On 20 November 2012, the Federal Government released an Exposure Draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 which consolidates the five existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination statutes (Age Discrimination Act 2004, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Racial Discrimination Act 2004 and Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986).
The aim of the Act is to ensure the highest current standards are applied consistently across all areas of public life. The draft legislation retains many of the existing prohibitions but proposes a number of significant changes which include:
- Introducing a single definition of discrimination. A person will discriminate against another person if they are treated unfavourably because they have a protected attribute or if a policy is imposed which disadvantages them;
- Gender identity, sexual orientation and the recognition of same-sex couples as a relationship status will be added to the list of protected attributes and will be grounds for discrimination;
- A reverse onus of proof that provides that once the complainant has established the primary elements of discrimination, the unlawful reason for the conduct will be presumed unless the respondent can prove otherwise;
- A new exception for justifiable conduct which starts from a position where conduct is assumed to be unlawful unless justifiable;
- Parties to a dispute will now bear their own costs;
- Changes to the complaints process that will allow the Commission to dismiss unmeritorious claims; and
- The introduction of voluntary mechanisms to assist compliance which includes the ability to have the Australian Human Rights Commission certify industry-specific compliance codes.
An inquiry into the draft Bill will be conducted by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.