Addressing Systemic Discrimination and Promoting Equality: Submission re Government's consolidation of Federal anti-discrimination laws

The Human Rights Law Centre's paper, Advance Australia Fair: Addressing Systemic Discrimination and Promoting Equality, is intended to inform the Government's consolidation of Federal anti-discrimination laws and focuses on the need for the law to contribute to a more equal society by recognising and addressing systemic discrimination. Overview and Summary

There are four Federal statutes governing discrimination law: the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth); the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), and the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth). The Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) governs, amongst other things, the procedure for obtaining redress in discrimination matters.

In April 2010, the Federal Government announced its intention to streamline the Federal antidiscrimination Acts into a single comprehensive law (Consolidation Project).

The Federal Government stated:

A single Act will address current inconsistencies and make the system more user-friendly by clarifying relevant rights and obligations. It will also provide the opportunity to review the complaints handling process and the related role and functions of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Importantly, there will be no diminution of existing protections currently available at the Federal level.

The Federal Government has indicated that the exposure draft legislation for the consolidated anti-discrimination law (herein Consolidated Act) will be released sometime in 2011.

The Consolidated Act should strengthen and modernise Australia’s Federal anti-discrimination laws. In this paper, the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) focuses on the need for the law to contribute to a more equal society by recognising and addressing systemic discrimination.

In order for the law to effectively eliminate barriers to equality, it must recognise and address the systemic discrimination that is entrenched in institutions, policies and practices. Systemic discrimination creates and perpetuates disadvantage for whole groups of people and is not effectively addressed through individual complaints.4 If we recognise and respond to systemic discrimination, we will address the causes as well as the symptoms of inequality, thereby ensuring that discrimination does not occur in the first place and creating a fairer, more just and more inclusive Australia.

This paper explores how the reactive nature of the current regime does little to address systemic discrimination and promote substantive equality and makes a series of recommendations designed to ensure that the Consolidated Act is an effective tool in addressing systemic discrimination.

The HRLC would like to thank Clayton Utz, a leading Australian law firm, for their substantial assistance in researching and drafting this submission.

Click here to download the submission