of the discrimination law system, particularly for marginalised and disadvantaged groups, suggesting inevitably that federal discrimination law could be more effective in meeting obligations to respect and protect rights.
The position paper outlines the need to shift the focus of federal discrimination laws, in the view of the commission, to a more preventive approach and towards actions that better support the fulfilment of rights. Four major reform areas were identified in that position paper: building a preventive culture; modernising the regulatory framework; enhancing access to justice; and improving the practical operations of the laws. Under each of those major reform areas there were specific reforms that were suggested.
I'm not going to go through all of them, but I want to make the point that one of the specific proposals under improving the practical operations of the laws was to specify that all commissioner appointments can only be made following a clear, transparent, merit based and participatory selection and appointment process. That's in a paper published in December 2021, well and truly within time for the previous Liberal government to have brought forward the legislation that the current Attorney-General has brought forward today to take up that suggestion.
I want to endorse what the commission said in that position paper, as follows: 'Above all, reform should be seen as a shared endeavour, in which individuals, businesses, organisations and governments each actively contributes to and is assisted in reaching this outcome' of improving our discrimination and human rights laws and justice system. It is so pleasing to see the current Attorney-General acting so swiftly to bring this legislation forward. As the Attorney-General has said, this is necessary to bring forward trust and transparency in the process, and, as the member for Berowra pointed out, reaccreditation of the commission as an A-status national human rights institution, which is so important for our international reputation.
But this legislation is also part of a commitment by the current Albanese Labor government, and those of us who are members of it, to being a government that respects, protects and enhances institutions which are central to or important for a functioning democracy, a democracy that, firstly, works for the people of Australia and, secondly, holds the trust of the people of Australia. It's something many of us on this side of the chamber have been talking about since our first speeches in this place—that one of the responsibilities we have as members of this parliament, as leaders in our community and in the nation, is to respect, reform and protect the institutions that are central to a functioning democracy and which have been battered all over the place under previous governments. There is much work to be done, and, as I've pointed out, in the human rights antidiscrimination space, many suggestions are in the position paper published in December last year.
I want to end this brief contribution by saying, as I've said a number of times, that it is also important that we have in this country a conversation about a national bill or charter of human rights and responsibilities, which we don't have. If we needed any greater impetus for why that conversation is necessary, perhaps some of the discussions about what our rights and responsibilities are during COVID should ring the alarm bells, because of the way some of our rights and responsibilities are misunderstood in this country. Many people don't know that we don't have a national bill of rights and talk about American rights as if they're Australian rights. They don't know that these rights aren't in our Constitution and they don't know where to go to find out what their rights and responsibilities are.
We also need, in my view, a national bill or charter of rights so that we have the necessary legislative framework to discuss, consider, weigh and give effect to rights and responsibilities—which often jut up against each other, sometimes are compatible and sometimes have to be weighed against each other—so that we can stop considering human rights in silos or as the political topic of the day and we can consider them in a legislative framework, and members of this place and members of our broader community can have the language in which to have constructive conversations about what human rights and responsibilities are.
I rise to speak on the Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022 as per the member for Berowra's position. We in the opposition are supporting the passage of this bill. It has been outlined what the bill achieves through putting in place some statutory measures around appointments, a merit based system of appointments, in a structured and statutory way within the act, which we believe will restore an accreditation to the national human rights institutions body, as has been foreshadowed in previous contributions.
I would like to just make sure that this bill is not in any way a reflection on people who have been appointed to the Human Rights Commission under the existing provisions and that this change is not in any way seen to be a criticism of people who currently hold or have previously held office at the Human Rights Commission. The member for Berowra mentioned appointments made by the previous government, and I endorse his comments.
