On 28 February 2017, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights delivered its recommendations after inquiry into the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA”) to determine whether the law should be changed. On 31 March 2017, Parliament amended the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (“AHRCA”), leaving the RDA intact (if only for the moment) but otherwise significantly increasing the President’s powers to put an end to complaints of any kind of discrimination (i.e. not just those brought under the RDA). This paper addresses some of the issues arising and arguments for and against the proposed reform in the context of the legislation, case law and history of the federal discrimination law.
On 30 July 2017, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM becomes the new President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, beginning a seven-year term, the primary focus of which will be managing recent changes to the AHRCA. Those changes were the result of an unsuccessful attempt to amend s18C of the RDA and will result in immediate changes to the ways in which all complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission will be handled and provide significant new powers to the President to bring an end to a complaint (subject to leave of a relevant Court). This paper considers the arguments for and against changes to the RDA as well as the significant changes to the process for dealing with complaints occasioned by the amendments to the AHRC Act, which will have retrospective effect.