[I]n any enlightened society in 1978 … it is usually assumed that old fashioned prejudices and bigotry against minorities should be forgotten as quickly as possible as subjects of shame perpetuated by our less educated and less tolerant forebears.
- Equal Opportunity Board, First Annual Report, 1978.
Take a look at the From the archives section below for some of the interesting material we've come across while working on this project.
Victoria's very quiet revolution
Forty years ago Victoria became only the third state in Australia to introduce anti-discrimination laws, targeting discrimination on the basis of sex and marital status in employment. (The two other states with similar legislation were South Australia and New South Wales).
Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 1977 created the Equal Opportunity Board and the Office of the Equal Opportunity Commissioner.
Now we are delving into our archives to research the history of our organisation, equal opportunity legislation and social attitudes over the past three-and-a-half decades.
Some discoveries are surprising because they appear so radically different to today’s views, such as the segregated lists of suggested occupations provided to boys and girls in school the late 1970s.
(Image from Equal Opportunity Board, Second Annual Report, 1979).
Others are alarming because they show that we’re still battling to change the same outdated attitudes and practices thirty years on, such as access to public transport for people with disabilities.
(Image from disability pamphlet reprinted in Equal Opportunity Board, Sixth Annual Report, 1983)
We look forward to sharing more gems from our research with you as we work to create a comprehensive history of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Commission.
From the archives
Disability and the Equal Opportunity Act
14 November 2014
1981 was International Year of Disabled Persons and the Equal Opportunity Board noted that one of the most significant consequences was the emergence of strong and vocal self-help groups, which shifted the way policies were developed to include more consultation with affected groups.
The Equal Opportunity (Discrimination Against Disabled Persons) Act 1982 (Vic) came into force in 1983 and was administered by the Equal Opportunity Board and Commission. It amended the Equal Opportunity Act 1977 (the Principal Act) by creating a prohibition on discrimination against people with an impairment, and went beyond similar legislation in South Australia and New South Wales by including intellectual impairment along with physical disability. The amendment also specifically included indirect discrimination (for people with a disability), which up to that point had not been covered. (Equal Opportunity Board, Sixth Annual Report, 1983, 9.)
‘Give us a go’
The number of complaints based on disability grew steadily, from 137 in the first full year of the new Act to 165 in 1985. (Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Eighth Annual Report, 1985, 22).
That year, the Board also had its most successful education and public relations exercise to date with its ‘Give us a go’ campaign for disability. It was particularly successful in making people aware that equal opportunity was not only concerned with discrimination because of sex.
However, there was some controversy over the campaign. One scene depicted a group of intellectually disabled people who were denied service and abused by a shopkeeper, and it generated the most public comment and complaints from individuals and advocacy organisations.
The Board responded: "The script for the scene was devised by the people who participated in it and the terms of ‘abuse’ used in the scene were only utilised because they were suggested to the Board and scriptwriters by the people concerned. The believed that in order for the scene to be presented realistically, the offensive names they were called needed to be used." (Equal Opportunity Board, Eighth Annual Report, 1985, 11.)
Initially the Board continued the advertisement in the belief that it dramatically demonstrated how discrimination operates, but over time felt that support was diminishing because of the negative responses, and eventually withdrew the advertisement.
Still, the campaign was a great success in changing the perception of the Equal Opportunity Board from "policing body" to an "agency which constructively conciliates". On one occasion at a public appearance to promote human rights, people started singing the campaign theme song, "Come on, give us a go". (Equal Opportunity Board, Eighth Annual Report, 1985, 17–8.)
Changing the law just the beginning
In 1986, reflecting on the inclusion of disability under equal opportunity law, Commissioner Fay Marles said it had been conceived as "a means of opportunity and redress for many severely and permanently disabled citizens whose life opportunities have been restricted by institutional care and the lack of self-determination or access."
However, in practice, the Act had been used far more often by relatively able-bodied people used to asserting their rights and who have suffered temporary disadvantage because of work-related injuries. Ms Marles noted that “the far more difficult tasks of integrating those in sheltered workshops, institutional care, or lifelong impairment remain to be done.” (Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Ninth Annual Report, 1986, 2.)
Under the current Equal Opportunity Act, the attribute of disability has far-reaching coverage. It protects people who have had a disability in the past and those who, because of an existing medical condition or genetic reasons, may have a disability in the future. It also includes behaviour where that is a manifestation of a disability.
Disability is the most frequent grounds of complaint under the Act, and is most common in employment. In 2013/14 the Commission received 686 complaints of disability discrimination, and 340 of those were complaints about workplace discrimination. (Equal Opportunity Commission, Annual Report 2013/14, 2014, 22–3.)
Read more from our current Annual Report.
- 40 years of equal opportunity law in Victoria
- Victoria's first sex discrimination case
- Timeline of Victoria's equal opportunity law
- The evolution of enquiries and complaints at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission