Australian legislation to protect individuals from discrimination (including gender discrimination)
Discrimination is illegal. The following federal and state legislation addresses issues of discrimination and unfair treatment towards women in Queensland.
Age Discrimination Act 2004
This Act targets the unfair treatment of people due to their age, in various areas of public life including employment, provision of goods and services, education and administration of Federal laws and programs.
Disability Discrimination Act 1992
This Act targets discrimination against people with disabilities by promoting community acceptance and understanding of the principle that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as all other people in the community and ensuring that people with disabilities are not treated unfairly before the law on the basis of their disability.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
This Act establishes the role and structure of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now the Australian Human Rights Commission). The Act legislates the Commission's functions, responsibilities and powers, including monitoring compliance with seven international covenants, conventions and declarations to which Australia has committed. The Act also establishes the Commission as responsible for investigating, and where appropriate, managing complaints of unlawful discrimination.
The work of the Commission, as defined in the Act, can be categorised under four key areas:
- discrimination and human rights complaints
- human rights compliance
- public awareness and education
- policy and legislative development.
Racial Discrimination Act 1975
The Act promotes equality before the law for all persons regardless of their race, colour, or national or ethnic origin and establishes discrimination against people on the basis of race, colour, national or ethnic origin as being unlawful.
Sex Discrimination Act 1984
The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of sex, marital status, family responsibility and pregnancy, and establishes dismissal of an employee on the basis of their family responsibilities as being unlawful. The Act also defines sexual harassment, prohibits sexual harassment in various areas of public life and promotes elimination of sexual harassment in these arenas.
Effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of Practice for Employers (2008)
This Code is issued under Section 48(ga) of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which provides for the preparation and publication of guidelines for avoidance of discrimination and sexual harassment, by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The code provides a practical explanation of sexual harassment as defined in the Act, and provides guidance for employers around the development and implementation of policies and practices which facilitate the prevention and elimination of sexual harassment.
Workplace Relations Act 1996
This Act provides Australia's workplace relations framework. Its objectives include respecting and valuing workforce diversity and preventing and eliminating gender-based discrimination.
This Act puts a focus on promoting and improving gender equality outcomes for women and men in Australian workplaces. The Act established the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). This Act replaces the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999.
The Anti Discrimination Act 1991 promotes equal opportunity for all members of the community by protecting them from unfair discrimination and sexual harassment in certain areas of life. Unlawful discrimination as defined by the Act, and pertaining to gender discrimination, includes discriminating by:
- marital status
- pregnancy (or planning pregnancy)
- parental status
- family responsibilities
- lawful sexual activity
- gender identity
- association with someone who has any of the above attributes.
Laws that apply to the Queensland Public Service
The Public Service Act 2008 establishes the legislative basis for equal employment opportunity (EEO) in the Queensland public sector. Under this Act all public sector agencies must act to promote EEO. There are five EEO target groups identified because of their historical and ongoing disadvantage in employment:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- people who have migrated to Australia and whose first language is a language other than English and the children of those people
- people with a disability, existing or previous
- people prescribed under a regulation.
In line with this Act, agencies must enable target group members to compete for recruitment, selection, promotion and career development as effectively as people who are not members of the target groups.
The Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 states that public officials should uphold state and federal laws and carry out official public sector decisions and policies faithfully and impartially, maintaining the integrity of the public service and working so as to benefit the community.
Laws that apply to work, family and lifestyle
The Industrial Relations Act 1999 (Qld) provides a framework for industrial relations that supports economic prosperity and social justice.
One of the objectives of the Industrial Relations Act 1999 is to help balance work and family life. The Act provides for a variety of leave entitlements that apply to all Queensland employees (excluding those covered by federal awards or agreements) which may help them balance their work, family and lifestyle commitments, including parental leave, carer's leave, bereavement leave, and cultural leave. The Act also provides a framework to protect employees against unfair dismissal on discriminatory grounds, including family responsibilities.
The Family Leave Award 2012 aims to eliminate discrimination, as defined by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 and the Industrial Relations Act 1999, by providing clear direction in relation to a number of family related leave provisions. The Award also provides for part-time employment for pregnant employees and employees returning from parental leave.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 protects and entitles all individuals to equal treatment by outlining the rights to be afforded to all persons, including, but not limited to, the right to:
- life, liberty and security of person
- freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- freedom of opinion and expression
- seek and obtain asylum from persecution in other countries.
The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, signed by Australia in 1980 and ratified in 1983.
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, was developed to complement and strengthen progress made under CEDAW.
The Convention and Declaration recognise violence against women as compromising women's fundamental human rights and promote States' condemnation of violence against women and development and implementation of policies which facilitate the elimination of violence.
The Global Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 affirmed government commitments to the advancement of women as established in UN conventions. The platform establishes 12 critical areas of concern for women and girls:
- enabling women to overcome poverty
- ensuring women's equal access to quality education and training
- ensuring women's equal access to health care
- eliminating violence against women
- protecting women from armed and other conflicts
- promoting women's economic self-reliance
- promoting women's participation in decision-making
- integrating gender equality dimensions into policy and planning
- promoting women's human rights
- enhancing the media's role in promoting gender equality
- integrating women in the ecologically sustainable development process
- eliminating all form of discrimination against the girl child.
Millennium Development Goals
At the UN General Assembly in 2000, Heads of State and Government affirmed support for freedom, democracy and human rights, and devised eight goals around the eradication of inequality and poverty, to be achieved by 2015. Goal three of the eight goals developed is to 'Promote gender equality and empower women'.