Janine Freeman MLALabor Member for Mirrabooka

Your local Labor MP

Submission to the Review of organisations under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984

Friday 28 Mar 2014

The EOC has endured thirty years of community debate over what constitutes discrimination and harassment in a manner that has provided benefits to the community as a whole. Their success should be built upon not undermined by budget cuts and restructures that gut the essence of their conciliation and advocacy work.

The review seeks to determine how the "objectives of the Equal Opportunity Act can be best achieved" by Equal Opportunity Commission and the Director of Equal Opportunity in Public Employment.

It is important to note that this is not a review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 , which after 30 years in operation would benefit from strengthening and widening its objectives, but to the bodies that administer the Act. It would be of great concern if the current Government utilized the review to undermine the powers of the Equal Opportunity Commission and effectively the Act.

The Equal Opportunity Commission of Western Australia must remain a standalone, independent body in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our community. The independence of the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Commissioner gives it a status of respect within the public and private sector, giving its actions greater weight and validity.

Its role in enabling the pursuit of complaints without delay, undue cost and complexity is crucial to ensure that community standards of equity are protected. Last year alone, The Equal Opportunity Commission investigated 738 formal complaints and responded to 2,332 enquires. The 3 most common grounds of complain were impairment, race and sexual harassment. This alone is evidence that discrimination has not been eliminated. Given this, it is of great concern that a decision has been made in 2013 and outside of this current review process, to abolish the substantive equality unit. No reasons to date have been cited for this decision.

I submit to the Review that:
The physical location of all services provided for under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 be in one central place, as far as practicable, within Western Australia and under the auspices of the WA EOC.
• Community engagement is required by the EOC to ensure the dignity of the objectives of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 in regard to the elimination of discrimination is best fulfilled. A contemporary model of effective community engagement which is likely to result in systemic change is the ‘Challenging gender and sexuality based bullying in schools project' which incorporated the public and private school sector. The processes involved in this model are worth further consideration for the future in targeting other ‘hot spots' of discrimination.

I maintain that accountability to the Act can only be delivered by the public sector and an organisation independent from other government departments. The current autonomous Equal Opportunity Commission enables individuals and the broader community concerns to be addressed in a consistent and procedurally fair manner.

The independence of the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Commissioner gives it a status of respect within the public and private sector, giving its actions greater weight and validity.
Its role in enabling the pursuit of complaints without delay, undue cost and complexity is crucial to ensure that community standards of equity are protected.

With respect to your specific questions I would argue that they illustrate the current Governments lack of commitment to the issues of justice and discrimination by implying that the EOC and DEOP are no longer relevant.

This could not be further from the truth and the relevance and strength have been demonstrated by their results.

To undermine the objectives of the Act by undermining the administration of the Act would be clearly an act of a Government out of touch with contemporary views in our community.

Janine Freeman MLA
Member for Mirrabooka