Launch of Federal Discrimination Law

Sydney, 26 June 2008


The Hon John von Doussa QC President,
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Australia

Speaking notes for introduction for Justice Crennan

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.

Good evening ladies and Gentleman.

Thank you for coming here this evening to take part in the launch of the new and updated version of HREOC’s publication, Federal Discrimination Law.

The genesis of Federal Discrimination Law was HREOC’s 2002 publication Change and Continuity. That publication considered how the federal unlawful discrimination jurisdiction was affected by the transfer of hearings from HREOC to the Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Court following the High Court’s decision in Brandy – in which, you will recall, the High Court found the former legislative regime for resolving discrimination complaints to be unconstitutional.

In particular, Change and Continuity considered the jurisprudence of the federal Courts in the first 2 years following the transfer and analysed its consistency with the jurisprudence that had developed when matters had been heard by HREOC.

The feedback from practitioners to Change and Continuity was that, despite its limited comparative focus, it provided a very useful summary of recent decisions by the Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Court. It therefore seemed logical to build on that work and produce a more general work that provided a comprehensive coverage of federal discrimination jurisprudence as well as highlighting relevant issues of practice and procedure that are frequently matters of concern to litigants.

The first edition of Federal Discrimination Law was released in 2004, an updated and revised version was published in 2005 and tonight we are very pleased to present the 2008 edition. This edition is not only an update of the earlier edition, but also provides more detailed coverage of a range of issues under each of the federal discrimination Acts and in relation to practice, procedure and costs.

I would like to acknowledge the work of HREOC’s Legal Section in producing Federal Discrimination Law. It has become an indispensible resource for anyone working in the area and is, in my view, an achievement of which we can be very proud.

In addition to the hard copy, Federal Discrimination Law is available online. A few weeks ago, cries of consternation could be heard coming from the Legal Section as, on the day that the book was being sent of the printer, two Full Federal Court decisions were handed down. Fortunately, FDL Online provides a free version of the publication that will be updated periodically. It already includes both Full Federal Court decisions.

We are also making it possible for users of FDL Online to register to receive notification of updates when new decisions are handed down. We hope this will be a useful addition to the resource presented by Federal Discrimination Law.

Discrimination law remains a challenging and, regrettably, complex area of law. Indeed Justice Kirby has gone as far as to suggest that ‘the field of anti-discrimination law is littered with the wounded’.[1] We hope that this publication will play some role in minimizing any future casualties, by assisting people to understand and effectively enforce their rights.

We are very lucky to have with us this evening Justice Susan Crennan. Justice Crennan was appointed to the High Court in November 2005. At the time of her appointment she was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, having been appointed to that office in February 2004. She was educated at the University of Melbourne (BA and PostgradDipHist) and the University of Sydney (LLB).

Justice Crennan was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1979 and joined the Victorian Bar in 1980. She was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1989. Justice Crennan was President of the Australian Bar Association 1994-95, Chairman of the Victorian Bar Council in 1993-94, and a Commissioner for Human Rights in 1992. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Justice Crennan.

[1] X v Commonwealth (1999) 200 CLR 177, 213.