The number of COVID-related complaints to the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) tripled in the past year – with the vast majority related to face mask requirements.
In 2020-21, the commission fielded more than 200 complaints regarding alleged pandemic-related infringements.
That number rose to 681 in 2021/22, with the highest number being about mask requirements.
The Queensland Human Rights Commission Annual Report 2021/22, tabled in state Parliament yesterday, also reveals that its commissioner is highly invested in implementing reforms to overhaul the state’s 30-year old Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.
QHRC Commissioner Scott McDougall, in the report’s foreword, said the commission’s focus over the past year had been dominated by three main elements:
- the commission’s review of Queensland’s anti-discrimination law
- the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
- the continued increase in the number of complaints and enquiries received.
“Our review of Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, requested by the Attorney-General in May 2021, is the first holistic reconsideration of the Act since its introduction 30 years ago,” he said.
“It provided an excellent opportunity to make sure the Act is working to protect Queenslanders from discrimination and harassment, and that it is keeping pace with contemporary community expectations.
“I am proud of the comprehensive consultation undertaken … (and) look forward to the Review’s final report Building Belonging, being tabled in State Parliament in 2022-23 and working with government and the community to progress the recommendations it contains.”
On 1 September, the QHRC recommended the introduction of new anti-discrimination laws to further prevent sex discrimination and sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace.
Its review of the Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act included 46 recommendations to strengthen and clarify discrimination law, including the extension to people experiencing homelessness and victims/survivors of domestic and family violence.
The commission’s annual report also spoke of the increased workload created by the ongoing global COVID crisis.
“The COVID pandemic and its associated restrictions continued to impact our work across the year, accounting for a significant proportion of our work in complaints, enquiries, media and communications, and legal and policy,” Mr McDougall said.
“Several court challenges to public health directions remain in progress as at 30 June, many of which the Commission is involved in as an intervening party.
“We have continued to advocate for transparent and accountable decision making in pandemic response measures, including the need for the government to introduce fit-for-purpose specific pandemic legislation and to urgently clarify the role of the Human Rights Act in the decisions of the Chief Health Officer.
“The ongoing increase in the numbers of complaints and enquiries we receive (up by 80% and 60% respectively in the last two years) has greatly added to the workload of our teams, and I am pleased the increased demand has been recognised in a funding boost for the Commission announced in the 2022 State Budget.”
Other figures detailed in the report show that, while the number of sexual harassment complaints had increased by two (from 52 in 2020-21 to 54 in 2021-22), 74% of the complaints accepted related to workplace harassment.
The number of vilification complaints, up from 11 to 14, included nine matters relating to a person’s race, four relating their sexuality and one for their religious beliefs.
Read the QHRC annual report.