Monday, March 18, 2013

Reform anti-discrimination law

'So you're actually working as a property manager in a real estate agency already – that's great!' said the course instructor to the trainee. 'Perhaps you can tell the rest of the class something about how it is in the real world. Like, how do you choose a tenant for a rental property?'

'OK, it's like this,' said the trainee, warming instantly to her role. 'Rule number one in our office is: never rent to single mothers. More trouble than they're worth. Every dickhead in town with a V8 comes sniffing around, doing donuts and burnouts on the front lawn and in the street and chucking beer bottles everywhere. And there's the loud music and the parties and it completely screws up the whole block – '

'Ah OK OK, we might leave it there, thanks for that', said in the instructor. 'Let's break for tea.'

This anecdote comes from one of the other trainees at the session in question – a single mother herself, and now a tenants advocate at a Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service. To be fair, the course instructor was appalled at the property manager's prejudice, and the session happened about 10 years ago. But that's not exactly the dark ages either.

And discrimination in the rental housing system is something that tenants continue to face today: the Aboriginal person who just keeps getting their tenancy applications knocked back; the person with depression who is told that they'll have to get rid of the pet they rely on to get through their bleakest moments; the person with a brain injury who gets a termination notice, ostensibly because the landlord wants to renovate the whole block – but is happy to let all the other tenants move out under their own speed.

For some years now, we've had anti-discrimination legislation, both at State and Federal levels. It has provided redress, and helped prevent discrimination, but it still plainly has a lot of work to do and may be made to work better. The Federal legislation, in particular, is complex: it comprises five Acts, enacted over a period of thirty years, in very different styles of language, with different thresholds, exemptions and exceptions, and gaps in coverage.

Last year the Federal Government drafted a Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, to consolidate the federal legislation, make the provisions consistent, cover the gaps and improve its workability. It's an appropriate and sensible measure of law reform and, as the sitting days of the current Parliament grow short, it's time the Government delivered on its commitment.

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