Service 2: Avenue of redress for unlawful discrimination

Enquiries and complaints

The Commission operates an enquiry service each weekday staffed by officers of the Commission.  Enquiries and complaints can be lodged anytime by email, Facebook and via the website.

The Commission receives a diverse range of enquiries most of which allege discrimination. Some enquirers describe situations which do not constitute unlawful discrimination as defined by the Act, including allegations of unfair dismissal, victimisation and bullying.  Commission officers attempt to direct these enquirers to more appropriate agencies to deal with their issue.

Where the situation described by an enquirer seems to fall within the jurisdiction of the Act, the enquirer is informed about the Commission’s complaint handling process, or where appropriate, their options under federal anti-discrimination laws. There are some allegations of unlawful discrimination, involving students in education, or employees with impairments, or access to buildings, where federal legislation provides greater protections, and in those cases enquirers may be advised to contact the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Where allegations of unlawful discrimination are accepted by the Commissioner as complaints under the Act, they are delegated to a conciliation officer to investigate and attempt to conciliate complaints on behalf of the Commissioner.

Details of the data relevant to this section are provided in Appendix A of this report.

Answering enquiries from the community

The Commission received 1,345 enquiries during 2018-19 from people who phoned the enquiries line, sent a written enquiry electronically or by hardcopy or visited the Commission’s office in person.  The number of enquiries received has followed a pattern by gradually declining over time. The number of enquiries received this financial year was 13% lower than the 1,546 enquiries received in the 2017-18 financial year. 

Nature of enquiries

Of the enquiries received in 2018-19, 61.8% were about matters that fell within the jurisdiction of the Act.  If an enquiry was not within the jurisdiction of the Act, a referral to an appropriate state or federal agency or non-government organisation was provided where possible.

The two most common grounds of discrimination cited by enquirers were impairment and race.  These grounds have consistently been the two grounds with the highest number of enquiries for the past three years.  Discrimination on the grounds of impairment and race were also the most common grounds of discrimination received as complaints by the Commission in 2018-19.

The areas of discrimination mentioned by enquirers in 2018-19 were consistent with the areas mentioned in previous years, with nearly half of the enquiries handled relating to the area of work (45.6%).  Enquiries regarding provision of goods, services and facilities were the next largest area (14.2%), followed by education (7.0%). 

In 2018-19 a majority of the enquiries were from individuals (81.7%).  The next highest number of enquiries were from public sector organisations (8.4%), and the remainder were from organisations, mixed group or unspecified, including enquiries from:

  • Private enterprise (3.3%)
  • Non-government organisations (2.9%)
  • Prisoners (2.3%)

Over forty per cent of all enquiries (40.4%) were people reporting allegations of discrimination, whilst a slightly smaller number were requesting information about potential complaints (37%). Other enquiries related to employers and potential respondents seeking information about their responsibilities under the Act (4.5%), and a smaller number of enquirers requested Commission publications (2.5%).

Of 1345 enquiries received, 77% were answered. Of the remaining enquiries, 19.1% were referred to other organisations including:

  • Other WA government departments or agencies (7%)
  • Non-government organisations (5.2%) (mainly community legal centres)
  • Australian Human Rights Commission (4.5%)
  • Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (1.5%) (mainly Worksafe division).

Residence of enquirers

Of the 656 enquirers who nominated a place of residence, 70.4% resided in the metropolitan region and 25.5% lived outside the metropolitan region (including the Indian Ocean Territories). Of the remainder, 3.7% were from other states and 0.5% from overseas.

Of the enquirers from non-metropolitan regions a total of 17.3% lived in the South West region, 16.7% in the wheatbelt, 14.2 % in Peel and 13.6% in the Kimberley.

Top six grounds of enquiries 2018-19.2
Top six areas for enquiry 2018-19

Enquiry case summary

Race discrimination in the area of accommodation

A property owner wanted to exclude Asians and Africans from applying to be boarders in his home, as he claimed in his experience Asians and Africans cook with ingredients which smell offensive. The property owner was advised his proposed restrictions were arguably discriminatory on the ground of race.

The property owner asked if the Act applied to private homes. He was advised while the Commission encouraged people not to discriminate because of race, under section s47(3) of the Act, if the landlord resided in the home, and rented rooms to less than four people, the Act would not apply.

Sex discrimination in the area of employment

A labour hire business wanted to hire 11 women trainees in an industry where women made up fewer than 10% of the workforce. The business was worried about breaching sex discrimination laws.

The business was informed that under section 31 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, it is not unlawful to discriminate in favour of a particular sex if it is done as a measure intended to achieve equality. The measure must be genuine and proportionate to the aim of achieving equality.

Age discrimination in the area of goods, services and facilities

A 75-year-old man attempted to hire a car and was told "none were available" for driver’s over the age of 65. He felt this may be untrue, and it was his age that was at issue.

He was advised actuarial or statistical data and any other relevant factors can be used as a defence by an insurer to a complaint of age discrimination in the area of insurance services, however the insurer must prove the defence applies.

Impairment discrimination in the area of employment

A man applied for a mining job and successfully passed all medical and other pre-employment tests. When the employer discovered the applicant had made a workers' compensation claim eight years ago the application was discontinued.

The man was advised it is unlawful under the Act for an employer to discriminate against an applicant or employee on the ground of a past or present injury, whether temporary or not, provided he could fulfil the requirements of the job.

Religious conviction discrimination in the area of access to places and vehicles

Aboriginal Elders in a remote Aboriginal community wanted to ban a group of Christians who had been coming onto the community’s land to convert community members away from their traditional Aboriginal culture to Christianity.

The community was advised if the Christians were banned from entering the community, and subsequently lodged a complaint of religious conviction discrimination, the allegation would likely not be accepted, as the ground of religious conviction does not apply to the area of access to places.

Sexual harassment discrimination in the area of employment

A woman was worried because a chef behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards female staff.  When the chef cooked meat balls for staff lunches, he made lewd comments about his “tasty balls”. When the woman voiced her objection about his behaviour, the chef criticised her work, then sacked her.

The woman was advised although her job had been terminated, she could lodge a complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation against the chef and his employer.

Family status discrimination in the area of goods, services and facilities

A shop refused to serve a woman whose daughter had fraudulently used a credit card in the store.

The woman was advised that discrimination on the ground of being related to a particular person (family status) is unlawful under the Act, but only in the areas of employment and education, not the provision of goods and services.


Regional enquiries received 2017-18

WA Regional Map Enquiries