The exposure draft Bill consolidates existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws covering discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability and age, and adds new protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It addresses many of the complexities of the existing laws, by consolidating the current regime of five pieces of legislation into one — comprising the four anti-discrimination Acts as well as the Human Rights Commission Act.
While supporting the passing of this legislation, we also recommend some enhancements, such as including domestic violence as a protected attribute.
Including domestic violence as a protected attribute is consistent with Australia’s human rights obligations. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and General Comment No 19 state that domestic violence is a form of discrimination against women. Under CEDAW, state parties are required to legislate to prohibit all discrimination against women. Additionally, CEDAW Concluding Observations on Australia in 2010 recommended that Australia develop strategies to prevent homelessness resulting from domestic violence — a major cause of homelessness for women and children.
The protected attribute is also consistent with the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children which aims to engage all in the community to address violence against women and advance gender equality, including through developing workplace measures to support women experiencing and escaping from domestic violence.
Such protection would build upon the enterprise agreements and industrial awards which include domestic violence provisions for more than one million workers in Australia. It would challenge the negative treatment, attitudes and stereotyping that lead to unfair treatment of victims/survivors of domestic violence and acknowledge the harm this causes. The protection would also extend to all areas of public life, including accommodation, education and goods and services.
Domestic violence is a violation of the right to life, and other human rights entitlements. Discrimination on this basis further compounds the harm. Including domestic violence as a protected attribute would convey a clear message that this is a community problem with a solution that should involve the whole community.
LIZ SNELL is Law Reform and Policy Co-ordinator at Women’s Legal Services NSW. RACHEL BALL is from the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne.