There has been considerable public interest in the Commission’s complaint handling processes under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. There has been particular interest In the Commission’s handling of complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
In relation to the recent QUT case, it is a matter of public record that the Commission terminated this matter in August 2015. The Commission has had no role in the subsequent law suit in the Federal Circuit Court.
At no stage does the Commission initiate or prosecute a complaint. If the Commission receives a complaint in writing alleging a discriminatory act, the Act provides that the Commission must investigate the facts and attempt to conciliate the matter.
The Commission’s focus is on resolving disputes so parties can avoid court proceedings. Of complaints where conciliation was attempted, 76% were successfully resolved in 2015-16.
Only 3% of complaints finalised by the Commission were lodged in court. For example, of the over 80 complaints finalised under the racial hatred provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act last year, only one proceeded to court at the initiation of the complainant.
In the 2015-16 reporting year the average time it took the Commission to finalise a complaint was 3.8 months. In that same reporting year, 94% of surveyed parties were satisfied with the Commission’s service.
The Commission has no judicial powers, and it makes no legally binding determinations as to whether unlawful acts have occurred. The Commission has no statutory power to prevent a complainant proceeding to court once the Commission terminates the complaint.
The Commission has provided advice to successive governments and Attorneys- General on amendments to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act. In particular, the Commission has asked for amendments to streamline the process by raising the threshold for accepting complaints.