Discrimination is a major issue in society as it involves the unlawful and unfair treatment of a person or a group of people on the basis of prejudice against their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sex, age, disability and sexual preference, in a variety of different situations and circumstances (e.g. at work or school). In legal terms, discrimination can be classified into 2 categories- direct discrimination (which involves obvious discrimination against an individual or group by actively taking a step that will exclude or disadvantage them, such as promoting only male workers in a company) and indirect discrimination (which involves discrimination against a person or group to exclude or disadvantage them in a way that is not immediately obvious, such as not having wheelchair access at a work meeting place)- both of which are addressed in anti-discrimination legislation.


Australian anti-discrimination legislation is very effective in some ways as it addresses the different areas of discrimination- race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age- with specific laws (such as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which specifically makes discrimination against race unlawful, and which overrides inconsistent legislation made by the States and Territories) that aim to promote equal rights and opportunities for all people, and to protect the human rights of different people/minorities in society by lessening the prevalence of discrimination and by discouraging discrimination through having penalties and punishment associated with it. Individuals can lodge complaints about discrimination based on many different grounds at either the State/Territory level or the Commonwealth level, with the circumstances of the individual’s complaint influencing where the complaint should be lodged.

Anti-discrimination legislation is enforced through anti-discrimination boards, tribunals (which aim to solve discrimination disputes between parties, to determine if anti-discrimination laws have been breached) and many different independent commissions that each state has to separately address problems with discrimination in different areas (such as the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, which investigates cases of discrimination, and administers state and federal anti-discrimination laws), the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (which aims to promote and protect people’s human rights through administering federal laws such as the Age Discrimination Act 2004, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975).

An appeals process is also available for past case decisions to be reviewed and corrected, making the system more fair and reliable. However, the enforcement of these laws is not effective, as dealing with discrimination cases in court can be a lengthy process that is both time consuming and expensive for the involved parties, and it can be difficult to prove discrimination has occurred, as evidence is difficult to obtain (e.g. for verbal discrimination). Despite somewhat ineffective enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation, the Australian government provides disadvantaged people and children with free legal representation through Legal Aid, providing equal opportunities for all, and making legal help more accessible to people who otherwise wouldn’t have received it.


American anti-discrimination legislation generally addresses discrimination against a person’s race, origin, colour, religion, disability, and gender in the areas of education, housing, lending, public accommodation, and police misconduct, but is mainly focused on discrimination in the area of employment, so other areas are addressed less through legislation, making it less effective for people who experience discrimination in other areas and situations to claim that anti-discrimination legislation has been breached (as there may be no legislation that specifically addresses the form of discrimination they experienced).

This legislation also aims to promote equal opportunities for all. Like Australia, America also has a court system (including an appeals system), an Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud (which fights discrimination and promotes equality for all people), as well as specific commissions (such as the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act) and tribunals (such as the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Tribunal which handles complaints and appeals regarding recommendations and actions by the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud) where anti-discrimination cases relating to specific laws are looked into and solved.

Unlike other countries, America has a National Origin Working Group (established by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which enforces federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Employment Act of 1941, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978) which helps both citizens and immigrants better understand and exercise their legal rights- this makes the law more accessible for all people, and it helps address the problem of national origin discrimination and other forms of discrimination not being reported when victims do not know their legal rights or are afraid of complaining about discrimination to the government, by making them more informed of what they can do in relation to legally dealing with discrimination.


The United Kingdom has anti-discrimination legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, religion, beliefs, sexual orientation, age and disability in many different areas such as employment, housing, the provision of goods and services, and education- the 4 main anti-discrimination acts are the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Human Rights Act 1998 (which can be enforced directly against public bodies such as the local authority or police) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

When individuals experience unlawful discrimination, this legislation provides them with a mechanism to lodge complaints with the court system, so a discrimination case can be solved legally- though this is still expensive and time consuming for all parties involved. Anti-discrimination cases can be dealt with through the court system (including an appeals system to review and change past case decisions deemed incorrect) and tribunals, and under the discrimination acts, specific commissions (such as the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which brings together the work of those 3 commissions) were established to monitor and enforce through administration the anti-discrimination laws, and to advise and educate the population about discrimination. In comparison to the other countries, the anti-discrimination laws of the United Kingdom are quite effective, as they adequately address most areas of discrimination, and they are enforced well through various commissions and tribunals.


Overall, Australia’s anti-discrimination legislation was the most effective in theory as it aimed to protect human rights and to promote equal rights and opportunities for all people, and it adequately addressed the human rights of people within different areas of discrimination (e.g. race, religion, gender) in relation to different circumstances (such as in the workplace, at school), without focusing too specifically on some areas of discrimination and leaving out others (as was done by the US anti-discrimination laws which mainly focused on discrimination in the area of employment).

However, in practice, the United Kingdom was the most effective in enforcing their anti-discrimination legislation, as there was a wide variety of tribunals and commissions available which specialised in dealing with different areas of discrimination (such as the Commission for Racial Equality), whilst still ensuring that the population was aware, advised and educated about discrimination and its different forms.


By Jacqui Boyton.