From the Acting Commissioner
I have pleasure in presenting the Annual Report of the Equal Opportunity Commission (the Commission) for the period ending 30 June 2018. The report has been prepared pursuant to section 95 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (the Act).
The Commission is an independent statutory body reporting to the Parliament of Western Australia and whose core functions are to prevent and redress unlawful discrimination. These are challenging tasks for a small Perth-based organisation, with a mandate to provide services to Western Australia’s diverse and widely dispersed population.
This report demonstrates the Commission continues to provide a high quality service in its core business areas, with a modest staff of 20 FTE. Staff have reduced by 12 since 2014, and this has impacted on our ability to undertake outreach activity. To mitigate staff losses Commission staff have taken on additional roles outside their core tasks.
This year has seen positive trends in both the area of community education and training, and in complaint handling. There has been a moderate increase in the number of new complaints lodged, with 472 complaints in the current financial year, compared to 430 complaints in 2016-17 year. Organisational training has also seen a significant increase of 120% from 29 sessions in 2016-17 to 64 sessions in the current financial year. Further information about these trends can be found later in this report.
The Commission has worked proactively with other organisations in trying to resolve identified systemic discrimination issues. The Commission is working with the Public Sector Commission to raise awareness of using the exceptions in the Act to create a sector more reflective of the community we serve. The exceptions allow discrimination which would otherwise be unlawful to be used positively to further meet the objects of the Act. A policy statement and guidelines have been published to show employers that in some circumstances it is lawful to advertise an employment position to attract people of a given sex, race, age, impairment or sexual orientation, to the exclusion of others in the general population.
The Commission received several complaints and enquires about school uniforms from girls who wanted an option of wearing shorts or trousers. The Commission met with the Department of Education and the school uniform policy and procedures were amended to allow girls an option of pants or shorts. The revised policy also accommodates transsexual and intersex students, as well as those with specific cultural and religious requirements.
The Commission received complaints and enquiries from university students with disability. These students had successfully completed the theoretical requirement of a course but had failed the practical component. This issue was raised with several universities, which have agreed to review their guidelines. In some instances, the relevant registration authority had required students to participate in practicums on a full -time basis or had other requirements students with disability and students with family responsibilities could not comply with. The Commission also made representation to the relevant registration authorities.
The Commission has been an active member of the Australian Council of Human Rights Authorities (ACHRA) which has provided a national voice for issues including the Marriage Equality referendum, concern over sexual harassment, and the incitement of racial hatred.
Finally, I would like to extend the Commission’s thanks and best wishes to former Commissioner Allanah Lucas who took medical leave in September 2016 and whose contract ended in May 2018. Commission staff fondly remember Commissioner Lucas’ positive energy and dedication to her role.
In conclusion, it has been a privilege for me to hold the office of Acting Commissioner since December 2016 and to have the opportunity to work with dedicated and hardworking staff.