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QHRC recommends anti-discrimination reforms

The Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) today recommended the introduction of new anti-discrimination laws to further prevent sex discrimination and sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace.

QHRC Commissioner Scott McDougall said its review of the Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act (1991) 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 report – ‘Building belonging: Review of Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991’– was tabled in Parliament this morning, and comes three months after Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman tasked the QHRC with reviewing the 30-year-old legislation.

Mr McDougall said the Act had played a pivotal role in preventing discrimination and promotion of inclusion.

However, he said: “It is now 30 years old, and Queensland today is, in some ways, a vastly different state to Queensland 30 years ago.

“This review provided an excellent and timely opportunity to look at whether the Act continues, in the words of its preamble, to ‘reflect the aspirations and needs of contemporary society’ – including the need to belong.

“In the last 30 years we have gained a much deeper understanding about the harm caused by discrimination – and the psychological damage to individuals, and more broadly the social and economic costs borne by the community – when people are treated unfavourably for an unfair reason.”

Mr McDougall said one key recommendation was the introduction of a positive duty that compelled organisations and businesses to take reasonable and proportionate steps to prevent discrimination before it happened.

Ms Fentiman said the Government welcomed the report and noted it had recommended reforms in a range of key areas, including a greater focus on the proactive prevention of discrimination and sexual harassment.

“The QHRC’s Building Belonging report clearly shows it is essential our laws are protecting and promoting equality to the greatest extent possible,” she said. “Current anti-discrimination legislation is generally concerned with resolving complaints about discrimination that has already occurred, rather than preventing it from happening in the first place.

“Introducing a ‘positive duty’ upon employers to take reasonable measures to eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination was also a recommendation of the Respect@Work report.”

The report also recommends victims of domestic and family violence be better protected from discrimination, such as when applying for a rental property or in the workplace. And it includes the strengthening of protections for the LGBTIQ community.

“The actions of Citipointe Christian College at the start of this year highlighted the importance of having specific protections for LGBTIQ+ students and staff at religious schools,” Ms Fentiman said.

In February 2022, the college was the subject of reports that students had been asked to sign “a statement of faith” contract that denounced homosexuality and stipulated students could only be enrolled on the basis of their “biological sex”.

“This report recommends reforms that will mean LGBTIQ+ students and staff feel safe in religious schools, while still protecting religious freedoms,” Ms Fentiman said.

She said the commission consulted widely during its review, holding more than 120 stakeholder consultations, four public hearings and six roundtables.

It also released a public discussion paper, which attracted 159 written submissions in response, and conducted an online survey which received 1109 responses.

Mr McDougall said the reforms recommended by the review were aimed at:

  • Eliminating discrimination by introducing a new Act with objects that included the protection and promotion of the right to equality and elimination of discrimination and sexual harassment.
  • Refinement of key concepts to ensure legal tests for discrimination respond effectively to the problems they seek to address and are easy to understand and apply.
  • Shifting focus to prevent discrimination and sexual harassment before they occur.
  • Improving the complaints system to ensure it is flexible, efficient and able to enhance access to justice.
  • Increasing protections to ensure all people who require protection under the Act are included and that coverage of the law extends to all contexts and settings where unfair discrimination occurs, subject to reasonable exceptions.

Ms Fentiman said the Government would give careful consideration to the report and its recommendations.

Read the tabled report.

Read the Respect@Work report.

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