If a person alleges they have been discriminated against on one or more grounds, and in one of the areas under the Act, then those allegations will be accepted by the Commission as a complaint, irrespective of how much supporting information is provided. Should the Commissioner, after investigating, determine the complaint is to be dismissed under section 89 of the Act as lacking in substance, or because it is misconceived, then the complainant has the right to have the matter referred to the State Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal) for determination.
Where a potential complainant has not clearly identified a ground and area of complaint, they are supplied with information about what constitutes unlawful discrimination under the Act and asked to further clarify their complaint.
Numbers of complaints
In 2016-17 there were 430 new complaints received by the Commission. This is marginally lower (2%) than the 439 complaints received in 2015-16, and may indicate that a steady reduction in the number of complaints received in the past few years has plateaued. When looked at over a 30-year period, the number of complaints received has risen and fallen over time with the highest annual number of lodged complaints being 795 complaints in 2011-12 and the lowest number being 240 complaints in 1987-88 (see Appendix B). These fluctuations reflect factors including the economic cycle, and in some years, such as 2011 to 2013, a result of a more flexible methodology in accepting complaints, coupled with increased activity by advocacy agencies.
Nature of complaints
There are 20 grounds of unlawful discrimination and 15 areas of public life under which a complaint can be lodged and both a ground and an area must be present for a complaint to be accepted under the Act. Some grounds do not apply in some areas, therefore allegations with a ground but without an appropriate area, cannot be accepted.
There are 18 grounds of discrimination named in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, and two other grounds of unlawful discrimination arising from other WA Acts, which confer jurisdiction to the EO Commissioner to investigate, conciliate or refer to the Tribunal for determination:
- Victimisation for making a disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003
- Discrimination on the ground of a spent conviction in employment related areas under the Spent Convictions Act 1988.
Of the various grounds under the Act, complaints of impairment discrimination have consistently been the highest for many years, followed by race. This year 28.6% of complaints lodged related to impairment. Race complaints were second (15.1%), and victimisation (11.6%) was the third highest ground of alleged discrimination.
Victimisation under section 67 of the Act is considered an unlawful act which applies when a person is adversely treated because they have asserted their rights under the Act or lodged a complaint. It also applies when a person who supports a complainant is adversely treated.
Work is the area of public life which has the highest number of allegations of unlawful discrimination. In 2016-17, 61.6% of complaints related to employment.
Lodgement of complaints
The Act requires complaints to be in writing. They can be lodged by email, fax, in person, by post or via the website. Complainants who have difficulty writing are assisted by the Commission. Complaints may be in any language and their translation to English is arranged by the Commission as required.
Lodgement of complaints on the website and by email continues to increase with 74.9% submitted online this year, compared to 69.9% in 2015-16 and 60.0% in 2014-15.
In 2016-17 there has been an unexpected change in the way on-line complaints are lodged. There has been a significant increase in the number of complainants choosing to write their complaint in an email message rather than filling out a structured proforma complaint form. In 2015-16 a total of 267 complaints were lodged by filling out a complaint form, whilst the number in 2016-17 dropped to 218. In 2015-16 a total of 40 complaints were emailed, whilst this year the number of complaints emailed increased to 104 complaints.
The Commission accepts complaints from anyone living, working or visiting Western Australia who alleges unlawful discrimination has occurred in the state according to the grounds and areas of the Act.
This section looks at the characteristics of the people who have lodged complaints. This data is routinely collected from complainants to assist the Commission to continually improve the complaint handling service.