Your guide to Australian discrimination law

While complying with legislation alone won’t always lead to successful inclusion in sport activities it is important that clubs and sports organisations at all levels understand and comply with Australian discrimination laws.

Over the past 30 years the Commonwealth Government and the state and territory governments have introduced laws to help protect people from discrimination and harassment.

Commonwealth laws and the state/territory laws generally overlap and prohibit the same type of discrimination. As both state/territory laws and Commonwealth laws apply, you must comply with both. Keep in mind though that there are some differences and gaps in the protection that is offered between different states and territories and at a Commonwealth level.

To work out your obligations you will need to check the Commonwealth legislation and the state or territory legislation in each state in which you operate. There are also exemptions and exceptions in both the Commonwealth and state/territory legislation. You will need to check both the state or territory legislation and Commonwealth legislation as an exemption or exception under one Act will not necessarily mean you are exempt under the other.

Check out the sections below for summaries of the various acts. For more detail follow the links.

Federal Discrimination Legislation

Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986

This Act established the Human Rights Commission (formerly the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission). It provides responsibilities and authority to the Australian Human Rights Commission in respect of Federal discrimination laws. This includes the authority to investigate and collate complaints of alleged discrimination and human rights breaches.
Discrimination based on race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, medical record, criminal record, marital or relationship status, impairment, mental, intellectual or psychiatric disability, physical disability, nationality, sexual orientation, and trade union activity.

Also covers discrimination based on the imputation of one of the above grounds.

Age Discrimination Act 2004

The Age Discrimination Act 2004 helps to ensure that people are not treated less favourably on the ground of age in various areas of public life. Protects both younger and older people. The Act also provides for positive discrimination, in other words it assists people of a particular age who experience a disadvantage because of their age.
Discrimination based on age-specific characteristics or characteristics that are generally imputed to a person of a particular age.
Discrimination in employment, education, access to premises, provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, disposal of land, administration of Commonwealth laws and programs, and requests for information.

Disability Discrimination Act 1992

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 aims to:

  • eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities
  • promote community acceptance of the principle that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as all members of the community, and
  • ensure as far as practicable that people with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as other people in the community.
Discrimination based on physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological or learning disability, physical disfigurement, disorder, illness or disease that affects thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement, or results in disturbed behaviour, and presence in body of organisms causing or capable of causing disease or illness (eg, HIV virus).
Discrimination in employment, education, access to premises, provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, disposal of land, activities of clubs, sport, and administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

Racial Discrimination Act 1975

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 gives effect to Australia’s obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It aims to:

  • promote equality before the law for all persons, regardless of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin,
  • and make discrimination against people based on their race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin unlawful.
Discrimination based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin and in some circumstances, immigrant status.

Racial hatred, defined as a public act/s likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate based on race, is also prohibited under this Act unless an exemption applies.

Discrimination in all areas of public life including employment, provision of goods and services, right to join trade unions, access to places and facilities, land, housing and other accommodation, and advertisements.

Sex Discrimination Act 1984

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 gives effect to Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and certain aspects of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 156. It aims to:

  • promote equality between men and women
  • eliminate discrimination based on sex, marital status or pregnancy and, with respect to dismissals, family responsibilities, and
  • eliminate sexual harassment at work, in educational institutions, in the provision of goods and services, in the provision of accommodation and the delivery of Commonwealth programs.
Discrimination based on sex, marital or relationship status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy, breastfeeding, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status. Sexual harassment is also prohibited under this Act.
Discrimination in employment, including discrimination against commission agents and contract workers, partnerships, qualifying bodies, registered organisations, employment agencies, education, provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, disposal of land, clubs, administration of Commonwealth laws and programs, and superannuation.

State and Territory Discrimination Legislation

Australian Capital Territory

Discrimination based on sex, sexuality, gender identity, relationship status, status as a parent or carer, pregnancy, breastfeeding, race, religious or political conviction, disability, including aid of assistance animal, industrial activity, age, profession, trade, occupation or calling, spent conviction, and association (as a relative or otherwise) with a person who has one of the above attributes.

Sexual harassment and vilification based on race, sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status are also prohibited under this Act.

View the Act
Discrimination in employment, including discrimination against commission agents and contract workers, partnerships, professional or trade organisations, qualifying bodies, employment agencies, education, access to premises, provision of goods, services or facilities, accommodation, clubs, and requests for information.

