What is discrimination?
Discrimination is when you’re treated unfairly or less fairly because you’re a person with disability. It’s also when you’re treated unfairly or less fairly because you’re a relative, friend, carer or coworker of a person with disability. Discrimination might also happen because of something else about you – for example, your sex, religion or race.
Types of discrimination
There are 2 types of discrimination.
Direct discrimination is when someone treats a person with disability unfairly or less fairly because of their disability. An example might be someone telling you that your child can’t take part in a playgroup because your child’s appearance would upset the other parents and children.
Indirect discrimination is when a person with disability is prevented from doing something a person without that disability can do. In this situation, no-one sets out to be deliberately unfair, but the end result is unfair. An example might be your child not being able to use the local swimming pool because it doesn’t have a ramp for wheelchairs.
Lawful and unlawful discrimination
People with disability can’t be discriminated against in:
- access to goods, services and facilities
- access to public places
- clubs and associations
- employment and work.
Sometimes discrimination might be lawful, in circumstances like:
- court orders
- insurance and superannuation
- visa applications and other migration matters
- public health
People or organisations accused of discrimination against someone might argue that if they hadn’t discriminated, it would have caused ‘unjustifiable hardship’. This means it would have been unreasonably difficult for them to make the adjustments necessary to accommodate a person’s disability.
Australian Government law
Disability Discrimination Act 1992
The Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 is an Australia-wide disability law that defines disability, as well as lawful and unlawful discrimination.
The Act says that people can’t be treated unfairly because they have past, existing or future disability. It also says people can’t be treated unfairly because of their association with someone who has disability – for example, because they work or live with someone with disability.
Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Act 2009
This Act updates several aspects of the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act. For example, it clarifies the definition of disability and what it means to discriminate against someone because they have an assistance animal or disability aid.
The Australian Human Rights Commission administers the Acts and decides what to do if there’s a complaint about disability discrimination covered by Australian Government law.
More information about disability discrimination at the Australian Government level
- Australian Human Rights Commission – About disability rights
- Australian Human Rights Commission – A brief guide to the Disability Discrimination Act
- Australian Human Rights Commission – Know your rights: disability discrimination
State and territory anti-discrimination laws
The Australian states and territories have anti-discrimination laws and bodies that deal with complaints about discrimination.
Australian Capital Territory: ACT Discrimination Act 1991
For information or help, contact the ACT Human Rights Commission:
- Phone: (02) 6205 2222
- TTY: (02) 6205 1666
- Fax (02) 6207 1034
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
New South Wales: NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
For information or help, contact Anti-Discrimination NSW:
- Phone: (02) 9268 5555 or 1800 670 812
- Fax: (02) 9268 5500
- Email enquiries: email@example.com
- Email complaints: firstname.lastname@example.org
Northern Territory: Northern Territory of Australia Anti-Discrimination Act 2014
For information or help, contact the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission:
- Phone: (08) 8999 1444 or 1800 813 846
- Email: email@example.com
Queensland: Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991
For information or help, contact the Queensland Human Rights Commission:
- Phone: 1300 130 670
- TTY: 133 677 then ask for 1300 130 670
- Speak and Listen: 1300 555 727 then ask for 1300 130 670
- Internet Relay: connect to the National Relay Service then ask for 1300 130 670
- Email enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Email complaints: email@example.com
South Australia: South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984
For information or help, contact the South Australian Office of the Equal Opportunity Commissioner:
- Phone: (08) 8207 1977 or 1800 188 163
- TTY: 133 677 then ask for AGD on 1800 177 076
- Speak and Listen: 1300 555 727 then ask for AGD on 1800 177 076
- Internet Relay: connect to the National Relay Service then ask for AGD on 1800 177 076
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tasmania: Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998
For information or help, contact Equal Opportunity Tasmania:
- Phone: (03) 6165 7515 or 1300 305 062
- SMS: 0409 401 083
- Translating and Interpreting Service: 131 450
- Email: email@example.com
Victoria: Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010
For information or help, contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission:
- Phone: 1300 891 848
- TTY: 1300 289 621
- NRS Voice Relay: 1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Western Australia: Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984
For information or help, contact the WA Equal Opportunity Commission:
- Phone: (08) 9216 3900 or 1800 198 149
- Email: email@example.com
Making a complaint about discrimination
If you’re thinking about making a complaint about disability discrimination, you should think about things like:
- what you want to get out of the complaint process
- how much making a complaint will cost you
- whether you’ll need an advocate or a lawyer to help you make the complaint.
Here’s some information that can help you get started on a complaint about disability discrimination.
Who can make a complaint about discrimination?
Under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act and corresponding state or territory laws, you can complain of disability discrimination if you:
- are a person with disability and believe you’ve been unlawfully discriminated against
- are a parent, spouse/partner, friend or carer of someone with disability and believe that you’ve been discriminated against
- are acting on behalf of a person with disability (or that person’s partner, friend or carer) who is experiencing unlawful disability discrimination. This covers parents acting on behalf of their children with disability.
How do you make a complaint about discrimination?
You must make a complaint in writing and send it to either the Human Rights Commission or the relevant state or territory agency. The Commission and the state and territory agencies all have standard online complaint forms that might help, but you don’t need to use those forms if you don’t want to.
When you make a complaint, make sure you include the following details:
- contact details for all parties involved
- a report of what happened and who was involved
- a timeline of events including dates and times
- any supporting evidence, like written statements from witnesses and their contact details
- a statement that describes how you’ve been affected by the discrimination
- an explanation of what you’d like to happen.
Be sure to keep a copy of your complaint.
Time limits on complaints
You must make a complaint within 12 months of the discrimination happening unless you have a very good reason for the time to be extended.
How are complaints assessed?
When the Human Rights Commission gets a written complaint, it works out whether the circumstances of the complaint are covered by the law. If it believes they’re not or that they fall under some other area of the law, the Commission lets you know that it can’t accept the complaint.
When the Commission accepts a complaint, it investigates it and tries to resolve it through conciliation. Conciliation is when you and the person or organisation you’ve complained about meet to talk about the complaint and try to agree on how best to sort out the issue.
If this doesn’t work, you can take your complaint to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court.
If you’re making a complaint under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act you can send it by mail, fax or via the Human Rights Commission’s complaints page. The Commission’s complaint-handling process is free.
Which anti-discrimination law to use
You can’t have a disability discrimination complaint heard at the same time under both the Australian Disability Discrimination Act and an equivalent state or territory law. All the Acts have advantages and disadvantages, and the best one for you to use depends on your case.
Some of the things to think about are:
- whether your complaint is covered by the Australian Act or a state or territory act
- what outcomes you want – for example, if you want financial compensation, you might choose the Australian Act because the courts that administer this Act have no maximum limit on the amount of compensation they can give
- how much it might cost you to make complaints under different acts
- whether there are exemptions that apply under one act but not another.
The Human Rights Commission, the relevant state or territory authority or a community legal centre can look at your circumstances and help you decide which law to use.