Thursday, 08 November 2018 09:47

Australian Council of Human Rights Authorities Statement November 2018

The Australian Council of Human Rights Authorities (ACHRA), which comprises the state, territory and federal Human Rights and Discrimination authorities, met in Adelaide on 18–19 October 2018 to consider a number of issues of common concern and interest.

Changes of commissioners

ACHRA acknowledges the positive contribution of Tim Soutphommasane, who finished his term as Race Discrimination Commissioner in August 2018. We pay tribute to his inspiring leadership, wisdom, resilience, courage, and compassion.

We welcome Chin Tan, who began his five-year term as Race Discrimination Commissioner in October 2018.

ACHRA also welcomes Scott McDougall, Queensland’s new Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Tackling and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is a key priority for ACHRA as it remains an endemic problem in Australian workplaces, with young people and women most at risk.

Members heard from Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, who is currently leading a world-first national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace. The inquiry is travelling the country to examine the extent of the problem and identify best practice solutions with a view to making recommendations to government and business stakeholders.

The Australian Human Rights Commission will be accepting submissions until 31 January 2019 and public consultations will be held in all Australian capital cities and a number of regional cities.

Review into religious freedoms

Recent media coverage of the Federal Government’s Religious Freedom Review provoked considerable community debate about the application of equal opportunity laws to religious institutions – especially to schools run by religious institutions.

The rights in equal opportunity laws are designed to co-exist. ACHRA members are of the view that the current religious exceptions in some jurisdictions require modification to better balance the legitimate interests of both LGBTIQ people and religious bodies.

No Australian student should be refused entry into, or expelled by, a school because they identify as LGBTIQ.

ACHRA calls for amendments to federal and state equal opportunity laws to remove the exemptions that allow religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. Amendments should be wide enough to ensure students are not discriminated against on any basis other than religion, including their relationship status, pregnancy, or whether they come from a same-sex family. 

We support amendments to equal opportunity laws to ensure that schools may only take a prospective employee's religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status into account where they relate to an 'inherent requirement' of the job. This would balance religious freedoms with the right to equality, for example, by allowing these factors to be taken into account when recruiting a religious instruction teacher, but not when recruiting a maths teacher.

Disability equality in education

ACHRA members discussed the need for more concerted action to prevent the unlawful exclusion of students with disability from school through seclusion, suspension or expulsion to manage behaviour. Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHA), Autism Spectrum Disorder, and those exhibiting behaviours of concern are most at risk.

ACHRA calls on all state and territory government and private schools to review their policies on suspension and expulsions to ensure they do not disproportionately affect students with disability.

ACHRA encourages education authorities to build on existing efforts to ensure any reduced attendance patterns for students with disability are consistent with human rights and anti-discrimination laws, time-limited and accompanied by a return to school plan. ACHRA also encourages education authorities to examine and publicly report aggregate data on the number of part-time enrolments, suspensions and expulsions of students with disability from schools.

ACHRA supports equality of access to education for children and students with disability and advocates for the importance of inclusive education. We are committed to working in partnership with schools and educational settings to increase awareness of the Disability Standards for Education.

School uniform choice in public, private and faith-based schools

ACHRA members have seen an increase in enquiries and complaints from girls, or parents on behalf of girls, who have been prevented from wearing shorts or trousers at school and told to wear skirts or dresses as a mandatory uniform requirement.

ACHRA noted that while many schools nationwide have adopted uniform policies allowing choice for female students, others continue to discriminate on the basis of sex. Age discrimination has also been a valid area of complaint, where younger female students have been allowed to wear pants but senior students have not. 

ACHRA members encourage all government, private and faith-based schools to review school uniform policies to enable greater choice of formal and informal uniform options, including shorts and long pants, for girls.

Sports, human rights and equality

ACHRA discussed the important work of the national inclusive sports program Play by the Rules, in which ACHRA are key partners, and welcomed its current campaign focus on child safe and inclusive sport, which aligns with recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 

ACHRA members also offered their congratulations to the GingerCloud Foundation’s Modified Rugby Program (MRP) which was awarded the Play by the Rules Award by Human Rights Commissioner for Children, Megan Mitchell, at the Diversity and Inclusion in Sport National Forum in Melbourne in October. The MRP is a world-first modified form of touch-only rugby specifically designed for children and young adults with learning and perceptual disabilities.

In 2017 GingerCloud became an official partner of Rugby Australia with the aim of supporting the growth of the program nationally. 

Research partnership with Professor Simon Rice and Dr Belinda Smith, University of Sydney Law School

ACHRA members have agreed to participate in a new research initiative led by Professor Simon Rice and Dr Belinda Smith from the University of Sydney Law School. The researchers are seeking to develop a deeper understanding of the educational and promotional activities undertaken by ACHRA members and their effectiveness in eliminating discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity and ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

Professor Rice and Dr Smith will undertake a detailed mapping exercise of the nature and range of educational and promotional activities undertaken nationally, and will identify the similarities and difference in strategy and approach across federal, state and territory jurisdictions. They expect to identify the challenges faced in promoting compliance with the law, options for and constraints in addressing these challenges, and factors considered when choosing specific educational and promotional activities.

It is anticipated that this research will be of interest and value to ACHRA by helping to facilitate a more coordinated, efficient and cost-effective national approach to eliminating discrimination and promoting equality through these initiatives.

Addressing violence against women

ACHRA welcomed Patty Kinnersly, Chief Executive Officer of Our Watch, and Tracie McLeod-Howe, Chief Executive Officer of White Ribbon, to speak about their work and common vision to end violence against women and their children. Members acknowledged that gender inequality is the core driver of violence against women, and is at the heart of the solution.

Through its Workplace Equality and Respect Project, the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission is engaging in an important collaboration with both Our Watch and White Ribbon to strengthen gender equality and promote safe and respectful workplace cultures across the South Australian public sector.

ACHRA members welcome the valued contribution that Our Watch make to the research agenda on what works to shift the social norms, practices and structures that drive violence.

Working closely with their sister organisation, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), Our Watch has undertaken various research projects and identified research priorities for primary prevention. They have produced a range of resources and publications which assist governments and stakeholders to develop their own appropriate policies, strategies and programs.

These include:

  • Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. This was produced in partnership with VicHealth and ANROWS and presents the evidence and a conceptual approach for preventing violence against women and their children in Australia.
  • Counting on change: A guide to prevention monitoring. This is a guide for policy-makers, researchers, and advocates on measuring population-level progress towards the prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia.
  • Changing the picture: preventing violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. This resource considers the main drivers, actions and principles for preventing violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
  • Respectful Relationships Education Toolkit

For further information about ACHRA contact:

  • South Australia: Commissioner Dr Niki Vincent, 0439 493 303
  • Australian Capital Territory: Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs, 0423 821 718
  • Northern Territory: Commissioner Sally Sievers, 08 8999 1444
  • Queensland: Commissioner Scott McDougall, 07 3021 9120
  • Tasmania: Commissioner Sarah Bolt, 03 6165 7515
  • Victoria: Commissioner Kristen Hilton, 0447 526 642
  • Western Australia: Acting Commissioner Dr John Byrne, 08 9216 3955
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