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Small business relieved as government puts anti-discrimination law reform on ice

Written on the 20 March 2013

By Cara Waters

The federal government has abandoned its controversial anti-discrimination law reforms prompting relief from small business.

The government will not proceed with its plan to consolidate the five anti-discrimination acts and the legislative reform will go back to the drawing board.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the draft legislation would require more work after a Senate Committee received almost 500 submissions from different individuals and groups in response to the legislation.

“Nearly 100 recommendations were identified and will require deeper consideration in the process of consolidating five anti-discrimination acts into one piece of legislation,” Dreyfus said in a statement this morning.

“Meticulous attention must be applied to striking the appropriate balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to be protected from discrimination.”

The draft legislation was opposed by the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia on the basis it did not protect small business and potentially vilified small business owners by shifting the onus of proof onto them in the event of a discrimination claim.

At the time the draft legislation was introduced legal experts said it would have made it easier for employees to bring a discrimination complaint and COSBOA believed small businesses would be targeted.

Peter Strong, head of COSBOA, told SmartCompany he is relieved the government has put the reforms on hold.

“It means less complication and less change, so that is good,” he says.

“The concern was the Human Rights Commission doesn’t have a history of understanding small business and it was going to be the one regulating it.”

“There are not a lot of complaints in Australia; there were 206 last year, so it is hardly a big number.

“The concern about shifting the onus of proof is always a concern in a small business context so that’s a good decision.”

Charles Power, partner at law firm Holding Redlich, told SmartCompany the reforms had proved too hard for the government and were probably perceived to be “too much of a political hot potato”.

“The entire exercise was about consolidating Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, and by deciding to defer that measure the government has left out a major part of the original reform exercise,” he says.

Power says it is a shame the government has back flipped on the reform.

“It’s regrettable that the opportunity for putting in place something that is in many respects an improvement and enhancement of the scheme will be lost,” he says.

The government will go ahead with one element of the proposed reforms, which is to introduce legislation to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

“This reform is long overdue and too important to be delayed any further. The government will proceed immediately with the new protection while detailed work continues on consolidating Australia’s anti-discrimination laws,” Dreyfus said.


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