Date: 
Wednesday 25 May 2011

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick said the passage of amendments to the Sex and Age Discrimination legislation was, largely, a great stride forward for women and men, as well as older people in Australia.

Ms Broderick, who, in her capacity as Commissioner, also has responsibility for age discrimination, said the Australian Human Right Commission was particularly pleased that the changes create a separate statutory office for an Age Discrimination Commissioner, placing age discrimination on an equal footing with other areas of discrimination.

“This is a great day,” said Commissioner Broderick. “The Age Discrimination Commissioner will be responsible for raising awareness of age discrimination, educating the community about the impact of age discrimination, and monitoring and advocating for the elimination of age discrimination across all areas of public life.”

The changes will also significantly strengthen Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act, particularly by prohibiting direct discrimination against male and female employees on the ground of family responsibilities. They also strengthen protections against sexual harassment in workplaces and schools and prohibit sexual harassment conducted by way of new technologies.

“With sexual harassment increasingly occurring in new forms through new media, the amendment prohibiting sexual harassment by the use of new technologies such as the internet, social networking sites and mobile phones, will particularly assist young people,” she said.

As well, the new legislation establishes breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination.

However, Commissioner Broderick said she was disappointed that the Senate’s amendments meant protections on the ground of family responsibilities would not be available in instances of indirect discrimination.

“I am concerned that, as well as creating an unfortunate anomaly in the law, this amendment provides a lower level of protection, particularly for men who might experience indirect discrimination,” Commissioner Broderick said.

She also said the Commission was concerned about an exemption provided in the Act which will allow state and territory laws to prevent trans people changing their legal sex on identity documents if they are married. Commissioner Broderick said the Commission encourages the Government to take a leadership role in ensuring that there is a nationally consistent approach.

Media contact: Brinsley Marlay 02 9284 9656 or 0430 366 529