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Disability discrimination tops complaints list

Disability Disability Rights

New data shows the Australian Human Rights Commission was asked to investigate 2,013 complaints under Federal anti-discrimination law in 2015-16, down from 2,388 complaints lodged in the previous year.

Alleged discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act, primarily in employment and the provision of goods and services, accounted for 37% of complaints last financial year.

The Racial Discrimination Act accounted for 21% of total complaints the Commission received during the year. Most of these complaints also related to employment and goods and services.

The 2015-16 complaints data is published online, alongside the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2015-16 annual report.

Of the 2,013 complaints received in the past financial year, 20% were lodged under the Sex Discrimination Act, 14% were lodged under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, and 8% were lodged under the Age Discrimination Act.

In a statement, the Commission noted it does not initiate or prosecute a complaint, but if it receives a complaint in writing it must investigate the facts and attempt to conciliate the matter.

Of the 1,308 complaints that went to conciliation at the Commission during the past financial year, 989 complaints (76%) were successfully resolved. The conciliation success rate in 2015-16 is the highest on record. 

If a complaint is not resolved, or it is discontinued for another reason, a complainant can take their complaint to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court.

Last year, only 3% of total complaints that were finalised with Commission were subsequently taken to court by the complainant.

Of the over 80 complaints finalised under the racial hatred provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, only one proceeded to court at the initiation of the complainant.

“Our focus is on resolving disputes so parties can avoid court proceedings,” said Commission President, Professor Gillian Triggs.

“However, the Commission has no judicial powers and it makes no legally binding determinations as to whether unlawful acts have occurred.

“The Commission does not have statutory power to prevent a complainant proceeding to court once the Commission terminates the complaint,” Professor Triggs said.

It took the Commission an average of 3.8 months to finalise a complaint in the 2015-16 reporting year. In that year, 94% of surveyed parties were satisfied with the Commission’s service.

72% of people who answered a Commission survey about their involvement in the complaints process said the process helped them to better understand their rights and responsibilities.

Some conciliated complaints led to agreements between parties to introduce anti-discrimination policies and provide anti-discrimination training in workplaces.

Other conciliated outcomes included agreements to modify buildings to address disability discrimination.

Photo: Creative Commons by Oliver Gouldthorpe on Flickr