Current and emerging issues and trends
Review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984
The Act has remained largely unchanged since 1984, and changes are required to improve the Act’s effectiveness and simplify its application. The Government’s announcement in October 2018 of a wide-ranging review, to be conducted by the Law Reform Commission of WA, provides a welcome opportunity to consider ways the Act can be improved, with community input and consideration of Australian and international best practice regarding equality and anti-discrimination.
One of the terms of reference for the review is the onus of proof. The Commission receives allegations of discrimination from job applicants who are objectively well qualified and experienced, but these complaints often cannot be resolved because the Act requires complainants to substantiate their allegations with evidence of discrimination (see commentary on page 32). A mechanism for enabling these allegations to be investigated and resolved would be to place some responsibility on employers to show they have not unlawfully discriminated against a job applicant. This would be facilitated by a change to the onus of proof.
Community education and training
Raising awareness of obligations under the Act and encouraging people and organisations to better understand the impact of discrimination upon others is an effective way to address indirect and direct discrimination.
Over the past year the Commission has worked with various government and community agencies to develop different formats to promote discussion and understanding of equal opportunity and the impacts of unlawful discrimination. This remains a challenge to organisations which may have equal opportunity policies and guidelines yet are confronted by some staff with negative entrenched behaviours, prejudices and unconscious bias.
The Community Education team have joined a network of educators from other anti-discrimination jurisdictions to share resources and knowledge to produce quality material to more effectively deal with the challenges outlined above.
Complaint Management System
An efficient, configurable and reliable complaints management system is essential to the investigation, management and reporting of complaints of unlawful discrimination, which is one of the Commission’s core functions. The Commission’s current system, which has been in service for over 20 years, requires replacement by one that can guarantee ongoing support by the underpinning software. During the past year the Commission has invested considerable time in exploring procurement and other options and aims to be successfully operating on a new system by mid-2020.