Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 Shelved by Australian Government

London, 26 March 2013

The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) shares the disappointment of Australian equality advocates at the recent announcement of the Attorney General of Australia that the Government would not be tabling the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill in Parliament before the federal election, scheduled for September 2013.

The announcement was made on 19 March 2013. While the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013, which has been tabled in its place, and which will prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status, is to be welcomed, the Australian government has nevertheless missed the opportunity to introduce comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.

The Draft Exposure Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 (the Draft Bill), published in November 2012 and subjected to a detailed inquiry by the Australian Senate, was the culmination of a lengthy and thorough process of consultation. ERT has been involved in the process since August 2011, when Dimitrina Petrova, ERT Executive Director, undertook a week-long advocacy trip to Australia as part of the government’s legislative initiative (the Consolidation Project) to consolidate the four existing federal equality Acts (the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA), the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA), the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), and the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (ADA)) and to simplify, clarify and improve the effectiveness of legislation to address discrimination and provide equality of opportunity.  In January 2012, ERT sent a response to the government’s  discussion paper, setting out its views on how the government could use the Declaration of Principles on Equality as a basis to ensure that the Consolidation Project resulted in the most comprehensive and effective law. In December 2012, ERT sent a legal opinion on the government’s Draft Bill making a number of specific recommendations as to how the Bill could be further strengthened and improved. The Senate Report, making express reference to ERT’s contribution, adopted some of ERT’s key recommendations related to the sensitive matter of religious exceptions.

While the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 proposed in place of the comprehensive Draft Bill fills a gap in the protection of LGBTI persons, ERT believes it to be a poor substitute to the latter, and urges all political parties in Australia to include a commitment to introducing the Draft Bill after the federal election.