Extracts from the Hansard of the Legislative Council
Thursday 6th March 2008
SPECIAL INTEREST MATTERS
ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMISSION PROCESS
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) –
Mr President, today I would like to speak about the experience of one of my Rosevears constituents with the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission. I do not want to get involved in the merit or otherwise of her case before the commission but would like to bring up some of the issues that she has raised with me and others after her long dispute.
I do so, Mr President, because it seems in this case at least that there has not been a level playing field. In fact there is evidence that social inequality in this section of the legal system enables some people to enjoy the benefits the law provides while other more vulnerable groups in the community are not adequately protected. Equality before the law is a fundamental principle of our justice system, especially the principle that all persons should be equal before the law but that fairness has limitations in a culturally diverse society which is characterised by social and economic inequality. Australians from diverse cultural and language backgrounds are greatly disadvantaged before the law mainly because of the following factors: their lack of knowledge of English, particularly because of the way statutes in this system are often drafted in archaic and difficult language; the prohibitive cost of justice, unequal legal aid and therefore unequal legal representation, unequal access to information about the law; and a lack of knowledge of rights, including the right to an interpreter.
Apart from the unequal playing field for the victim, my constituent has raised two other concerns with the Anti-Discrimination Commission process. First, the length of time taken to resolve the case and second, the application or use of evidence by the tribunal in the hearing. It is obvious in this case, Mr President, that my constituent felt intimidated by the process and that dealing with the legal system can be a frightening experience for people with less than perfect knowledge of the English language; lack of financial and human resources; and little information on how to proceed and use the legal system.
While the respondent in this particular case was represented by a crown counsel, my constituent, without the means to hire counsel, had to deal with the process herself which was a situation she found most stressful. This stress was compounded by the long time that was taken to decide the case. The complaint was originally submitted to the Anti-Discrimination Commission early in 2002. A judgment was not delivered until 18 January 2008. The process took six years during which time an important witness for the complainant died. The complainant was unemployed for most of that time.
My constituent also complains of selective use of evidence by the tribunal during her hearing. However, as I mentioned before, I do not want to become involved in the details of that particular issue, Mr President. This case, regardless of its merits or otherwise, does indicate there is some dissatisfaction in the community about the way our anti-discrimination laws operate. It would seem that some see the anti-discrimination process as itself discriminating against the vulnerable Australians and Tasmanians who most need it.