NTCOSS welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 (the Act).
NTCOSS is a peak body for the Northern Territory community sector and is a voice for people affected by social and economic disadvantage and inequality.
The community sector in the Northern Territory is made up of community managed, non- government, not for profit organisations that work in social and community service delivery, sector development and advocacy.
The sector plays a vital role in creating social wellbeing for all Territorians and in building safe and healthy communities by providing services that enable people to access and participate in health services, education, employment, economic development, and family and community life.
NTCOSS represents a service sector with a high level of contact with individuals and their families who may face discrimination including due to their age, gender, race, and ability amongst other factors.
NTCOSS works towards a fair, inclusive and sustainable Northern Territory where all individuals and communities can participate in and benefit from all aspects of social, cultural and economic life.
NTCOSS commends the Northern Territory Government’s commitment to progressing the modernisation and strengthening of the Act and notes the Government’s commitment to “protect Territorians from discrimination; promote equality; and address concerns with the operation of the current legislation.”
Anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws provide important protections for all citizens, particularly those people facing vulnerability and hardship in the NT. These laws uphold the values of equity and fairness, which are values that underpin the work of the NTCOSS and the social service providers we represent. As contemporary standards and expectations relating to discrimination and equal opportunity progress, the associated laws need to be modernised.
NTCOSS reiterates its support for the amendments to this legislation. For reference, NTCOSS’ 2018 submission and relevant correspondence is attached. NTCOSS is pleased to see that many of the elements advocated for in the past have now been included.
While NTCOSS acknowledges the importance of all the issues covered in the proposed amendments, this submission will focus on areas of relevance to NTCOSS’ experience and expertise. NTCOSS also acknowledges submissions from specialist service providers and representative groups, including:
• Rainbow Territory
• Darwin Community Legal Service (DCLS)
• Tangentyere Council
• NT Shelter
• Sex Workers Outreach Program NT (SWOP NT)
• NT Aids and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC)
• Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APO NT) and North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)
• NT Women’s Legal Services (NTWLS): Top End Women’s Legal Service Inc (TEWLS), Katherine Women’s Legal Service (KWILS) and Central Australian Women’s Legal Service (CAWLS)
Below are a few key recommendations to strengthen the Act to ensure the intended principles of the amendments are realised.
Discrimination based on protected attributes
NTCOSS supports the addition of new attributes in the Act. It is important to appropriately define the attributes to ensure they provide the protections intended. Therefore, NTCOSS recommends the following changes:
• Gender identity: NTCOSS strongly supports the inclusion of gender identity as a protected attribute, however it is currently undefined in the Act. NTCOSS endorses the submissions of Rainbow Territory and organisations which specialise in gender and sexuality policy and service provision in this regard and recommends the NT Government continue to work with these specialist organisations to finalise an appropriate definition. NTCOSS suggests the following definition may be used:
“gender identity means the gender expression or gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person, with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth. Note Gender identity includes the gender identity that the person has or has had in the past, or is thought to have or have had in the past” as defined in the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT)
• Sex characteristics: NTCOSS recommends the NT Government work with organisations with relevant expertise to further refine the definition of sex characteristics as a protected attribute, including Rainbow Territory, Equality Australia and Intersex Human Rights Australia. It is important to ensure the rights of intersex people to live free of discrimination are strongly protected, whilst maintaining the rights of endosex people.
• Employment as to sex work, including past sex work: NTCOSS supports the addition of sex work as a protected attribute, including past sex work. To strengthen the protection this attribute provides, NTCOSS endorses SWOP NT’s submission recommending both sex work and sex workers to be protected attributes, as defined in NT Sex Industry Act 2019.
• Accommodation status: NTCOSS supports the definition of accommodation status being inclusive of a broad range of accommodation options and recommends an appropriate definition of homelessness be provided, as per NT Shelter’s submission.
