Discrimination & bullying in schools project news

Commissioner's equality optimism

by Kate Emery | Feb 09, 2015

Three decades of equal opportunity legislation in WA have produced good policy but it is now attitudes that need to change, says the State's Equal Opportunity Commissioner Allanah Lucas.

Ms Lucas said the commission's future lay in outreach to the community and encouraging individuals to tweak beliefs and behaviour.

Speaking to Agenda to coincide with the commission's 30th anniversary, Ms Lucas said anti-discrimination legislation was "even more important these days.".

"It can be . .. that we will get too comfortable about things," she said.

"I'm not a lawyer but I am a pretty ordinary person and I can see what we need to do is help with the translation of the law for most people so they can understand what can tip the balance (towards discrimination) so easily. Most of the time people aren't aware of what that tipping point is.

"I think we're in the decade coming up of really needing to look not at instrumental change but individual change.

She said individuals could increasingly be used to champion change, citing the likes of Bruce Robinson, of the University of WA’s fathering project and domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty as good examples.

"What we at the commission are doing is trying to find what is it that people do very ordinarily that would make a significant change for the future if we just turned it on its head or did it slightly different-how much would that change things," she said.

"We can't do it ourselves and we know that, in essence, we are there to uphold the law and deliver on the law and to provide that independent impartial role. But what I believe as commissioner is that we have to work with communities and the corporate sector and government and everyone."

"We've got the legislation, we’ve got the policies, we’ve got some remedial action to help people.

“We’ve got all of that set up. What now?

“What now is how do we bring the awareness and education together about being the best human beings we can?”

In the near term, she identified age discrimination as a key area for action.

“We’ve been getting a few inquiries recently about people feeling like they’ve been discriminated against in employment because of age,” she said.

“We get that anyway but we’ve just had a little bit more interest in that area and you can tell that’s because jobs are being cut everywhere and it’s going to have an impact.

“I’m not even saying young people are doing the discriminating because most of the time they’re not, it’s more about (people thinking) well we’ve got to help the young ones coming through and this person’s been here too long anyway, so let’s move them on.”

This year marks 30 years since the commission was established in 1985, a year after WA’s Equal Opportunity Act.

The Act, which created the commissioner role to investigate complaints and review legislation, has been amended over the years to include new grounds for discrimination.

In mid-2013, the State Government announced a review of the commission, the results of which are tipped to be just weeks away.

Ms Lucas said she was optimistic about the outcome.

“I feel that the commission and the commissioner role is supported and we just have to look at the contemporary applications, which are these things I’ve been talking about: working through outreach, building partnerships to find ways that we can actually teach values and principles and all that sort of thing.

“We’ve already started on that road and I’m hoping we’ll be able to continue it. That’s me, the optimist.”