New discrimination laws are a good start but must be improved, says Keim

January 6, 2013

Media release
For immediate release 6 January 2013

New discrimination laws are a good start but must be improved, says Keim

?Australian Lawyers for Human Rights welcome the Federal government?s Exposure Draft Bill which seeks to consolidate existing Commonwealth legislation into one human rights and anti-discrimination Act?, said Stephen Keim, today. Mr. Keim is President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR). Mr Keim was commenting on the contents of ALHR?s submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional affairs Committee on the Exposure Draft as released by the Commonwealth Attorney-General for public comment.

?Combining all federal discrimination laws into a single Act is commendable?, said Mr. Keim. ?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.?

?While we support the Exposure Draft?, said Mr. Keim, ?ALHR would like to see it strengthened and further improved during its passage through Parliament. Changes are necessary to strengthen protections for those most vulnerable in our community?.

?It has been a long time coming?, said Mr. Keim. ?The Parliament should take this opportunity to do the job the best way it can. There have been almost 10 years of consultations and reviews. Parliament should take the opportunity to implement the many excellent recommendations from those reviews.?

?The new discrimination laws make necessary improvements?, said Mr. Keim. ?There is a simpler definition of discrimination.  Protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been introduced. Each party will cover their own costs, an important reform which will bring discrimination law into line with the Fair Work jurisdiction.?

?These reforms?, said Mr. Keim, ?will increase access to justice for all Australians.’

?Another important reform in the Exposure Draft is the proposal to go some way to sharing the burden of proving discrimination?, said Mr. Keim. ?Currently, the burden falls entirely to the person making the complaint to show that they have been the victim of unlawful discrimination.? ?The Exposure Draft proposes that the person making the complaint has to show that the conduct took place and provide some evidence that it happened for an unlawful reason. It then falls to the person or organisation said to be doing the discriminating to show that the conduct was not unlawful. This sharing of burden is fairer and makes sense. It is usually the respondent to an alleged act of unlawful discrimination who has access to the evidence which shows whether their conduct was lawful or not.?

‘Although the new laws are a good start, there is still much that can be done to strengthen the laws,’ said Mr Keim. ?ALHR recommends the inclusion of several grounds of discrimination that would bring Australia closer to meeting its human rights obligations under international law. In particular, the Exposure Draft Bill should include protection from discrimination for survivors of domestic violence, the homeless, intersex people and people with irrelevant criminal records. Some exemptions also need to be reviewed, particularly those that allow discrimination against domestic workers.?

‘Government, businesses and associations can do more to prevent discrimination in our community,’ said Mr Keim. ?ALHR recommends that the public sector should have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination. Additionally, there should be a general duty to make reasonable adjustments so that all Australians are included in public life. Employers should also be responsible for the discriminatory behaviour of their employees.?

ALHR hopes to see its recommendations implemented in the interests of creating a more just and equitable society for all Australians.

Media Contact: Stephen Keim SC, President
M: 0433 846 518 E:

ALHR (Australian Lawyers for Human Rights) is a network of Australian lawyers active in practising and promoting awareness of international human rights standards in Australia. ALHR has a national membership of almost 2500 people, with active National, State and Territory committees.