The Human Rights Commission review

The review of the Human Rights Commission is pretty damning. I’ll summarise the findings below, but note for now that I think the issue may be structure as much as people.

Most organisation have part-time governors who sit strategy and policy and full-time staff who do the work.

The HRC has full-time Commissioners who lead the work program but also collectively are meant to govern the organisation. There is also a CEO and a Chief Commissioner. So very blurred accountability in my opinion.

The Commerce Commission is somewhat similar in that the Commissioners are full-time and both govern and manage.

I prefer the traditional models with a clear line between governance and management. Effectively the HRC has multiple bosses as each Commissioner has control over their area, plus a Chief Commission and a CEO.

Anyway the findings include:

  • some sexual harassment has occurred within the HRC, but it is not prevalent or endemic
  • staff members’ lack of information and trust in management to deal appropriately with their complaints is a potential impediment
  • there is a deep divide between some staff and some managers and a lack of trust in the management and the Commissioners among some staff
  • strategic leadership by the current Board is compromised by a lack of cooperation and communication between Commissioners and between Commissioners and the Chief Executive
  • the structure of the HRC, including the Commissioner/Chief Executive relationship, is problematic
  • All Commissioners bear responsibility for the often
    uncooperative and unprofessional dynamics of their relationships
  • the dysfunctional relationship between the Chief Executive and some of the Commissioners is a major reputational risk to the HRC
  • unresolved personal and professional conflicts between the Chief Executive and the Board or individual Commissioners be proactively addressed using, where necessary, external mediation or facilitation.
  • This structural issue is compounded by deep-seated personality clashes.
  • Former Commissioners told the Review of their experiences of dysfunction in the HRC Board going back many years while under the leadership of former Chief Commissioners.
  • However, the state of the relationship between the Chief Commissioner and the Race Relations Commissioner has deteriorated again. The October incident contributed to this deterioration. Presently, they are barely communicating with each other.
  • Commissioners appear to fall into one of two camps: those who more or less support the Chief Commissioner and those who more or less support the Race Relations Commissioner.
  • At a personal level, the relationships between the Commissioners and the Chief Executive range from trusting and collaborative to toxic.
  • Presently there is a complete breakdown in the formerly good relationship between the Chief Executive and one Commissioner.

Government reviews are normally diplomatically worded. This review is damning in the language used such as toxic, unprofessional etc.

Andrew Little has his work cut out for him with the HRC. The status quo is clearly untenable.

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