The Human Rights Legal Resource Centre (HRLRC) made its submission to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act review on the final day for first-round submissions.
Phil Lynch, HLRC director and principal solicitor, said the Centre’s submission focused on ways to address systematic discrimination, recommending a move away from a “merely an individualised complaint-based system”.
The HRLRC submission discussed the range of attributes that should be protected by the EO Act, the scope for the EO Act to address systemic discrimination, and also the scope of the powers of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate and remedy discrimination.
It canvassed additional mechanisms for dealing with complaints such as class actions and representative complaints.
The submission also focused upon the relevance of international human rights law to certain questions raised in the discussion paper. According to Lynch, the submission stressed “the importance of amending the [EO] legislation to ensure that … the core minimum standards guaranteed under the international covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR) in relation to non-discrimination are reflected in and enshrined in domestic legislation”.
The submission was nothing if not comprehensive, and the relevance of the recently-introduced Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) was also discussed.
Lynch described the EO Act and the human rights charter as “two planks” of a policy the human rights and social justice framework necessary to address systematic social disadvantage.
Reviewer Julian Gardner agreed that the two arms of policy are intrinsically linked. “Undoubtedly there is a connection [between the EO Act and the charter] which came into operation fully on the first of January this year, giving the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner an extended range of functions in monitoring the operations of the charter,” Gardner said.
Gardner noted that the commencement of the charter was part of the impetus for the review. The charter granted the human rights commissioner new powers of court intervention. “That meant that there was a need to look at its governance structure, but also to ensure that its role in relation to equal opportunities was coordinated with those additional powers.
“Given that one of the rights under the Victorian charter was the right to be free from discrimination, the two are very closely interlinked so yes [the charter is] very much part of the Victorian Government’s approach to human rights in general,” Gardner said.
Clayton Utz assisted the HLRC in a pro bono capacity. Amanda Jones, pro bono coordinator for the Melbourne office said that lawyers at the firm embraced the opportunity to be involved. “[They] enjoy it immensely, [being involved] both in law reform and in human rights law it adds another dimension to the work that we do,” Jones said.