• Socio-economic disadvantage: NTCOSS recommends the word ‘welfare’ be replaced with ‘income support payments’ in the definition of socio-economic disadvantage. The term ‘welfare’ has negative connotations, and is often associated with the Welfare Ordinance Act 1953 and other distressing and outdated policies and attitudes towards Aboriginal people. ‘Income support payments’ more accurately describes the intention of this definition. NTCOSS supports the inclusion of socioeconomic disadvantage as a protected attribute, however notes NTWLS’ submission that the definition is broad and may overlap with other protected attributes.
• Subjected to domestic violence: NTCOSS strongly supports the inclusion of domestic violence as a protected attribute. NTCOSS recommends the attribute is expanded to domestic, family
and sexual violence (DFSV) to bring it in line with the NT’s policy approach and that it is made clear that the protection extends to carers of people who experience DFSV to ensure consistency with the leave provisions of the Fair Work Act. In this regard, NTCOSS endorses the submissions of specialist DFSV services in the NT, including YWCA, and recommends the NT Government continue to work with these services and those that represent victim-survivors of DFSV to ensure the Act is realising the intended protections.
NTCOSS recommends the following protected attributes be considered for further inclusion:
• Location: Territorians experience vast inequities and discrimination regarding access to and standards of services based on their location, particularly for those in remote or very remote areas. To address this, NTCOSS recommends location be added as a further protected attribute, as per DCLS’s submission.
NTCOSS supports the broadening of protections in the Act to cover all assistance animals not just guide dogs. People benefit greatly from assistance animals for a wide variety of reasons and ensuring they can utilise these forms of assistance without discrimination is important.
Positive duty to advance equality
NTCOSS recommends the Act include provisions that allow both any member of public to lodge a complaint regarding a perceived failure of the proposed new general duty to prevent discrimination and allow the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner to investigate a perceived failure of the general duty without a complaint/report.
NTCOSS supports including an anti-vilification provision in the Act. To strengthen this provision and ensure it has the intended protection, NTCOSS supports the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission’s submission in advocating for a harm-based model.
To effectively prohibit hate speech and protect those subject to vilification in our community, NTCOSS recommends fully resourced public education on what these legislative changes mean in practice and primary prevention initiatives be implemented. Legislative change should form part of a broader suite of activities to eliminate discrimination and harm in our community.
Sexual harassment is experienced by Territorians in many different situations, both in and out of work environments, as such it is appropriate and necessary to extend the prohibition of sexual harassment to all areas of public life.
Discrimination against our teachers because of their sexuality
NTCOSS supports the removal of the exemption in section 37A that allows discrimination of the basis of an individual’s sexuality. However, there is significant concern that the remaining provision that will permit discrimination against staff on the basis of religious belief or activity will still allow for discrimination against LGBTQIA+ Territorians. As such, NTCOSS strongly advocates for the full removal of 37A, and endorses Rainbow Territory’s submission in this regard.
If an exemption remains, NTCOSS calls for the NT Government to work closely with LGBTQIA+ Territorians and relevant specialist organisations to develop the wording.
Provision of goods and services
NTCOSS supports the expansion of the Act to provide equal protection for the people who supply and receive goods, services and facilities.
A representative complaints process
NTCOSS supports the inclusion of a representative complaints process in the Act. It is not unusual for individuals and/or groups to lack confidence or trust in legal and governance systems and procedures, or to lack the capacity to bring forward a complaint. The provision of power to lodge representative complaints – for agencies and/or advocates on behalf of individuals and specifically groups – will allow the Anti-Discrimination Commission to more equally and effectively receive and deal with complaints.
Further, NTCOSS strongly advocates for increased resourcing to enable the Anti-Discrimination Commission to take on these expanded responsibilities.
NTCOSS commends the Government’s action to ensure legal protection against discrimination for Territorians and supports amendments to the Act to bring the NT in line with other jurisdictions. NTCOSS emphasises the importance of ensuring broad community education and implementation programs to ensure these legislative changes are realised in practice, and have the intended effect on Territorians’ day to day life.
NTCOSS looks forward to seeing these important changes enacted promptly to protect Territorians.
For more information, or to discuss this submission further, please contact: Mollie Harding, Senior Policy Officer at [email protected] or Sarah Holder, Policy Manager at [email protected]