Australian Anti-Discrimination Law – Your Rights & Obligations

In Australia, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone for possessing certain attributes.  The major federal legislative instruments include:-

  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Collectively, these instruments form the Commonwealth government’s anti-discrimination regime, which aims to promote equality and protect minority groups.

In addition to the federal regime, most state and territory governments have also enacted anti-discrimination legislation.  In Queensland, it is the Anti-Discrimination Act (Qld) 1991 (“the Act”).  Examples of conduct which is discriminatory and prohibited under the Act include:

  • age
  • relationship status
  • pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • parental status and family responsibilities
  • gender
  • disability
  • race
  • sexual orientation and activity; and
  • religious or political belief.

Under the Act, both direct and indirect discrimination are deemed unlawful.  Direct discrimination is often obvious, for example, it is direct discrimination where an employer advertises that a position is only open to male applicants.  Indirect discrimination on the other hand is not always apparent.  Again using the employment example, if an employer requires its employees to wear a cap for aesthetic purposes only and not for hygiene, it may have the indirect effect of discriminating against an employee who is required to wear a headdress as part of their cultural beliefs.

Whilst prohibiting the above mentioned discrimination and setting out the rights and obligations of Queenslanders, the Act also outlines a complaints framework.  Under that process, alleged discrimination is to be referred to the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (“ADCQ”).  A complainant has one year from the date of the discriminatory conduct in which to refer a complaint to the ADCQ.  Upon receipt of a complaint, the ADCQ will hold a compulsory conference, with a view to achieving settlement between the parties.  Failing settlement, the ADCQ has the power to refer the matter to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (“QIRC”) or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“QCAT”), depending on the origin of the complaint, for a final determination of the matter.

If you would like further information in respect of the anti-discrimination laws, including your rights and obligations, please contact us via our online contact form.

Dannielle Woodward
Trainee Solicitor
Litigation & Dispute Resolution