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Harassment proposal slips quietly into obscurity

Politicians have made a final decision to withdraw a proposal to expand the definition of harassment in the Human Rights Act.

The measure met with little comment from the Opposition Progressive Labour Party, which had successfully opposed the change when amendments to the anti-discrimination law were debated in the House of Assembly on June 14.

Government’s original proposal to extend the prohibition of harassment to include the ground of age, and areas beyond the workplace, was considered flawed by advocacy groups because of a subsection which they said could allow police harassment.

It decided to remove the amendment altogether, saying it was contemplating a whole new law on harassment in its place, but it lost the June 14 vote to the PLP which had argued that only the offending subsection needed to be removed.

Yesterday MPs reconsidered the removal of the clause as proposed by the Senate.

Wayne Scott, the Minister for Community Development, said that withdrawing the proposal did not mean that existing protections under the law were being removed. And, he repeated Government’s earlier position that it intended to examine a new and separate harassment law, or amend the Summary Offences Act which already criminalises harassment in various forms.He said Government was also concerned that the addition of the clause would create a burden to the Human Rights Commission.

“The behaviours that individually constitute harassment are offences under the Summary Offences Act and I would encourage anyone who is threatened by such behaviour to pick up the phone and call the Police because this is a criminal matter,” the Minister added.

Kim Wilson, the Shadow Attorney General, said the PLP’s concern remained that despite extending anti-discrimination provisions to the ground of sexual orientation, those affected no longer had protection from harassment, and that only the offending subsection needed to be removed.

“The position hasn’t changed,” she said. “However, I note that the Minister said there is a comprehensive harassment act in situ. And we, as the Opposition, will wait with bated breath so we can see that one tabled, and we can debate that accordingly.”

Attorney General Mark Pettingill said that Government had taken another look at the measure, and now planned to bring the new legislation this year.

Venous Memari, managing director of the Centre for Justice, indicated during the Senate debate that her organisation preferred the amendment completely removed than leaving it in the law with the offending section intact.

The Centre for Justice had raised the alarm when the bill was tabled, and lobbied Government to remove the subsection.

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Published June 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 28, 2013 at 10:53 pm)

Harassment proposal slips quietly into obscurity

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