I'd particularly like to take the opportunity to thank the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, for the work that she does and has done, particularly the body of work that she did in the previous parliament around this workplace, because we really owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for that and the opportunity it provides us to change this place. I was surprised and very disappointed at some of the elements of that report into the parliament as a workplace. I think everyone in this chamber would share that perspective, particularly those who are new to the chamber and weren't here when that body of work was undertaken. There are a lot of people who have had different experiences with this building over the years, serving as members of parliament or staff members or political volunteers et cetera. A lot of people have had interaction with this place. It should set the highest standard for any workplace in the rest of our nation, and people should look to the parliament with pride as to as how we are respectful and provide a respectful workplace, although the people here won't agree. We shouldn't agree. We should disagree. We should have good debates in this chamber and in the other fora that are presented to us within this building, because we're engaging in a contest of ideas and we're talking about the future of our nation. It's vitally important that we have debates and discussions and bring different perspectives to those processes in this building. But it is equally important that the people who serve here, and the people who work for the people who serve here—not just staff members but the people who are engaged in a whole variety of ways to support this building to function—know that they are coming to serve in a safe and respectful workplace.
Disappointingly there were submissions to that process that Kate Jenkins undertook that clearly demonstrated that, for a long period of time, in some cases that hasn't been the case. That is appalling and completely unacceptable, and we should make whatever changes are necessary—and we will, obviously, as a parliament, and we already have done things. But we should do absolutely anything we need to to make sure that we are safeguarding this building and this workplace as a place that is safe and respectful to everyone who is here. I really do thank commissioner Jenkins for that process. I thought it was very thorough and inclusive. Everyone had the opportunity to participate in providing confidential feedback and submissions into that process. I think she ran a very respectful process that made people feel comfortable and safe in sharing their experiences and bringing forward not only things that had not been pleasant, but also things that had, and also constructive proposals to how we could make changes based on those experiences. She developed an excellent report and some of the elements of that have already been put in place, and others will be in the near future.
I think the most important thing about it—and I believe that I have noticed in the last 18 months or so that this has been something that we've heavily engaged in as a topic—which no legislative change or rule change can bring about, is a culture change in this building. I believe that I have noticed that there's a culture change in some subtle ways as well as some clearer ways. I think it is an excellent thing that a spotlight has been shone on the need to ensure that the workplace here in this parliament is safe and respectful, and that came about because of the work of Kate Jenkins, so I pay tribute to her and other people who have been appointed to the Human Rights Commission.
I don't believe that this legislation should in any way be seen as a criticism of people who have already served and been appointed prior to these changes being brought about, but I am equally very happy to support these changes to increase the robustness. We in the Liberal Party are very much in favour of meritocracy and merit based appointments. Perhaps I could suggest to the government that you don't only need to a have good, strong merit based approach to appointments to the Human Rights Commission, but in all of the appointments that you're making as an executive you might choose to reflect on running a particularly similar process to the one that's outlined through this legislation—advertising of roles, having a robust process in place to select the best candidate for any appointment that you get to make as a government.
Clearly we will have bipartisan support to these changes, which achieve the objective of ensuring that we are seen on the international stage to have the very best and most robust Human Rights Commission that meets all of those international tests that are put in place for the membership of the peak body and also that all Australians can have a confidence in. With those brief words, I commend the bill to the House.
Well, process—wow! What a great thing to see: people being appointed based on merit rather than ideology. This bill, as I understand it, would ensure that the Attorney-General must hold an open and accountable, advertised recruitment process to ensure that appointments are made on merit and not through party political largesse, and that's a good thing.
I think the bill should be supported, but it also represents an opportunity to raise a key issue in relation to commissioners that we don't have, and specifically a commissioner that I think is well overdue and that's an LGBTQI+ human rights commissioner. Specifically, there are currently commissioners on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice issues, age discrimination, disability discrimination, children, race discrimination, sex discrimination and human rights. These are standalone commissioners with a statutory mandate and resources for their area of expertise and experience, but there is no commissioner for our LGBTQI+ community. I think the arrangements under the commission for that community are inadequate.
Traditionally the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community were part of the Human Rights Commissioner's portfolio, but with that portfolio also holding religious freedom in recent history I think there's been a conflict between those two areas. We know that in the last parliament this led to a toxic debate that caused great distress to members of the LGBTQI+ community, particularly transpeople, compounding mental health issues for children in this community particularly. For that reason, I think that direct representation is needed.
