43 years on, the Anti-Discrimination Act has never been more important

Published 1 June 2020

Today marks the 43rd anniversary of the historic win for equal opportunity laws in New South Wales, with the landmark Anti-Discrimination Act coming into effect on 1 June 1977.

President of Anti-Discrimination NSW the Honourable Dr Annabelle Bennett AC SC said that it was an important date on which to celebrate the achievements of the Act and it is also a chance to raise awareness of the continued discrimination that people still face on a daily basis.   

“Thanks to the Act, citizens of NSW have been exercising their rights to live a life free of discrimination when they go to work, access goods and services, rent accommodation and attend a public school, among other activities in public life,” Dr Bennett said.

“But despite the protections laid down by the Act, we know that thousands of people in our state are still experiencing discrimination, vilification, victimisation and harassment each year.”

Dr Bennett said that the pandemic alone has exposed the sheer importance of the Act and the protection and redress it provides to some of the most vulnerable members of the community who are bearing the brunt of COVID-19’s social impact.

“The pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of Anti-Discrimination NSW’s work in promoting the law and providing free and accessible enquiry and complaint handling services to the community – making it an essential service to the people of NSW,” Dr Bennett said.

During the pandemic, Anti-Discrimination NSW has experienced an increase in enquiries related to the pandemic and racism against people of Asian backgrounds.

A third of COVID-19-related enquiries have been about incidents of racism or vilification, including instances of people being bullied for wearing a face mask, and abused, spat at and harassed in public on their way to work, while they exercised or at the supermarket.

Anti-Discrimination NSW has also heard from people who have experienced violent race-related acts like their car window being smashed and racist language written across cars and private property.

In a four-month period (between 1 January to 30 April 2020), Anti-Discrimination NSW received 241 official complaints, 74 of which were on the grounds of race – that’s over four complaints a week.

Unfortunately, these statistics do not tell the full story of what is happening across the state, as many enquiries or complaints were also cases Anti-Discrimination NSW could not handle because the perpetrator was unknown or the incident was covered under the Crimes Act and referred to NSW Police.

In addition, some people in the community may not report or make an official complaint of discrimination for a number of reasons, including not knowing about the rights and redress available.

Dr Bennett reiterated that the horrific incidents were perpetrated by a very small minority of people in NSW who do not represent the shared values of the majority.

“We absolutely cannot let the actions of a few disrupt the progress we have already made towards racial equality and inclusion made possible by the commencement of the Act on this historic day in 1977.”


Last updated:

07 Jul 2021

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We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the ongoing connection Aboriginal people have to this land and recognise Aboriginal people as the original custodians of this land.

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