Parliamentary debates and committee inquiry reports reference the work of the Commission
Our human rights scrutiny and parliamentary committee work is led by the Commission’s President. We are an active contributor to parliamentary processes, seeking to ensure that our expertise on human rights matters is applied to matters under consideration by the Parliament, and provide a persuasive voice in scrutinising proposed laws and policies with a particular focus on Australia’s international human rights obligations.
This year, the Commission made 39 submissions to parliamentary committees, government inquiries and United Nations processes—providing specialist, independent policy and legal analysis of the human rights impact of current and proposed laws and on public policy issues. Of these submissions, 24 were made to parliamentary committees and other legislative review processes.
We evaluate the impact the Commission’s submission work has on law and policy by monitoring appearances before committees and inquiries and examining the extent to which any recommendations we make are reflected in any reports.
These data help demonstrate the extent to which the Commission’s contributions influence public debate on proposed laws and policies and provides valuable input to inquiries into social policy issues. In this period:
- eighty per cent of the available reports cited our submissions
- Commissioners appeared ten times at inquiry hearings, reflecting the value of the Commission’s contributions
- the value of the Commission’s input to parliamentary committee and other legislative review processes has been publicly noted by a number of those bodies.
In an appearance before the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in February 2019, Committee Chair, Senator Ian Macdonald, noted:
‘As always, we very much appreciate the Human Rights Commission. This committee and the Human Rights Commission are almost indivisible at times … thank you for your help to the committee.’
—Hansard transcript, 7 February 2019
The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Dr James Renwick SC, in a speech at the Lowy Institute in June 2019 discussing his mandate and current inquiries, said that he finds the Commission’s contributions to be ‘of enormous assistance’. He further wrote that he was
‘grateful for the [Commission’s] explanation of the relevant principles in relation to Australia’s obligations under international human rights law in preparing [his] November 2018 report to the Prime Minister on the prosecution and sentencing of children for terrorism.’
Submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security review of the Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Orders) Bill 2019
Introduced in February 2019, this Bill proposed a new scheme for the making of ‘temporary exclusion orders’ that could exclude an Australian citizen from entering Australia for a period of up to two years. The scheme would have required the Minister to give a return permit to an affected person if they applied, but this could be subject to onerous conditions—including prohibiting the person’s return for another 12 months.
The Commission expressed serious concerns about the Bill’s compatibility with a number of fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the rights to enter one’s own country, privacy, freedom of movement, as well as upon the best interests of children, in cases where they may be affected.
In both its written submission and in an appearance before the Committee, the Commission raised concerns including:
- the lack of oversight by a court or other independent body
- the lack of a requirement that the Minister notify a person subject to an order—particularly because criminal liability could attach to the violation of an order
- the relatively low threshold for attaching conditions to a permit (i.e. the satisfaction of the Minister, rather than, for example, the civil standard)
- the absence of a requirement for a conviction before the Minister could exercise their powers
- the absence of any periodic review or independent oversight of the application and operation of the powers.
The Commission recommended the Bill not be passed, or, if that were not accepted, that the Bill be amended significantly better to protect human rights.
The Committee adopted many of the Commission’s recommendations, incorporating these in its Advisory Report. Among other things, the Committee recommended:
- amending the Bill to require a temporary exclusion order to be issued by an ‘issuing authority’ (being a judge, retired judge or a senior member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal)
- amending the Bill so that in any prosecution for a violation of a temporary exclusion order it is proven that the person had knowledge of the existence of the order
- raising the threshold for the making of a temporary exclusion order by limiting the circumstances on which the Minister could make an order on the basis of a reasonable suspicion
that the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the Committee monitor and review the operation of the scheme.