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Federal anti-discrimination laws come into effect
Australian LGBTI organisations have welcomed the protections provided by the groundbreaking Sex Discrimination Amendment (SDA) bill that came into effect yesterday, but anticipate some adjustment as federal and state governments negotiate how the law will apply.
“These laws represent the culmination of over 25 years of advocacy, and will provide much-needed protection at a federal level to LGBTI people,” NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Co-convener Justin Koonin said.
“Particularly significant are the reforms around aged-care service provision, which will make discrimination unlawful in any Commonwealth-funded service in the country.”
The SDA also represents the first time in the world intersex people have received specific recognition and protection under national anti-discrimination law.
An announcement yesterday by federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus indicated states and territories would have a one year transition period to review their laws and work out how the SDA interacts with potentially conflicting laws in those jurisdictions. States and territories are eligible to apply for exemptions to the SDA in such cases.
“If someone acts in compliance with a state or territory law — in direct compliance with it — and that act would otherwise breach the federal law, for the next 12 months these actions are exempt. That means, the conduct won’t be considered unlawful discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act,” Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Convener Anna Brown (pictured) explained to the Star Observer.
“In principle, there should be no exemptions. It’s up to the state and territory governments to articulate and mount their case to the federal government as to why a particular discriminatory law is justified and worthy of exemption. We encourage the federal government to rigorously assess any applications for exemption.”
Brown also explained this could work the other way around, where more progressive state or territory legislation could be overridden by the SDA.
“The Tasmanian religious exemptions are more beneficial from an LGBTI perspective compared to other states and territories, and indeed, the religious exemptions in the new federal laws,” Brown said.
“There was concern expressed by some that having a lower standard in the federal bill may override the Tasmanian religious exemptions, and the exemption process is an opportunity to address that uncertainty.”
However, Brown said this process of negotiation between federal law and state and territory law is not unusual, and the full implications of the SDA on these issues will become apparent over time as specific anti-discrimination cases go to court.
Visit www.humanrights.gov.au/new-protection for more information about the new protections under the SDA.