Working paper

From the mid 1970s Australian parliaments enacted legislation establishing statutory schemes to deal with grievances of discrimination in a range of contexts such as the commercial provision of goods and services, and accommodation. From the outset employment and work were a central concern of the schemes. Initially the statutes prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, sex and marital status. Over time amendments were enacted to add discrimination against employees and workers related to pregnancy and responsibilities to care for others such as children, spouses, aged parents and relatives. Indeed, the enactment of new grounds and provisions in anti-discrimination legislation has been a main policy initiative of successive Commonwealth, State and Territory parliaments in response to growing calls for governments to respond to tensions between labour market engagement and care responsibilities.

The anti-discrimination provisions on care and family responsibilities have been the subject of much critical examination and commentary. Scholarship has revealed limitations and problems in the architecture of the schemes. Narrow and overly legalistic interpretations by tribunals and courts have also been examined. In addition, limitations in the processes of conciliation and enforcement through tribunal and court hearings have been highlighted. This working paper provides a close examination of the specifics of work, care and family across Commonwealth, State and Territory anti-discrimination law. It explores the provisions of anti-discrimination legislation and case decisions relating to pregnancy, care and family responsibilities, for their understandings of work, gender, race, sexual orientation and relationship. The scope of the paper lies in the development of the different schemes over time.

Image: Bill McIntyre/ flickr

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