The Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1984 (Cth) (“AHRC Act”) establishes the Australian Human Rights Commission (“AHRC”) as the Federal government body responsible for investigating and conciliating complaints about alleging discrimination (including discrimination in employment). The AHRC Act also sets out the procedure by which complainants may escalate their complaints to the courts, and the powers of courts to issue remedies for breaches of anti-discrimination legislation.
On 13 April 2017, the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (Cth) came into effect. This amending legislation makes a number of significant changes to the AHRC Act. These changes include the following:
- the AHRC has the power to not inquire into allegation of unlawful discrimination if an investigation is not warranted or there is no reasonable prospect of the matter being settled by conciliation;
- the AHRC is required to act expeditiously in the handling of complaints, with a view of completing investigations within 12 months from the date that the complaint was made;
- the AHRC may terminate a complaint of discrimination (and therefore not investigate the complaint) if it is made more than 6 months (instead of 12 months) after the alleged conduct occurred;
- all allegations in complaints to the AHRC must be reasonably arguable and complainants must set out their allegations as fully as practicable in their complaints;
- complainants must seek the leave of the court before progressing their complaints from the AHRC to the Court (with some exceptions); and
- courts may take into account settlement offers exchanged while the complaint was under investigation by the AHRC in determining whether to award costs in favour of one or more parties.