A guide to Australia's anti-discrimination laws

A guide to Australia's anti-discrimination laws

Over the past 30 years the Commonwealth Government and the state and territory governments have introduced anti-discrimination law to help protect people from discrimination and harassment.

The following laws operate at a federal level and the Australian Human Rights Commission has statutory responsibilities under them:

  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Commonwealth laws and the state/territory laws generally cover the same grounds and areas of discrimination. However, there are some 'gaps' in the protection that is offered between different states and territories and at a Commonwealth level.

In addition, there are circumstances where only the Commonwealth law would apply or where only the state law would apply.

   
 ArrowSummary of state and federal anti-discrimination legislation, and the areas of public life which they cover 
   
 ArrowContact details for federal and state and territory anti-discrimination agencies  
   

 


Federal and state anti-discrimination law

Note: This summary is intended as a guide only. You should contact the Commission, your state or territory anti-discrimination agency or a qualified lawyer if you required advice on a specific matter.

Click on the links below for information on the following federal and state anti-discrimination laws:

Federal laws
Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986

Grounds of discrimination

Breaches of human rights by any Commonwealth body or agency and discrimination in employment on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, medical record, criminal record, marital status, impairment, disability, nationality, sexual preference, trade union activity.

Areas covered

Commonwealth body or agency; employment and occupation.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated. If complaint is not declined, conciliation is attempted. If it cannot be conciliated, the Commission prepares a report to the federal Attorney-General who then tables the report in Parliament.

Back to index of federal anti-discrimination laws


Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)

Grounds of discrimination

Age; protects both younger and older Australians.

Areas covered

Employment; education; access to premises; provision of goods, services and facilities; renting or buying a house or flat; administration of Commonwealth laws and programs; and requests for information.

The Act does not apply to a number of areas including Commonwealth laws that govern taxation, social security (including pensions), migration and citizenship; superannuation; state laws; certain health programmes; youth wages; direct compliance with workplace agreements and awards; charities, and religious and voluntary bodies.

Process for decision making

Complaints must be in writing. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated. The complaint is then reviewed to see if it should be terminated or if it is suitable for conciliation. If the complaint cannot be conciliated, it will be terminated by the President of the Commission. A complainant may then take the matter to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Magistrates Court.

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Disability Discrimination Act 1992

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological or learning disabilities; physical disfigurement; disorders, illness or diseases that affect thought processes, perceptions of reality, emotions or judgement, or results in disturbed behaviours; presence in body of organisms causing disease or illness (eg HIV virus).

Areas covered

Employment; education; access to premises; accommodation; buying or selling land; activities of clubs; sport; administration of Commonwealth laws and programs; provision of goods; and services and facilities.

Process for decision making

Complaints must be in writing. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated. The complaint is then reviewed to see if it should be terminated or if it is suitable for conciliation. If the complaint cannot be conciliated, it will be terminated by the President of the Commission. A complainant may then take the matter to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Magistrates Court.

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Racial Discrimination Act 1975

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin.

Other unlawful conduct

Racial hatred

Areas covered

Employment; provision of goods and services; right to join trade unions; access to places and facilities; land, housing and other accommodation.

Process for decision making

Complaints must be in writing. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated. The complaint is then reviewed to see if it should be terminated or if it is suitable for conciliation. If the complaint cannot be conciliated, it will be terminated by the President of the Commission. A complainant may then take the matter to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Magistrates Court.

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Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility (dismissal only).

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment

Areas covered

Employment; partnerships; qualifying bodies; registered organisations; employment agencies, education; goods, services and facilities; accommodation; land; clubs; awards; superannuation and enterprise agreements.

Process for decision making

Complaints must be in writing. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated. The complaint is then reviewed to see if it should be terminated or if it is suitable for conciliation. If the complaint cannot be conciliated, it will be terminated by the President of the Commission. A complainant may then take the matter to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Magistrates Court.

Back to index of federal anti-discrimination laws


State and Territory laws
Australian Capital Territory Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Sex, sexual harassment, sexuality, transsexuality, age, profession, trade, occupation or calling, relationship status, status as a parent or carer, pregnancy, race, racial vilification, religious or political conviction, impairment, membership or non-membership of association of employers or employees, breastfeeding, spent convictions, disability, religious practice in employment, having had one of the enumerated attributes in the past, or association with person with an above attribute.

Areas covered

Work; employment agencies; education; access to premises; goods, services or facilities; accommodation; clubs; qualifying bodies; professional or trade organisations; requests etc for information.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing to the Discrimination Commissioner. It is then investigated and conciliation may be attempted. If unsuccessful, the matter can be referred to the Discrimination Tribunal for public hearing and legally enforceable determination.

