Three new (non-Charter) rights for Victorians

Amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 came into force today re-defining discrimination to include the following conduct:

  • unreasonable refusals by employers/principals/firms to accommodate the responsibilities that (a) people offered employment (b) employees (c) contract workers; and (d) partners in firms; have ‘as parents or carers’.
  • refusals by people who provide accommodation to allow a person with an impairment ‘to make reasonable alterations to that accommodation to meet his or her special needs’
  • refusals to ‘provide accommodation to a person with a visual, hearing or mobility impairment because that person has a guide dog’, including requiring that the dog stay elsewhere or charging a special fee

Unlike the previous amendments to the Act, these new rights do not add to or widen the definition of Charter rights. That’s because, while the Charter picks up the definition of discrimination in the EOA, it only does so in relation to discrimination on the basis of an attribute:

3(1) In this Charter… discrimination, in relation to a person, means discrimination (within the meaning of the Equal Opportunity Act 1995) on the basis of an attribute set out in section 6 of that Act

However, the new anti-discrimination rights in the new amendments alter the definition of discrimination to create a new ‘conduct-based’ sort of discrimination that is different to discrimination on the basis of an attribute. Here are how the alterations look:

3 The objectives of this Act are- (a) to promote recognition and acceptance of everyone’s right to equality of opportunity; (b) to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against people by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of various attributes; (c) to eliminate, as far as possible, sexual harassment; (d) to provide redress for people who have been discriminated against or sexually harassed.

7(1) Discrimination means direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of an attribute or a contravention of section 13A, 14A, 15A, 31A, 51 or 52.

It seems clear enough that the Charter’s concept of discrimination is now narrower than the EOA’s. Why – and why the Charter’s definition has to be tied to the EOA at all – remains a mystery. Of course, it might be arguable that roughly similar rights flow from Charter s. 8 (in relation to discrimination on the basis of impairment) and Charter s. 17 (protection of families and children.)

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