Policy Statement - Consolidation of Commonwealth Anti Discrimination Laws
19 March 2011
The current Commonwealth anti-discrimination regime provides an important legislative framework for promoting equality in Australia and contains many positive features that operate to protect against certain forms of discrimination in certain circumstances. Despite these features, many individuals and groups within the Australian community experience discrimination, and the notion of substantive equality remains, at least for some, still out of reach.
The current Commonwealth regime also deals with different grounds of discrimination in different ways. Four grounds of discrimination — sex, age, disability and race — are dealt with under specific Acts, each containing a complaints process which includes a process of investigation and conciliation which, if unsuccessful, can result in a court hearing. Other more limited protections are provided under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) for discrimination on other grounds such as sexual preference, trade union activity or political opinion, however complaints on these grounds may only be investigated by the Australian Human Rights Commission and cannot culminate in a court process. This results in a confused and fragmented scheme, which is difficult to use.
The Law Council supports reforms to the current Commonwealth anti-discrimination regime that:
(a) make it easier to access and understand;
(b) improve its capacity to address all forms of discrimination;
(c) promote equality; and
(d) implement Australia’s international obligations in this area.
For these reasons, the Law Council supports the consolidation of the existing Commonwealth discrimination laws in to a single Act (the consolidation process), provided that this process preserves or enhances existing protections against discrimination and improves the ability of the regime to promote substantive equality, as well as removing the regulatory burden on business.