Government to make it easier to bring discrimination claims under new laws

It is likely to be easier for employees to bring a discrimination claim under the exposure draft legislation of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Bill, released today.

The draft legislation was released by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Minister for Finance and Deregulation Penny Wong in a bid to simplify Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, which currently span five different Acts, with different standards, definitions and rules making the system complex and difficult to navigate.

The Federal Government says the reforms are aimed at making it easier for individuals to seek redress when they’ve been discriminated against.

However, the reforms will also provide the Equal Opportunity Commission with the ability to dismiss unmeritorious complaints, which the government says will provide business with certainty.

The draft legislation lifts differing levels of protections to highest current standard to resolve gaps and inconsistencies.

It introduces a single, simple definition of discrimination as ‘unfavourable treatment’ and a simple ‘defence’ of justification, meaning discrimination is lawful when done for legitimate aim and is proportionate to its aim.

The draft legislation streamlines the complaints process and other functions of the Commission, such as shifting the burden of proof to the respondent to justify the conduct, once the complainant has established a prima facie case and making this a cost-free jurisdiction.

“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,” Roxon said in a statement issued this morning.

Wong said business will benefit from the ability of the Australian Human Rights Commission to certify codes or standards that will act as a full defence to claims of discrimination.

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