Australian Herald: Discrimination against white males will soon be encouraged

Australian Herald Sun
09.12.2008
Susie O’Brien

DISCRIMINATION against dominant white males will soon be encouraged in a bid to boost the status of women, the disabled and cultural and religious minorities.

Such positive discrimination — treating people differently in order to obtain equality for marginalised groups - is set to be legalised under planned changes to the Equal Opportunity Act foreshadowed last week by state Attorney-General Rob Hulls.

The laws are also expected to protect the rights of people with criminal records to get a job, as long as their past misdeeds are irrelevant to work being sought.

Equal Opportunity Commission CEO Dr Helen Szoke said males had “been the big success story in business and goods and services”.

“Clearly, they will have their position changed because they will be competing in a different way with these people who have been traditionally marginalised,” she said.

“Let’s open it up so everyone can have a fair go.”

Victoria’s peak business body expressed concern yesterday about the need for the proposed laws, and questioned if they would undermine the right of companies to make legitimate business decisions.

At present, individuals or bodies wanting to single out any race or gender for special treatment must gain an exemption from VCAT.

Companies and public bodies accused of discrimination can only be held to account after a complaint has been made.

But the proposed changes go much further, allowing the commission to inquire into discrimination, seize documents and search and enter premises after attempts to bring about change have failed.

Businesses and individuals would be required to change their ways even if a complaint had not been received.

Action could be taken where an unlawful act was “likely to occur”, not just in cases where discrimination has taken place.

The commission would also have real teeth to enforce its rulings via VCAT and, as a last resort, in the courts.

The changes, shown in a Department of Justice report by former public advocate Julian Gardner, would also:

EDUCATE people so they know their rights.

GIVE more protection to people with disabilities, requiring companies and public entities to reasonably accommodate their needs.

GRANT the homeless and people who act as volunteers better protection from discrimination.

Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace general manager David Gregory said business supported the objectives of equal opportunity legislation.

“But I am concerned and curious about whether these changes mean the commission can second-guess the legitimate business decisions of individual businesses,” he said.

The first raft of changes to the Equal Opportunity Act were introduced into Parliament last week.

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