The absence of this specific commissioner diminishes the reality of the community I'm talking about and the discrimination these members of our community experience day-to-day. Not having a specific commissioner presents this community as a low priority and overshadowed by other forms of discrimination, which do have a dedicated commissioner under this commission. The absence of a specific role means that no-one at the Human Rights Commission has the resources or the specific experience to advocate and articulate the concerns of this community in terms of legislation, policy reform or public education. It also means that people who are members of our LGBTIQA+ community have no-one specific that they can go to if they experience discrimination or may be confused or deterred from lodging a complaint as they feel they are not specifically catered for.
We see evidence internationally that culture wars against the LGBTIQA+ community are getting worse and in this country we've seen it too: debates in this place around transgender women in sport, debates in the public arena about Pride jumpers in the NRL, about books in schools and about sacking teachers in faith school environments, and in recent events in the public arena—for example, in Victoria and a plan for a rainbow light exhibition at the war memorial had to be cancelled because of threats against the staff.
All of these things lend weight to the cause for having a specific commissioner to cater for this community. I note a recent survey by Just Equal of 2½ thousand LGBTIQA+ people across Australia showed that 84 per cent supported a direct commissioner and allies of the community, 81 per cent, also supported a specific commissioner. This, I think, is an opportunity to achieve that through this legislation. With respect to members of the Goldstein community who have advocated for this, I stand here on your behalf today. I also would like to acknowledge, as a mark of respect, my colleague, the member for Brisbane, who has also advocated on this and, I believe, will move a second reading amendment.
I rise to speak on this Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022. For those not familiar with the provisions of the bill, it seeks to establish a merits based process for the selection of commissioners and senior executives of the Australian Human Rights Commission, consistent with the United Nations General Assembly principles. This is an element that has been lacking in the past and has led to concerns raised by Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions subcommittee and a deferral of the reaccreditation as an A-status national human rights institution—so clearly something that is urgent and necessary to remedy.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is one of many public bodies that have been the subject of politicisation in their appointments. Anyone in New South Wales could not fail to know the discussion that is occurring at the moment around that issue of politicisation of appointments. It really does need to stop because the Australian public need to have confidence in appointments to such important bodies, to ensure that it is merit based, that it is the right people doing these jobs. We need to have confidence in the process. In fact, the new member for Goldstein would be aware that concerns were repeatedly raised in relation to the former member for Goldstein around his appointment of the current commissioner, given their links to parties appointing them. There cannot be politicisation around these appointments. It really is incredibly important.
Of course, this is not the only body where it has occurred. A report was released by the Grattan Institute recently. Its published report showed that political appointees occupied 21 per cent of federal government board positions that are well paid, powerful, prestigious and influential. More than one in five federal government business boards have a political connection. In contrast, just two per cent of ASX 100 company board members who exercise similar responsibilities have a political connection.
In the lead-up to the last election we saw great criticism of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal appointments. This is one body amongst so many others. Locally in Warringah we have the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which has great responsibility for the management and conservation of iconic sites around our harbour, particularly 10 Terminal and the North Head ex-military sites. It's so important that we have boards and organisations that are equipped with skilled people to actually do the job that needs to be done.
We need to put an end to the jobs for mates, the cronyism. There should be transparent, merit based selection processes for all public appointments. This bill is a good start. I commend the government for their swift action in addressing the issue here, but we need to extend these provisions across the board to all public appointments. I support the call for a new public appointments commissioner, who could be appointed to oversee the transition process and maintain a watchful eye on developments in this space overall. We need to restore trust in the public for the appointments that come from this place and for appointments in institutions that underpin our way of life and support management and decision-making on the ground.
The Australian Human Rights Commission conducts such important work. It really is essential that those appointed to the commission are of the highest calibre. In that sense I'd like to commend Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins for the incredible work she has done over the last few years in relation to the Respect@Work report and the Set the standard review in relation to this workplace. It's clear that commissioners play a really important role.
