‘Offensive’ discrimination laws dropped after protests

Analysis

‘Offensive’ discrimination laws dropped after protests

New laws that would have expanded the range of discrimination claims workers could make against employers have been dropped by the Federal Government.

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New laws that would have expanded the range of discrimination claims workers could make against employers have been dropped by the Federal Government.

The changes, proposed by former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, would have created new grounds to allege discrimination — including political opinion, industrial activity, social origin, medical history, and nationality or citizenship.

The onus of proof would have been reversed, with employers having to prove there was no discrimination, bringing it into line with adverse action provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009.

Fearful

Business had campaigned against this because they were fearful that it would lead to a spike in claims and threatened claims.

Church-run schools and aged-care facilities run by religious groups were concerned that hiring staff appropriate to the specific religion would be seen as discrimination.

Civil liberty groups were also appalled at plans to make it an offence to ‘offend’ someone by expressing an opinion.

‘Not far enough’

The proposed changes were supported by the ACTU, which criticised them for ‘not going far enough’.
 
However, the unions argued that the legislation would make it easier for workers to make discrimination claims.

The original plan was to amalgamate five anti-discrimination Acts into one, but Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the legislation would be returned to his department for ‘a lot more work to be done’.

Balance

‘Meticulous attention must be applied to striking the appropriate balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to be protected from discrimination,’ Dreyfus said.
 
‘This is fundamental to our democracy.’

However, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 will be amended to give a new ground for protection related to sexuality.

The Institute of Public Affairs hailed the withdrawal of the legislation as ‘a huge win for freedom of speech’.
 
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