Federal drug discrimination controversy - legislation to committee


Federal drug discrimination controversy - legislation to committee

Green and Democrat Senators teamed up today to refer proposed controversial federal laws allowing discrimination against drug addicted employees and other people to a Senate Committee.


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Source: WorkplaceInfo


Green and Democrat Senators teamed up today to refer proposed controversial federal laws allowing discrimination against drug addicted employees and other people to a Senate Committee. 

The Disability Discrimination Amendment Bill 2003 introduced into Federal Parliament yesterday seeks to make it lawful to discriminate against and dismiss people who are addicted to and dependent on illicit drugs.

People in employment, education, accommodation, sporting and club membership settings are affected.

The Bill also seeks to amend s170CK of the Federal Workplace Relations Act to ensure that employees can’t rely on their addiction to a prohibited drug as grounds to claim unlawful termination.

A spokesperson for The Greens Workplace Relations Representative Senator Kerry Nettle told WorkplaceInfo a Senate Committee inquiry was necessary   because the Federal Government failed to allow for community consultation concerning the ramifications of the Bill prior to its introduction.

Democrat Senator Brian Grieg told WorkplaceInfo there was ‘strong stereotyping’ in the Bill. The Government framed the Bill so it only targeted illicit drug users. It does not target prescription drug and alcohol abusers.

A spokesperson for the Shadow Federal Attorney-General told WorkplaceInfo the ALP agreed with the referral saying it is a contentious piece of legislation that needed thorough analysis.

In response to Marsden

The Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock introduced the Bill in response to an implication that arose from the Federal Court ruling in Marsden vs Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and Coffs Harbour and District Ex-Servicemen and Women Memorial Club.

In his second reading speech, Ruddock said: ‘That decision suggested that it may be unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act to discriminate against a person solely on the ground that the person has an addiction to or a dependence on a prohibited drug.’

The proposed amendments seek to clarify this position. ‘People operating a business or a club should not have to face discrimination claims by drug addicts when trying to keep the work or social environment safe from other people's behaviour,’ Ruddock said.  

‘The general community also has a reasonable expectation that it can be lawfully protected from the harms and risks posed by another person's illicit drug addiction.’

Too fast, not enough detail

The Green Spokesperson said a number of community groups were concerned at the speed with which the Bill was introduced and the lack of consultation.

It was only a month ago that the Federal Government said it would introduce the Bill.

The spokesperson said there were problems concerning ‘definitional issues’. The amendments do not make it clear what is meant by a person affected by a prohibited drug.

The Bill also fails to treat drug addiction as an illness which could discourage people from seeking treatment, the spokesperson added.

Not enough treatment

While the Bill does not apply to drug addicted and drug dependent people seeking treatment, the spokesperson said the Greens were informed by concerned community groups that there are many more people seeking drug treatment then there are services provided.

Under the Bill, people who missed out on treatment may find themselves being discriminated against, the spokesperson said. 

Laws already adequate

The Democrats’ Senator Greig said, in relations to employed persons, the Bill was unnecessary because there were already adequate laws covering people’s competency to do their jobs - the focus should be on people’s ability to perform not the type of drugs they take.

He said he was unaware of the Marsden vs Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and Coffs Harbour and District Ex-Servicemen and Women Memorial Club case, so was unable to comment on its implications.


Under the proposed laws, employees and other people on illicit drug rehabilitation programs remain protected from discrimination and unlawful dismissal.

The laws do not apply if the drug addicted or dependent person is authorised by Commonwealth, State or Territory laws to use illicit drugs.

People taking prescribed medication are also exempted.

The Federal Attorney-General Ruddock said: ‘This Bill is not about penalising people with drug problems.

‘Rather, it is directed to ensuring that our disability discrimination laws are not used in an unjustified manner’

What is a drug rehab program?

According to Ruddock, the definition of a drug rehab program is broad under the proposed laws, including residential services through to regular visits to counsellors, priests or a doctor.

He explained that the definition of rehabilitation was not specified ’so as not to limit the type of treatments or services that can be accessed, and to ensure that people who are attempting to put their lives back on track are not inadvertently left out.’

He said people who had recovered from their addiction and maintained their recovery retained their protections under the proposed amendments.

Discrimination, subject to exemptions, would only be lawful at the time of the addiction or dependence.

Access to other discrimination

Ruddock said the proposed laws allow people who are addicted to or dependent on illicit drugs to access discrimination protection on the grounds of mental illness or other disabilities.  

Associates of drug addicts

He said it will remain unlawful to unfairly discriminate against a person because their associate is dependent or addicted to illicit drugs.

Associates include a spouse, a relative, a carer, a business partner or a team mate.

The ALP spokesperson would not elaborate on the Bill.

The Senate Committee is expected to table its report on the Bill in March 2004.

For more information on the Bill go to the Parliament of Australia website.




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