I need to take note of an amendment proposed by the member for Brisbane because it is clear that in Warringah during the election we had very inflammatory debates about members of our community and their opportunity for inclusion. I have to say that it did raise concerns for me. There was a lack of information in the public domain about the real status of the law when it came to transgender rights and issues within the LGBTQI community. I am concerned that issues that are specific to members of the LGBTQI community do at times get overlooked or submerged into the greater responsibilities of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, so I do think there is merit in there being a more specific mandate for addressing those issues.
I certainly know in the case of the federal election campaign in Warringah there was a huge amount of misinformation when it came to transgender women's participation in sport. I really felt that there was a lack of leadership coming from the Human Rights Commission to really establish clearly the true facts and where the law actually sits. I do believe for many groups in our society it is important there is a human rights commissioner taking care of the specific issues that are addressed. I commend the member for Brisbane for his proposed amendment and I commend the government for this bill, which is the first step in the right direction.
I speak to support the suggestion of the member for Goldstein for the creation of a specific human rights commissioner for the LGBTQI community. It's a measure I wholeheartedly support. The LGBTQI+ community has been urging for a dedicated commissioner for decades, without any support from government. The creation of this role with the Human Rights Commission would see LGBTIQA+ communities afforded the same representation on the commission as Australians marginalised by their race, disability, gender, age and their status as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
There is a clear and urgent need for a dedicated LGBTIQA+ human rights commissioner. The absence of such diminishes the reality of discrimination against this group of individuals. The absence of such means that no-one at the AHRC has the resources or experience to advocate and articulate the concerns of the community in legislation, policy reform or public education. The absence of such means that LGBTIQA+ people who are experiencing discrimination can be deterred from lodging a complaint as it appears that they're not catered for. This perception is often reinforced in older individuals through their historical experience of being ignored and neglected. It is not ideal for LGBTIQA+ issues to be dealt with by another commissioner or the president, because of potential conflicts with their portfolios.
Recent debates around transgender women in sport, pride jumpers in the NRL, books in schools, banning conversion practices and sacking teachers in faith schools all illustrate the need for a clear and dedicated voice at the AHRC. Some states have weak, inadequate and outdated provisions for addressing LGBTIQA+ discrimination. In these cases, complainants will often look to the Commonwealth to redress the issue.
I would like to start by saying thank you so much to the members for Goldstein, Kooyong and Warringah for their support. The Greens seek to amend the Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022 to provide for a LGBTQIA+ human rights commissioner. We've been approached by Just.Equal, who raised the very real issue that this reform does not go far enough. We will move for the well overdue appointment of a stand alone LGBTQIA+ human rights commissioner. I realised, I forgot to move this amendment—apologies. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to establish a Human Rights Commissioner for LGBTIQA+ people within the Australian Human Rights Commission".
The lack of such a commissioner is an obvious oversight that we can remedy here today. This remedy would send a strong and clear message to the LGBTIQA+ community that the era of the homophobia and transphobia from the previous government has come to an end, and signal a new approach in engaging with and protecting communities that have suffered systemic oppression for centuries.
The community is not asking for anything unreasonable. There already exists commissioners for race discrimination, disability discrimination and so many others. It is vitally important that the LGBTQIA+ community have the same protection of our rights afforded to us. A substantial number of LGBTQIA+ people call my electorate of Brisbane home. I move this amendment to give greater security not only to my electorate but also to the hundreds of thousands of people across this country who identify as LGBTQIA+. As a community, we experience higher rates of homelessness than our straight counterparts; lesbian and gay individuals are twice as likely to stay in crisis accommodation or sleep rough. One in five trans and gender diverse people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. This story continues into mental health as well. Young queer people between 16 and 27 are five times more likely than their straight counterparts to attempt suicide. Young trans people are 15 times more likely. This cannot wait.
