Dropping anti-discrimination bill a back down on government’s human rights

March 23, 2013

President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, John Southalan expressed disappointment, today, that the government has backed down from its long-standing commitment to consolidate its anti-discrimination laws.

Mr Southalan said “This Bill is significant. It improves access to justice and fairness for Australians. Through lengthy and detailed consultation, the government has made several important achievements with this Bill. It provides a simpler definition of discrimination, it makes the law simpler, improves consistency with state and territory discrimination laws, assists access to the courts, and makes it easier for businesses to comply.”

On Wednesday 20 March Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced that the government was no longer proceeding with its consolidation of its five anti-discrimination laws. Instead, the government said that it will implement amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to protect gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status as grounds where discrimination is prohibited.

“While these reforms, which were to be included in the anti-discrimination bill, are commendable, ALHR believes that they are no substitute for the broader reforms provided by the unified bill” he said. “In addition, Australia appears to be in breach of its 2011 United Nations Universal Periodic Review commitment to implement this bill. The governments decision is not only a step back for the implementation of its international human rights obligations, but also a step back for substantive equality and access to justice for many Australians”.

Mr Southalan said “ALHR, along with many other individuals, businesses and organisations, the government and the Australian Human Rights Commission, have invested significant time and resources into this important process. The process itself highlighted the significant gaps in Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, and validated the need for a unified, simplified law to ensure Australia better met its human rights obligations. This time and effort appears to have been wasted.”

Mr Southalan said that he hoped the government would reconsider its decision to not proceed with this important reform “the government must make good on its commitment to improving the human rights conditions of all Australians and continue with the process of introducing this bill”.

Media Contact: John Southalan, President