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WA’s anti-discrimination laws to be reformed

The Law Reform Commission of Western Australia’s (LRCWA) final report made 163 recommendations to reform the state’s anti-discrimination laws; most of the reforms have been broadly accepted by the McGowan government. 

user iconJess Feyder 18 August 2022 Politics
WA’s anti-discrimination laws to be reformed
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The Review of Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) was tabled in State Parliament on 16 August, representing a new Equal Opportunity Act set to make their anti-discrimination laws fair and effective and to bring Western Australia in line with the rest of the country.

The 163 recommendations seek to ensure all workplaces in Western Australia are free from harassment and gendered disadvantage.

The Attorney-General asked the LRCWA to provide advice and recommendations to the state government on amendments to the act in 2019, which stimulated significant public interest in the project. 

 
 

An extensive discussion paper was published in 2021, and the LRCWA received 995 written submissions in response. They subsequently undertook seven online and in-person public consultation sessions to distil the report’s recommendations. 

The government broadly accepted all recommendations and is giving further consideration to how they will be implemented.

The new act seeks to ensure that the state has modern, fair, and effective anti-discrimination laws that make it easier for the community to understand their rights and obligations.

Several key reforms are expected to be included in the bill, including:

  1. Removing the outdated “disadvantage test” for sexual harassment complainants;
  2. Strengthening equal opportunity protections for LGBTIQA+ staff and students in religious schools;
  3. Providing anti-discrimination protections to those who are trans, gender-diverse or non-binary;
  4. Extending the prohibition against sexual and racial harassment to members of government at every level;
  5. Protecting family and domestic violence victims from discrimination;
  6. Introducing anti-vilification laws; and
  7. Strengthening victimisation provisions.
West Australian Attorney-General John Quigley noted that the Equal Opportunity Act was one of the most significant social reforms in Western Australia’s history when it was introduced by the then Labor government 38 years ago.

“Since WA’s nation-leading anti-discrimination laws were first introduced, community expectations regarding discrimination have progressed and WA now lags behind.

“These changes will be a significant reform in promoting equality in Western Australians and will bring the state in line with the rest of the country.

“This is not about granting additional rights to any one group of people, but ensuring all Western Australians are free from discrimination, harassment, vilification and victimisation,” said the A-G.

“Importantly, these changes will make Parliament and our court system safer workplaces and ensure action can be taken against cases of sexual and racial harassment.

“Whilst still subject to drafting and further consideration, it is our ambition that the new bill will achieve a balance between the rights and interests of a wide variety of Western Australians and ensure that employers are not unnecessarily burdened with complex legislation.

“The new Equal Opportunity Act will streamline the operation of the Equal Opportunity Commission, which will be given broader discretion to dismiss trivial or unworthy complaints and to focus on its roles of complaint resolution and community education. 

“I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this report, in particular the commissioners, the Hon Lindy Jenkins, Dr Sarah Murray and Kirsten Chivers PSM.”

The Law Society of Western Australia contributed a submission to aid in the creation of LRCWA’s final recommendations. The president of the Law Society, Rebecca Lee, welcomed the reforms. 

“The Law Society is pleased to have been given the opportunity to contribute to this important and timely project of the Law Reform Commission to review Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984, and looks forward to being provided with the draft legislation for further comment on this important area of law reform,” said Ms Lee.

“While the act posed a significant social reform when it was first introduced 38 years ago, the time has come for Western Australia to amend the legislation with a new anti-discrimination and broader human rights framework that protects all members of our community, equally.”