SARC on dust, death and dodgy fish

The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee’s 13th Alert Digest for the year (considering a record number of bills, at least in recent years) highlights three Charter issues:

  • Asbestos Diseases Compensation Bill: SARC queries whether the new procedures designed to take account of the lengthy latency and fatal result of asbestos diseases should be extended to cover non-asbestos diseases with similar charcateristics, pursuant to the Charter right to equal and effective protection against (impairment) discrimination.
  • Coroners BIll: SARC expresses its concern that the Bill will amend the Charter’s definition of ‘court’ to cover the newly created Coroners Court, thus bringing the new body within the Charter’s partial exemption for courts and tribunals from the conduct mandate (despite the new body having no role in either developing the common law or resolving private disputes.) SARC will ask the Attorney-General what the (exempt) non-administrative capacities of the Coroners Court would be and whether there are any ‘exceptional circumstances’ (a la the override provision) that justify a permanent narrowing of the Charter’s protection for human rights.
  • Primary Industries Legislation Amendment BIll: SARC commends an excellent statement of compatibility, but also has (what, for it, are) strong words about one provision, which significantly extends an existing offence of selling or possessing an illegally taken fish to cover selling or possessing a fish that has ever been illegally ‘dealt with’ under any Australian law. ‘Dealt with’ includes just about anything anyone ever does with the fish, including transporting and possessing it.  SARC has two concerns: First, that the existing offence includes a reverse onus on the issue of whether the defendant knew or ought to have known of the illegality. This is especially concerning, because the offence applies to consumers, not just commercial operators, and it carries a potential six month sentence. Second, the headings of both the existing provision and the amendment only refer to sale, not possession, so people who plan to possess a fish will have to read the text of the provision to know that they risk prison unless they can prove that they didn’t know about any illegal dealings. The strong words:

The Committee therefore considers that clause 68 may be incompatible with the Charter.

 SARC referred the issue of compatibility with Charter s. 25(1) to parliament and will write to the Miister about the headings (and the otherwise excellent statement of compatibility.)

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