Our communities are already in crisis and suffering at the hands of government inaction. It is fundamental that we examine the impacts of the policy decisions and laws we pass and make in this place on the LGBTIQA+ community. We have seen the awful treatment of the queer community through the marriage equality plebiscite, the Religious Discrimination Bill, the rise of authoritarianism around the world and through the platforming of hateful transphobic views by the previous government in particular.
The model proposed for this commissioner has similar functions to the existing Human Rights Commissioner but with a special focus on the queer community. This includes raising awareness of human rights impacts, research and education, and examining existing and proposed laws to assess their likely impact on LGBTQIA+ people. The need for the commissioner is clear. If not now, when? Our communities are calling out for it. It is our duty to get this done.
I thank the honourable members for their contributions to the debate on this bill. This bill will restore integrity to appointments to the Australian Human Rights Commission and help maintain the commission's international credibility, as part of our broader commitment to the international rules based order. This bill is an essential part of the government's integrity agenda and will implement our election commitment to ensure that appointments to the commission are made through a merit based and transparent selection process. In addition, this bill will address the concerns raised by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions Sub-Committee on Accreditation when it deferred the commission's reaccreditation as an A-status national human rights institution. The effective functioning of our antidiscrimination system is dependent on the proper functioning of the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is essential that the commission is able to function as an independent statutory body and that the public has confidence that the commissioners that represent their communities are appointed solely on the basis of merit.
To address these concerns, the bill legislates a merit based and transparent appointments process for members of the commission by amending relevant provisions of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, the Age Discrimination Act 2004, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Racial Discrimination Act 1995 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The bill will remove the ability of direct appointments to the commission without a merit based and publicly advertised selection process. Further, to address concerns raised by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation, the bill also addresses the tenure of members of the commission. The bill amends these acts to clarify that the total term of the president and commissioners is seven years, inclusive of any reappointment. Finally, the bill will make minor amendments to ensure consistency in the qualification requirements for the president and the statutory commissioners.
A number of honourable members have raised broader concerns about the Australian Human Rights Commission, including the member for Brisbane, who has moved a second reading amendment calling for the creation of a new statutory position of LGBTIQA+ commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. The government will not support that second reading amendment. Let's be clear about this: the effect of the second reading amendment, if it succeeds, would be to negate the bill, to stop these important measures that are contained in this bill from coming into effect. The House should reject this second reading amendment. This bill solely concerns the process for the selection and appointment of existing statutory members of the commission. The bill is being progressed as a priority in order to urgently and directly address the concerns raised by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in its deferral of the reaccreditation of the commission as an A-status national human rights institution. While we of course understand the strong sentiment expressed by members of the community in support of a dedicated LGBTIQA+ commissioner, this bill is not the vehicle to create such a position. The government recognises that it is important to consider how best the commission can operate to promote and protect the human rights of all members of the Australian community, including LGBTIQA+ people. I acknowledge and commend the work that the commission already undertakes in relation to LGBTIQA+ rights, which is led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. There will no doubt be further discussion on this proposal, as well as, I hope, discussion on other opportunities to strengthen the work of the commission in the future.
The critical issue that this bill will address is restoring the international standing of the commission by urgently addressing the specific issues around transparent and merit based appointments raised by the global alliance to support the commission's reaccreditation. Broader concerns regarding the structure and operation of the commission should be considered separately to this important bill. I note that the opposition and crossbench members who have spoken have said that they support the bill. I thank the shadow Attorney-General for his support and for his contribution to the debate and thank those crossbench members for their expressed support for the bill.
An independent human rights commission is fundamental to Australia's human rights agenda, both internationally and domestically. This government strongly supports the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission and is committed to restoring integrity to the process of commissioner appointments. As I've said, the bill will support the commission's reaccreditation as an A-status human rights institution, which is necessary for its international legitimacy and credibility. Most importantly, the bill reaffirms our commitments to restoring integrity to government. I do thank again all honourable members of the House for their contributions to the debate and commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Brisbane has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be disagreed to. A division being required, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until the discussion of the matter of public importance.