Past issues

Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Commission Ebulletin October 2019

by EOC | Oct 11, 2019

October 2019

From the Commissioner - Discrimination in recruitment and the onus of proof

Discrimination complaints made in the area of employment are always our highest here at the WA Equal Opportunity Commission, with two thirds of all complaints relating to employment.

This is no surprise as work is important to a person’s self-esteem and ability to achieve their dreams.

It is for this reason I am particularly troubled by people being denied employment due to a characteristic they possess which has little to do with their ability to do the job and more to do with bias, unconscious or otherwise, of the prospective employer.

Although employment is the most common ground, most of the employment complaints are from people already employed.

Only 20 percent of employment complaints are from people seeking employment and these complaints have a very low rate of conciliation.

This indicates that the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 is not working well for people of minority groups looking for a job.

Organisations that represent older people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and aboriginal people point to the higher rate of unemployment and underemployment in these groups and the difficulty they have with obtaining work.

Currently the onus of proving discrimination is with the complainant. If a complainant cannot show they did not get the job because they were of a certain race, gender, age or because they have a disability, it is going to be hard to achieve a meaningful outcome.

It is very difficult for a complainant going through a recruitment process to obtain this proof as they often do not know the other candidates or the other candidates’ employment history to show they were more qualified and experienced.

This points to a need for respondents to have some responsibility to show that discrimination had not occurred

Bias and unconscious bias on recruitment panels has been well studied. It is well documented that panellists often choose candidates most like themselves, either consciously or otherwise, and this has provoked discussions on gender targets to remedy this phenomenon.

Since people with a disability, of a different ethnic background and older people are also subject to bias in the recruitment process, targets should also be considered for other characteristics such as race, impairment and age.

The evidence of bias, points to the need for selection panels to have greater diversity with a conscious decision to include people with disabilities, older people and people from other minority groups on selection panels.  

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 has provisions for employers to set aside positions for people with these characteristics in order to achieve equality. I would support any measure taken to achieve equality in employment, so the best person for the job gets the job.

Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity John Byrne

Acting Commissioner Dr John Byrne



2020 Aboriginal Calendar winners announced

Kayla, Tarryn and Sarah Thomas are the winners of the 2020 Aboriginal Calendar artwork competition held over NAIDOC Week this year.

Sisters Kayla and Tarryn and their cousin Sarah created a colourful and intricate design inspired by this year’s NAIDOC theme Voice, Treaty, Truth.

Kayla said she was pleased to receive the award, a voucher for Jackson’s Art Supplies, with her sister and cousin.

“It was pretty unexpected, but I’m really excited to be the winner of the competition”, she said.

Acting WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr John Byrne said the theme this year had inspired some incredible artwork from entrants of all ages.

“It was clear a lot of thought and effort had gone into the winning entry, as well as the runners up,” he said.

He said the winners’ design would be a beautiful addition to the Commission’s growing collection of colourful calendars.

“I’m looking forward to displaying the Commission’s 2020 Aboriginal Calendar on my wall when they are printed up and available later in the year,” Dr Byrne said.

The Commission hosted an afternoon tea in the Commission Seminar Room to award the first, second and third place getters, as well as meet them, their families and friends.

“It was wonderful to chat with the artists about their work.

“I hope it encourages them all to continue their creativity,” Dr Byrne said.

Girls drawing.1
(from left) Kayla, Sarah and Tarryn Thomas working on their winning entry




Regional outreach in Broome

In September the Commission continued its regional work by spending a week in Broome providing training to the Department of Justice and North Regional TAFE.

Commission Services Manager Diana MacTiernan said it was important to get up to the Kimberley as much as possible as that part of the state often felt disconnected from the metropolitan area by such long distances.

“The WA Equal Opportunity Commission handles discrimination and harassment complaints for the entire state, and it is a big state.

“We need to maintain contact with agencies and communities in the Kimberley because we know discrimination and harassment goes on up there, but distance from our base in Perth often discourages people from seeking remedy through our complaint process,” she said.

During this trip Community Education and Training Officer Steve Goodall ran a two-day Equity and Grievance Officer training course at North Regional TAFE.

Diana and Steve then conducted sessions for the Department of Justice across two days.

Diana and steve

Diana and Steve with session participants in Broome



Focus on justice for Human Rights Day

One of Australia’s leading advocates for protecting the human rights of women and children through decarceration and CEO of Sisters Inside, Debbie Kilroy OAM will deliver the keynote address at the Equal Opportunity Commission’s 2019 International Human Rights Day event.

The free event will be held at the Atrium Theatrette, 168 St Georges Terrace Perth on International Human Rights Day, 10 December from 5.30pm to 7pm.

Acting Commissioner Dr John Byrne said the Commission had a strong focus on the justice system and was pleased to have such a strong keynote speaker relevant to the Commission’s work.

“Throughout the last financial year, we have provided community outreach and training to prisons across Western Australia covering myriad issues covered by the Equal Opportunity Act 1984,” he said.

Dr Byrne said he was particularly interested to hear Ms Kilroy speak about the barriers women and children face that brings them into contact with the justice system and how they might be addressed.

“The topic of the address is Barriers Inside and Out: human rights issues impacting on incarceration and reintegration for women and children.

At the Commission we are well aware that systemic discrimination has a significant impact on women and children coming into contact with the justice system and on their reintegration on the outside,” he said.

To register for the event, go to Trybooking link:


Debbie Kilroy



What's coming up

The Commission’s Training Calendar from July to December 2019 is now available. You can register for all Commission courses on the Community Education page.

16 October                  Recruitment and Selection – Are you getting it right?

22 October                  Contact Officer Role

7 November                 Sexual Harassment – Know where the line is

Please contact us on 9216 3900 if you are interested in organisation specific training or for a rights-based session for your clients or community members.