Budget Review 2022–23 Index
Michele Brennan and Dr Shannon Maree Torrens
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is an
independent statutory organisation which was established in December 1986 by
Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (AHRC Act). The Commission is
Australia’s national human rights
institution and is situated within the Attorney-General’s
Portfolio. Recent findings by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO)
have highlighted the precarity of the AHRC’s financial position, with the
auditor’s report on the 2020–21 financial statements of the Commission advising:
… a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant
doubt on the Commission’s ability to continue as a going concern (p. 85).
As explored below, an interdepartmental steering group was
created, and a $16 million equity injection given, to the AHRC to address these
concerns. However, in the 2022–23 federal Budget, funding to the AHRC is forecast
to fall over the forward estimates.
The work of the
AHRC includes investigation and conciliation of discrimination and human
rights complaints. The Commission’s work is led by the President and 7
- President Rosalind Croucher, who is responsible for managing the
administrative affairs of the AHRC (AHRC Act,
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
June Oscar, appointed under the AHRC Act, whose functions include promoting
discussion and awareness of human rights in relation to Aboriginal persons and
Torres Strait Islanders, including the rights and freedoms recognised by the International
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (AHRC
Act, sections 46A and 46B). The Commissioner also has functions under the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA, Part III) and the Native Title Act
1993 (section 209).
Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson, who is
appointed under the Age
Discrimination Act 2004 (section 53A) and whose work includes research,
policy advice and education to remove the barriers to equality and
participation faced by older Australians and young people.
Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollands, appointed under the AHRC
Act, whose functions include promoting discussion and awareness of matters
relating to the human rights of children in Australia, including in accordance
with the Convention
on the Rights of the Child (AHRC Act, sections 46MA and 46MB).
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett, who is
appointed under the Disability
Discrimination Act 1992 (section 113) and whose functions include promoting
the rights of people with disabilities, including under the Convention
on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and building a more
accessible and inclusive community.
Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay, who is appointed under
the AHRC Act (section 8B) and whose responsibilities
include monitoring human rights issues in relation to asylum seekers and
immigration, national security, and technology issues (p. 21).
- Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan, who is appointed under
the RDA and whose functions include promoting an understanding and
acceptance of, and compliance with, that Act (sections 19 and 20).
- Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who is appointed
under the Sex
Discrimination Act 1984 (section 96) and whose functions include advancing
gender equality, consistent with the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
The Commission advocates to government and others for the
inclusion of human rights in laws and policy. Further work includes providing
advice, reviewing laws, and making submissions to parliamentary inquiries. The
Commission also promotes and raises awareness of human rights in Australia
through education, training, and outreach. Other initiatives include monitoring
and scrutinising Australia’s performance in meeting its international human
rights commitments and reporting to the United Nations.
The AHRC is focused on achieving the following outcome:
An Australian society in which human rights are respected,
protected and promoted through independent investigation and resolution of
complaints, education and research to promote and eliminate discrimination, and
monitoring, and reporting on human rights (Agency
resourcing: budget paper no. 4: 2022–23, p. 176).
Total budgeted expenses for the AHRC are $29.9 million for 2022–23,
down from $32.6 million in 2021–22. The budget then continues to fall to $26.7
million in 2023–24, $22.7 million in 2024–25 and $20.2 million in 2025–26
(Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2022–23: budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General’s Portfolio,
p. 136). As illustrated in Figure 1, this represents a sharp decline in funding
over the forward estimates period.
Figure 1 AHRC
funding and Average Staffing Levels (ASL) from 2005–06 to 2025–26
Note: Nominal budget forecasts have been converted into real
figures (2020–21 dollars) using the budget estimates for changes to the
Consumer Price Index (CPI) published on page 6 of Budget paper no. 1.
Sources: Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements: budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General’s Portfolio,
p. 363; 2007–08,
p. 405; 2008–09,
p. 292; 2009–10,
p. 215; 2010–11,
p. 202; 2011–12,
p. 188; 2012–13,
p. 189; 2013–14,
p. 184; 2014–15,
p. 197; 2015–16,
p. 193; 2016–17,
p. 130; 2017–18,
p. 136; 2018–19,
p. 95; 2019–20,
p. 99; 2020–21,
p. 141; 2021–22,
p. 137; 2022–23,
The 2020–21 financial statements of the Commission advised:
The Commission made an operating loss of $4.726 million for
the year ended 30 June 2021 (2019-20: loss of $5.774 million). As at 30 June
2021, the Commission has accumulated losses of $10.399 million (2019-20: $5.672
million), net liabilities of $5.436 million (2019- 20: $2.525 million) and net
current liabilities of $5.327 million (2019-20: $6.407 million). The balance of
cash and equivalents as at 30 June 2021 was $3.356 million (2019-20: $2.575
million) (p. 95).
The AHRC received an equity injection of $16 million in Appropriation Act
(No. 4) 2021–2022 (Portfolio
additional estimates statements 2021–22 — Attorney-General’s Portfolio, p.
73) to enable it to ‘continue to operate on a sustainable financial footing’.
