Commonwealth set to reform anti-discriminatory laws

PEOPLE discriminated against because of their race, gender or sexuality, or all three, will soon be able to make a single complaint about discriminatory practises, with the Commonwealth set to reform anti-discriminatory laws.

Under the current laws there are five different pieces of legislation which do not cover particular areas including sexual orientation and gender identity.

But Attorney-General Nicola Roxon on Tuesday released a draft exposure bill to simplify the laws surrounding discrimination, complaints, and redress for victims.

Ms Roxon said the new bill would make the laws easier to understand for the whole community, and would ensure a single set of standards and definitions, rather than the five that exist under current laws.

"It's ridiculous that at the moment an African woman for example, who has been discriminated against needs to separately make complaints of sex and race discrimination," she said.

"Now she can make a single complaint recognising the discrimination was because she was both a woman and African.

"It will be easier for individuals to seek redress when they've been discriminated against but simpler provisions enabling a single 'justification' defence for such behaviour and the ability of the Commission to dismiss unmeritorious complaints will give business and service providers' certainty as well."

The new laws would crucially ensure victims had to prove they had been discriminated against, to help prevent vindictive employees making un-founded complaints against an employer.

Several community groups welcomed the release of the draft bills for consultation, with the Council of the Ageing (COTA), saying the new laws would put older Australians on an equal footing with other minority groups.

COTA chief executive Ian Yates said the current Age Discrimination Act was the weakest link in the anti-discrimination chain, and the new laws would give older people better protections against discrimination.

But Greens Senator Penny Wright said the laws did not go far enough to protect some groups, including the unemployed and homeless.

Senator Wright said while the Greens welcomed the proposal, they would seek to change the bill to help those groups, as well as "intersex status".

The exposure draft legislation can be found at:

Key changes:

  • Lift differing levels of protections to highest current standard
  • Single, simple definition of discrimination as 'unfavourable treatment'
  • A simple 'defence' of justification, meaning discrimination is lawful when done for legitimate and proportionate aim
  • Replace many existing exceptions with single concept of 'justification'
  • New protected grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Helping business to better understand their obligations, reduce unnecessary complaint and compliance costs
  • Shift the focus from redressing wrongs to preventing discrimination, including a code to provide a defence to a claim of discrimination

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