Anti-discrimination law review

TASMANIA'S Anti-Discrimination Commissioner believes it is time for a sweeping review of state laws to help minority groups.

It has been 14 years since the Anti-Discrimination Act came into effect, making it illegal to discriminate against Tasmanians based on their age, race, gender, disability or religious belief.

The Tasmanian and federal governments are seeking to amend their respective anti-discrimination laws, which has raised fears of free speech being stifled.

Commissioner Robin Banks said once the Anti- Discrimination Amendment Bill was dealt with by the Tasmanian Parliament she would like to see a sweeping review of the act and its impact on people's lives.

She wants that review to consider ways in which barriers to equality can be removed, rather than just how barriers that are there should be dealt with.

"I look at Tasmania and the rate of employment for people with disabilities and it's not a very happy picture," Ms Banks said.

"I think people are still used to being treated as second or third-class citizens, and that is not OK.

"We really need to be saying: `No more', as a government and at least in the big end of the business sector. Both should be taking positive steps to remove barriers."

Ms Banks said that could mean expanding affirmative action policies - such as for hiring women and Aborigines - or making workplaces more accessible to people with disabilities.

"There are moves around the world to look at how to be more proactive, rather than reactive," she said.

"We've actually got to set some expectations around looking to avoid putting barriers in front of people rather than putting in some sort of responding mechanism when you find them."

Others are arguing that the law already goes too far in providing special treatment to certain groups of people, and stifles free speech.

Ms Banks said that was always a risk when legislating against discrimination with no human rights charter.

"I think you can engage in public discourse, you can engage in discussion about religious beliefs, political beliefs or industrial issues without being insulting [or] without using a person's personal characteristics to have a go at them," she said.

"It's not about people getting special treatment. What the act does is say they have the right to be treated the same way as others."

Robin Banks

Robin Banks