Minister tables Human Rights Amendment Bill

  • Doug Graham

The Minister of Justice, Rt Hon D.A.M. Graham, today introduced legislation which will ensure all Government policies and practices must comply with the Human Rights Act.

Mr Graham said the Government had always been subject to the 'old' grounds of discrimination namely sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, colour, race, ethnic or national origins. However, it had had a temporary exemption until 31 December 1999 from the 'new' grounds which were introduced in 1993 namely disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status and sexual orientation.

'Subject to limited amendments in the areas of defence and social welfare, the Government will now be required to comply with all grounds from 31 December 1999 as provided for in the Human Rights legislation,' he said.

'The amendments in defence relate to fitness to serve in combat and in the provision of accommodation for defence forces.

'The amendments in the social welfare area enable the Government to provide social assistance and support to people in accordance with their differing needs.

'This will enable the Department, for example, to distribute higher Special Needs Grants for food to couples with children than to those without children,' Mr Graham said.

'The welfare amendments also protect programmes such as Workbridge, which is a special employment support agency only supporting people with disabilities.'

The Bill also clarifies the position regarding health services in relation to the treatment of patients.

'This means a health provider will not breach the Human Rights Act if it bases different treatment on an assessment of a person's need for and ability to benefit from particular health services,' Mr Graham said.

'For example access to dialysis treatment would be decided on the basis of the ability to benefit from the treatment.

'A person who has had a major stroke with persisting severe functional disability may have a poor chance of living even with dialysis treatment.'

Other main features of the bill are:

The Human Rights Commission will no longer be required to report by the end of this year on existing Acts and Regulations, policies and practices which may discriminate.
'There was little to be gained by continuing this very detailed audit process and Chief Executives have now been directed to consider Human Rights issues when updating legislation.'

The current position whereby the Human Rights Act does not override other legislation and regulations will continue e.g. constraints based on age for liquor purchasing, voting, obtaining a driving licence and national superannuation.

A Women's Commissioner will be designated from current Commissioners.
The Human Rights Amendment Bill is expected to have its second reading next week and will be referred to a Select Committee.