Christopher Knaus June 09, 2012
The Human Rights Commission is struggling to cope with the sheer number of human rights and discrimination complaints in the ACT, with roughly half of its investigations being concluded either late or below standard.
And the commission's workload won't be getting any easier, with the government set to glean more savings from the organisation next financial year.
Figures from this week's budget show the commission, which investigates human rights infringements and unlawful discrimination, only managed to conclude 54 per cent of its cases within its own targets and standards.
The papers cite an ''increased workload'' for the failures.
The commission has recorded similar results for the past four years and has repeatedly warned it is struggling to operate within its budget, and is facing significant resource constraints.
Greens justice spokesman Shane Rattenbury said the figures in Tuesday's budget demonstrate the Human Rights Commission is unable to cope with its workload.
''The current level of resourcing is undermining the commitment to human rights in the ACT,'' Mr Rattenbury said.
''In addition to the reactive work of handling complaints, the commission is also falling behind in its proactive work program of undertaking education projects to promote human rights.''
The government puts a pool of funding towards the protection of rights in its budget, which includes the commission, the Public Advocate, Victims Support ACT, and the Privacy Commissioner. That funding pool was cut by $352,000 in the budget.
The majority of that cut was due to the transfer of the ACT Ombudsman to the Chief Minister's Directorate, and the ceasing of COAG payments and one-off funding measures.
The Children and Young People Commissioner Alasdair Roy, speaking on behalf of the commission, said the organisation had not yet received the final budget numbers.
But he said the budget made it clear that ''significant savings'' would need to be made.
''We will make decisions about any staffing and resource implications after we have received our final budget,'' Mr Roy said.
The commission's workload has increased dramatically over the past decade, and so too has its scope.
It handles complaints on discrimination, sexual harassment, the provision of health and ageing services, disability services, and services for children and young people.
In the 2010-11 financial year, it received 728 complaints across four jurisdictions.
That's an increase from 98 complaints received by the organisation, then called the ACT Human Rights Office, in 2002-03.
A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the modest savings were part of the efficiency dividend hitting the entire Canberra public service.
The spokeswoman said that how the commission finds those savings from its operations was a ''matter for the commission''.
''This is simply a function of the current financial climate,'' she said.
''As is the case for everyone else in the public sector, the commission must adjust processes to find more streamlined ways to deliver services.''
The government said that Canberrans enjoy one of the strongest human rights regimes in the country.