Last Updated 17 August 2021

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has responsibility for managing the administrative affairs of the AHRC and is the most senior member. The hearing function rests with the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court.

Complaint resolution scheme

Under the complaint resolution scheme, each of the Commonwealth human rights and anti-discrimination Acts provides for the AHRC to accept and conciliate complaints. This means that the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (AHRC Act) contains a uniform scheme for complaint handling.

A complaint of discrimination under these Acts must be made to the AHRC under the provisions of the AHRC Act (s 46P AHRC Act). This section provides that a complaint can be lodged in respect of individual matters or on behalf of a class as a representative complaint.

A complaint must be made in writing, but the AHRC should take reasonable steps to ensure that a person has assistance to formulate a written complaint if necessary (s 46P AHRC Act). Additionally, it should be noted that a complaint can be amended at any time with leave of the president (s 46PA AHRC Act).

Complaint resolution

Once the complaint has been made to the AHRC, it will be referred to the president (s 46PD AHRC Act). This means that the president will be responsible for all complaints under each of the Acts. This responsibility for complaint handling cannot be delegated to other members of the AHRC.

The president will inquire into the complaint and attempt to conciliate the complaint between the parties (s 46PF AHRC Act).

The president may terminate a complaint, pursuant to the AHRC Act (s 46PH(1)(a)–(h)) if:

  • the act complained of is not unlawful under the legislation
  • the complainant decides not to pursue or discontinues the complaint
  • the complaint is more than six months old
  • the complaint has been adequately dealt with by another remedy
  • there is another more appropriate remedy available
  • the AHRC or another statutory body has already dealt with the complaint
  • the complaint could be more effectively or conveniently dealt with by another statutory authority
  • the complaint is of such public importance that it should be considered by the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court.

The president must terminate a complaint if the president is satisfied that (s 46PH(1B)-(1C) AHRC Act):

  • the complaint is trivial, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance or
  • there is no reasonable prospect of the matter being settled by conciliation or
  • there would be no reasonable prospect that the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court would be satisfied that the alleged acts, omissions or practices are unlawful discrimination.

It should be noted that the president has the power to revoke a termination up until the time where an application is made to the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court.

The president can obtain information by serving a notice on a person requiring them to produce documents or a statement within a specified period of time (s 46PI AHRC Act). Additionally, the president may require that parties attend at a compulsory conference where the president will conduct a conciliation conference between the parties (ss 46PJ, 46PK AHRC Act). The proceedings at the conference are private and must be conducted in an independent and objective manner. Leave must be obtained to have representation, unless the person has a disability where they can nominate a representative to attend on their behalf. Any person who fails to attend without reasonable excuse may be penalised. Likewise, a person who fails to provide information may be penalised. It is an offence to give false or misleading information to the president in the course of the conciliation process (s 46PN AHRC Act).