This followed the ANAO finding that,
due to operating deficits dating back to 2017–18, the AHRC’s net liability
position as at 30 June 2021 was $5.4 million (p. 104). The ANAO
advised that, in September 2021, the Attorney-General’s Department had
committed to establishing a steering committee, in conjunction with the AHRC
and the Department of Finance, ‘to support the development of options and
implementation of strategies to transition the Commission to a sustainable
financial footing by the end of 2021–22’ (p. 104). The ANAO concluded:
… there is material uncertainty as to whether the Commission
will be able to establish a sustainable funding model and therefore whether it
will be able to realise its assets and settle its liabilities in the ordinary
course of business and at the amounts stated in the financial statements (p.
Referencing the ANAO report, the Australian noted
a ‘financial crisis’ at the AHRC including the hiring of an ‘unaffordable
number of staff’. The article also states that the work of the steering
committee had ‘revealed that underlying funding for the agency was insufficient
for it to execute its duties to a high enough standard’.
The office of the Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is reported
to have advised that the funding decreases in the 2022–23 Budget are due to the
finalisation of time-limited projects, noting that ‘[t]he appropriation of the
Commission to perform its core functions is more or less steady over the
forward estimates’. The terminating measures that are impacting funding over
the forward estimates are:
These measures do not seem to account for the full $9.7
million (32%) drop in funding between 2022–23 and 2025–26.
Funding for Subprograms
Budget Statement 2022–23 provides $1.6 million over two years to
establish a dedicated industry outreach and support team in the AHRC to assist
industry to respond to individuals who wish to come forward with historical
complaints of sexual harassment (pp. 18, 25). The Government states that this
will support the implementation of Recommendation 27 of the Respect@Work—National
Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (2020) which
recommended that the AHRC be funded to facilitate a process to ‘enable victims
of historical workplace sexual harassment matters to have their experience
heard and documented with a view to promoting recovery’ (p. 46).
The Women’s Budget Statement advises that the AHRC will
also receive $5 million over two years to develop a national survey of secondary
school-age students’ understanding of consent (Women’s
Budget Statement 2022–23, p. 12) as part of $40.1 million from 2021–22
for initiatives aimed at preventing family, domestic and sexual violence (budget
paper no. 2: 2022–23, p. 67). The intention is to ‘further inform the
Government’s work on respectful relationships and national prevention
strategies’ as part of the Commonwealth’s commitment to the First Action Plan
2022–2027 under the next National
Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–32. Foreign
Affairs Minister and Minister for Women Marise
Payne has said this and other measures in the package will ‘help address
the underlying drivers of gendered violence’.
However, this funding is not allocated directly to the AHRC
in the Budget papers and is, instead, included in funding for the Department of
Education, Skills and Employment (budget
paper no. 2: 2022–23, pp. 66–67; Portfolio
Budget Statements: 2022–23: budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General’s
Portfolio, p. 134). Accordingly, this funding is not factored into the
consideration of the impact of terminating measures on the AHRC’s funding over
the forward estimates, set out above.
economic and fiscal outlook 2021–22 (MYEFO 21–22) allocated
additional funding of $9 million over four years from 2021–22 (and $2.2
million per year ongoing) to establish and support a new Freedom of Religion
Commissioner (p. 210). This new Commissioner position was proposed to be established
by the Religious
Discrimination Bill 2022 and would have been ‘responsible for reviewing
protections for faith-based groups and individuals and reporting on issues
relating to freedom of religion in Australia’. However, this Bill was not enacted.
The AHRC also received an additional $1 million in funding
in the 2021–22 MYEFO to further implement the Government’s response to the
Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (MYEFO
2021–22, p. 237).
Stakeholders, commentary, and the
Prior to the Budget, President of the AHRC, Professor
Rosalind Croucher, said
that the Commission’s current funding ‘does not provide us with the resources
required to perform our statutory functions’ and noted that, to operate within
its current budget, it would need to reduce staffing levels by one-third, after
a previous reduction in staffing of 18%.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was reported
to have stated:
… the damage done to the [AHRC] by the Liberals is a shocking
indictment of the Morrison government, and further evidence of their contempt
for honesty and accountability. The commission plays a vital role in our nation
holding governments to account, and defending the human rights of all
Australians, and is too important to be treated as yet another place for the
Liberals to wage their culture wars.
Funding for the AHRC to monitor Respect@Work
recommendations was welcomed by the Greens,
however the Greens believe this development is ‘undermined by broader cuts to
the Commission’s budget’.
Australian Lawyers for Human
Rights (ALHR) expressed concern regarding the funding cut with President Kerry Weste saying ‘LHR is
alarmed that the budget reflects a clear disregard for Australia’s need to
develop improved national human rights frameworks. We condemn cuts to the
Australian Human Rights Commission that will see its budget reduced by over one
third over the next four years’.
of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia (FECCA), a national body
that represents Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse
that a ‘robust human rights framework is essential to safeguarding a fair and
just multicultural Australia. Reduced funding for the Australian Human Rights
Commission is of significant concern for multicultural Australia’. The
organisation further said ‘of immediate concern to FECCA is that this will
likely jeopardise the establishment and implementation of a national
Associate Professor Amy Maguire has
said that ‘[t]he budget for Australia’s human rights institution … will
fall significantly over the next four years’. She went on to say ‘[t]he
Australian Human Rights Commission now faces twin crises of insufficient
funding and threats to its global standing’.
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