Back to index of state anti-discrimination laws


New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Race, (including colour, nationality and national or ethnic origin), sex (including pregnancy), marital status, disability, homosexuality, age (compulsory retirement only), transgender, carer's responsibility.

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment; vilification on the basis of race, homosexuality, transgender and HIV/AIDS status.

Areas covered

Employment; partnerships; trade unions; qualifying bodies; employment agencies; education; access to places and vehicles; provision of goods and services; accommodation; registered clubs.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated and conciliation may be attempted. If unsuccessful, it may be referred to Equal Opportunity Tribunal for hearing and legally enforceable determination.

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Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act 1996 (NT)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Race, sex, sexuality, age, marital status, pregnancy, parenthood, breastfeeding, impairment, trade union or employer association activity, religious belief or activity, irrelevant criminal record, political opinion, affiliation or activity, irrelevant medical record, or association with person with an above attribute.

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment

Areas covered

Education; work; accommodation; goods and services; facilities; clubs; insurance and superannuation.

Process for decision making

Complaint in writing to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated and conciliation may be attempted. If unsuccessful, the Commissioner may hold a hearing and make a legally enforceable determination.

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Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Sex, relationship status, pregnancy, parental status, breast feeding (goods and services only), race, age, physical impairment, religion, political belief or activity, trade union activity, lawful sexual activity, gender identity, sexuality, family responsibilities, or association with a person who has any of these attributes.

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment

Areas covered

Work and work related; education; goods and services; superannuation and insurance; disposal of land; accommodation; club membership; administration of state laws and programs; local government; existing partnership and in pre-partnership.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing to Anti Discrimination Commission. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated and conciliation may be attempted. If unsuccessful, the matter may be referred to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal for hearing and legally enforceable determination.

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South Australia Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Sex, sexuality, martial status, pregnancy, race, age, physical and intellectual impairment, mental illness, association with a child, chosen gender, caring responsibilities, religious dress (in work or study), and spouse or partner's identity.

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment

Areas covered

Employment; partnerships; clubs and associations; qualifying bodies; education; provision of goods and services; accommodation; sale of land; advertising (including employment agencies); conferral of qualifications; superannuation.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing to the Equal Opportunity Commissioner. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated and conciliation attempted. If unsuccessful, the matter is referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal for hearing and legally enforceable determination.

Back to index of state anti-discrimination laws


Tasmania Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (TAS)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Age, breastfeeding, disability, family responsibilities, gender, industrial activity, irrelevant criminal record, irrelevant medical record, lawful sexual activity, marital status, relationship status, parental status, political activity, political belief or affiliation, pregnancy, race, religious activity, religious beliefs or affiliation, sexual orientation, association with a person who has, or is believed to have any of these attributes.

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment; inciting hatred on the basis of race, disability, sexual orientation or religion.

Areas covered

Employment (paid and unpaid); education and training; provision of facilities, goods and services; accommodation; membership and activities of clubs; and in relation to some grounds, administration of any law of state; and awards, enterprise agreements and industrial agreements.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated and conciliation attempted. If unsuccessful, the complaint may be referred to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal for hearing and legally enforceable determination.

Back to index of state anti-discrimination laws


Victoria Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (VIC)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, breastfeeding, marital status, status as a carer, age, race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin), parental status, physical features, childless or a de facto spouse, lawful religious or political belief or activity, impairment (including physical impairment, mental illness, mental retardation), industrial activity, lawful sexual activity, or personal association with persons having any of the above attributes.

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment

Areas covered

Employment; partnerships; firms; professional and other organisations; qualifying bodies; employment agencies; education; provision of goods and services; accommodation (including alteration of accommodation); clubs or community service organisations; municipal or shire councils.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing to Commissioner for Equal Opportunity. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated and conciliation attempted. If unsuccessful, the matter is referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for hearing and legally enforceable determination.

Back to index of state anti-discrimination laws


Western Australia Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA)

Grounds of unlawful discrimination

Sex, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, race, religious or political conviction, age, racial harassment, impairment, family responsibility or family status, gender history.

Other unlawful conduct

Sexual harassment; racial harassment.

Areas covered

Employment; partnerships; professional or trade organisations; qualifying bodies; employment agencies; applicants and employees and commission agents; application forms; advertisements; education; access to places and vehicles; provision of good services and facilities; accommodation; clubs; land.

Process for decision making

Complaint must be in writing to the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity. It is then assessed and if within jurisdiction is investigated and conciliation attempted. If unsuccessful, the matter is referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal for hearing and legally enforceable determination .

Back to index of state anti-discrimination laws


Australian Human Rights Commission
Send Feedback to: employers@humanrights.gov.au © Australian Human Rights Commission. Last updated: 24 January 2007.