View the Act

New South Wales

Discrimination based on race, including colour, nationality, descent and ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin, sex, including pregnancy and breastfeeding, marital or domestic status, disability, homosexuality, age, transgender status, and carer responsibilities.

Sexual harassment and vilification based on race, homosexuality, transgender status or HIV/AIDS status are also prohibited under this Act.

View the Act
Discrimination in employment, including discrimination against commission agents and contract workers, partnerships, industrial organisations, qualifying bodies, employment agencies, education, provision of goods and services, accommodation, and registered clubs.

View the Act

Northern Territory

Discrimination based on race, sex, sexuality, age, marital status, pregnancy, parenthood, breastfeeding, impairment, trade union or employer association activity, religious belief or activity, irrelevant criminal record, political opinion, affiliation or activity, irrelevant medical record, and association with person with an above attribute. Sexual harassment is also prohibited under this Act.

View the Act
Discrimination in education, work, accommodation, provision of goods, services and facilities, clubs, insurance, and superannuation.

View the Act

Queensland

Discrimination based on sex, relationship status, pregnancy, parental status, breastfeeding, race, age, impairment, religious belief or religious activity, political belief or activity, trade union activity, lawful sexual activity, gender identity, sexuality, family responsibilities, and association with or in relation to a person who has any of the above attributes. Sexual harassment and vilification based on race, religion, sexuality or gender identity are also prohibited under this Act.

View the Act
Discrimination in work and work-related areas (paid and unpaid), education, provision of goods and services, superannuation and insurance, disposal of land, accommodation; club membership and affairs, administration of state laws and programs, local government, qualifications, industrial, trade, professional or business organisation membership, and existing partnership and in pre-partnership.

View the Act

South Australia

Discrimination based on sex, breastfeeding, including bottle feeding, chosen gender, sexuality, marital or domestic partnership status, pregnancy, race, age, disability, including aid of assistance animal, association with a child, caring responsibilities, religious appearance or dress, and spouse or partner’s identity. Sexual harassment is also prohibited under this Act.

View the Act
Discrimination in employment, partnerships, clubs and associations, qualifying bodies, education, provision of goods and services, accommodation, sale of land, advertising (including employment agencies), conferral of qualifications, and superannuation.

View the Act

Tasmania

Discrimination on the basis of age, breastfeeding, disability, family responsibilities, gender, gender identity, intersex status, industrial activity, irrelevant criminal record, irrelevant medical record, lawful sexual activity, marital status, relationship status, parental status, political activity, political belief or affiliation, pregnancy, race, religious activity, religious belief or affiliation, sexual orientation, and association with a person who has, or is believed to have, any of these attributes. Sexual harassment and the incitement of hatred based on race, disability, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, or religious belief, affiliation or activity are also prohibited under this Act.

View the Act
Discrimination in employment (paid and unpaid), education and training, provision of facilities, goods and services, accommodation, membership and activities of clubs, administration of any law of the State or any State program, and awards, enterprise agreements and industrial agreements.

View the Act

Victoria

Discrimination based on age, breastfeeding, disability, employment activity, gender identity, industrial activity, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or status as a carer, physical features, political belief or activity, pregnancy, race (including colour, nationality, ethnicity and ethnic origin), religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, and personal association with someone who has, or is assumed to have, any of these personal characteristics. Sexual harassment is also prohibited under this Act.

Vilification based on race or religion is prohibited under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (VIC).

View the Act
Discrimination in employment, partnerships, firms, qualifying bodies, industrial organisations, education, provision of goods and services, disposal of land, accommodation (including alteration of accommodation), clubs, sport, and local government.

View the Act

Western Australia

Discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation (including by association), marital status, pregnancy, breastfeeding, race, religious or political conviction, age (including by association), impairment (including by association), family responsibility or family status, gender history, and publication of relevant details on Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website. Sexual harassment and racial harassment are also prohibited under this Act.

Discrimination based on having a spent conviction is prohibited under the Spent Convictions Act 1988 (WA).

View the Act
Discrimination in employment, including against applicants, commission agents and contract workers, partnerships, professional or trade organisations, qualifying bodies, employment agencies, application forms, advertisements, education, access to places and vehicles, provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, clubs, and land.

View the Act

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This article provides general information only. It is not intended, nor should it be relied on, as a substitute for legal or other professional advice. Information is current at the time of publication however changes may be made from time to time. It is recommended readers refer to the information sources and documents.

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