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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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