EQUAL OPPORTUNITY BILL

Posted on 28. Apr, 2010 in Speeches

Second reading  Thursday, 25 March 2010

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I have much pleasure in supporting the Equal Opportunity Bill 2010. Australia, and Victoria in particular, is warm, tolerant, vibrant and diverse. We welcome the contributions of all our people, no matter from where they come, the colour of their skin, their religion, gender or sexual orientation. We value the contribution of all our citizens and have a particular commitment to assisting those with a disability. We celebrate our diversity. Indeed our diversity is our strength in all our global endeavours, be they cultural, sporting, economic, business or education.

Here in Victoria various forms of discrimination have been illegal for over 30 years. We have laws such as the Equal Opportunity Act and institutions such as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. This is not because racism and discrimination are rife, rather the opposite. As a society we abhor discrimination, and it is our commitment to a decent society and the quintessentially Australian notion of a fair go that we enshrine in legislation.

Acts of discrimination or racism are the exception, not the norm. When they occur they attract attention precisely because as a society we find them repugnant and disgusting. Our antidiscrimination laws are not an indication of an endemic problem, rather they are the hallmark of an enlightened society and its commitment to equality and fairness.

Our legislative approach to combating discrimination has matured over the years and is more comprehensive and sophisticated than it was in the 1970s. Examples include the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, which was landmark legislation. Last year’s Sentencing Amendment Bill ensured that where racism is a motivating factor in offences such as assault, that will be taken into account in sentencing.

Much has changed since the 1970s. The community is now more diverse. There is a greater appreciation of the need to deal with systemic issues rather than just prosecute individual cases. The Victorian government has taken a comprehensive and consultative approach in developing this bill. This includes Julian Gardner’s 2007–08 review of the act and the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Governance) Bill 2008. This bill is the outcome of all that work and indeed our experience since the 1970s.

To say the least I am surprised at the amount of emails and representations from the so-called disquiet quarter saying that the sky is going to fall in or that there will be riots and social unrest if this bill is enacted. What such people have not looked at is that the bill changes the commission from a complaints-handling body to one that educates and facilitates dispute resolution, best practice and compliance — and there is no negativity in that.

The bill also gives the commission more effective options to respond to systemic discrimination — for example, the ability for the commission to investigate serious systemic discrimination and engage directly with duty holders to reach enforceable undertakings, issue compliance notices where necessary and conduct public inquiries with the consent of the Attorney-General.

The bill in fact encourages best practice and proactive compliance by duty holders without reliance on individual complaints. This will be achieved through the commission’s role in conducting research and education and through a proactive duty to eliminate discrimination as far as possible.

More importantly, the bill provides a more effective and efficient complaints resolution system by placing the focus on early and flexible dispute resolution at the commission while allowing complainants to also go directly to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have their matter determined. Importantly, it also removes legal and technical barriers to the elimination of discrimination by simplifying the definition of discrimination, extending existing protections for employees to volunteer and unpaid workers and clarifying duties to make reasonable adjustments for people with impairments. It will clarify, update and amend certain exceptions to unlawful discrimination.

The bill has all the elements that should be admired and appreciated by all concerned. I have nothing but high regard for the Attorney-General and his introduction of this bill. I cannot wait to see the bill passed, and I commend it to the house.

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