attorney general seeks veto to supress human rights commission

Thursday, 27 March 2003 NSWCCL media release: 9/2003


The Commonwealth Attorney General Mr Daryl Williams today tabled a bill to change the manner in which the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (“HREOC”) operates. The bill superficially proposes to change the name of HREOC and its structure. However, the bill grants a veto to the Attorney General over the Commission’s intervention in court proceedings. 

NSW Council for Civil Liberties Secretary, Mr Jeremy Styles, said today: 

"The Attorney General should not hold a veto over HREOC’s decision making process." 

"HREOC has an institutional competency which can assist the courts. The Attorney General does not have that competence. Without the specialised human rights knowledge of HREOC, the Attorney is under-qualified to determine whether an issue of human rights arises in litigation. " 

"Mr Williams should not be able to stop intervention if HREOC considers it appropriate." 

"HREOC should remain independent of the government of the day." 

"HREOC’s independence is of assistance to the legislature and to the courts. Giving a Veto to a Government Minister politicises HREOC." 

"Mr Williams doesn’t like the fact that his Government has been criticised for its human rights record." 

"The Attorney is playing cheap politics with a responsible independent authority." 

"Mr Williams is trying to covertly influence the course of litigation before the courts. The Attorney General can intervene in court proceedings as HREOC can and he does so more regularly. If he disagrees with HREOC he should say so before the courts." 

"The ability of HREOC to intervene in court proceedings is one of the valuable checks and balances in our political system. The Attorney should not be able to silence potential critics so easily." 

"HREOC has done very capable, responsible work in intervening in court proceedings in the past. The Courts have considered their work valuable."

For further information contact: 

Jeremy Styles – NSWCCL, Secretary on 0425-320-734 -OR- 
Cameron Murphy – NSWCCL, President on 0411-769-769