Discrimination law consolidation must not overreach
A statement from the ACCI Chief Executive, Peter Anderson
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is urging the Australian Government to ensure that the proposed consolidation of Australia’s existing discrimination laws leads to legislation that is fair, reasonable and balanced for employers, and which does not overreach by lifting regulatory burdens or litigation potential.
In its submission to government on the consolidation, ACCI has rejected proposals in the discussion paper that would water down existing legal tests, remove existing employer exemptions, and reverse the legal onus of proof to make it easier for disgruntled employees to sue employers.
ACCI has also opposed new protections which would impose additional costs, red-tape or lead to an increase in litigation. The submission further recommends that existing definitions and exemptions be clarified to provide business with greater certainty in how they may lawfully manage workplaces. This includes re-defining the statutory definition of "disability" to ensure that employees cannot sue employers for anti-social and unlawful conduct that meets the technical definition of a mental impairment.
For industry to retain confidence in the integrity of the anti-discrimination laws it is vital that consolidation of the federal anti-discrimination laws is not used opportunistically or inadvertently raise the risk of litigation or the regulatory burden.
Lessons from recent attempts to standardise and harmonise industrial relations awards and health and safety regulations are timely reminders that well-intended consolidation can sap business confidence if there is regulatory overreach.
Commonwealth anti-discrimination law is currently contained in five separate pieces of legislation, namely the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Age Discrimination Act 2004. A fifth, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986.
On 21 April 2010, the Australian Government announced, as part of Australia’s Human Rights Framework, these Acts will be consolidated into a single comprehensive law. The Attorney-General and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation are jointly responsible for taking the consolidation project forward.
To avoid duplication, ACCI has also indicated in-principle support for one single set of anti-discrimination laws applying to employers which would override other discrimination laws operating at the federal level, such as Fair Work Act 2009 which also deals with discrimination matters.
For Further Information:
ACCI's manager of Workplace Relations and legal Affairs: Daniel Mammone 03-9668 9982
ACCI's Director of Communications: David Turnbull 0419 272 802