The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights' functions are mainly set out in section 7 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011:
- to examine Bills for Acts, and legislative instruments, that come before either House of the Parliament for compatibility with human rights, and to report to both Houses of the Parliament on that issue;
- to examine Acts for compatibility with human rights, and to report to both Houses of the Parliament on that issue;
- to inquire into any matter relating to human rights which is referred to it by the Attorney-General, and to report to both Houses of the Parliament on that matter.
'Human rights' are defined as the rights and freedoms recognised or declared in seven core human rights treaties to which Australia is a party. These treaties are:
The committee's major function is to examine and report on bills and legislative instruments that come before the Parliament. The committee usually reports during each joint sitting week, and where there is a large break in the sitting calendar occasionally reports outside of the sittings. The scrutiny reports provide the committee's initial examination of bills introduced into Parliament, and legislative instruments registered, since its last report, as well as its concluded views of legislation previously commented on.
The committee undertakes its review of legislation as a technical inquiry relating to Australia's international human rights obligations. The committee does not consider the broader policy merits of legislation. The committee emphasises the importance of establishing and maintaining an effective dialogue between the committee and ministers, and to contributing to the broader respect for, and recognition of, human rights in Australia.
The committee's scrutiny reports primarily focus on legislation which appear to raise human rights concerns, having regard to the information provided in the explanatory memorandum and statement of compatibility.
Parliamentarians, interested groups and other stakeholders who wish to bring matters to the committee's attention that are relevant to its scrutiny of legislation are invited to do so. Noting the short timeframes in which the committee completes its assessments of bills and legislative instruments, any comments on legislation should be provided as soon as possible to ensure that they can be considered by the committee.
The committee's scrutiny reports can be accessed on the scrutiny reports page or via the indexes. The committee's reports are also available on the AustLII database.
The committee also occasionally conducts inquiries, which it may initiate in order to fully scrutinise the legislation before it, or where the Attorney-General refers a matter to it. The committee also publishes annual reports summarising its work.
In 2023, the committee was given the function (under section 243AA of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999) to review compulsory enhanced income management and compulsory income management for compatibility with human rights and report to the Parliament. The committee must complete the first review by 4 September 2024, and subsequent reviews must be completed within three years thereafter.