Annual Report 2020-21

Message from the President

This year saw Anti-Discrimination NSW (ADNSW) rally to maintain business as usual and improve client services, while navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We spent the frst few months of 2020-21 fnessing changes implemented in early 2020, including digital processes and ways of engaging with clients and stakeholders via phone, video and email. The second half of the year was focused on realising our digital strategy – we redeveloped our website and progressed our new complaints management system.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we continued to provide seamless outreach and delivery of services to the people of NSW. We maintained our core functions of answering enquiries, resolving complaints, raising awareness about discrimination and its impacts, managing applications for exemptions from the Act, and advising the government about discrimination issues. 

Our Enquiry Service continues to assist individuals who are dealing with discrimination issues, as well as employers and service providers seeking information about antidiscrimination law. In 2020-21 we answered 2,698 enquiries, a decrease from 3,294 in the last reporting period, as more people were able to access information via our website. Disability discrimination remains the most common type of discrimination enquiry, followed by race discrimination. This year we experienced a steady increase in COVID-19-related enquiries, mostly relating to the requirement to wear a mask.

Discrimination complaint numbers increased this year, with 1,109 complaints received, compared to 943 last year. Disability and race discrimination were the most frequent grounds of complaint, followed by victimisation. Resolution of complaints remains an important mechanism for achieving change on an individual level, but also serves to educate and to raise awareness, to prevent discrimination in the future.

The conciliation team achieved excellent results, with 920 complaints (91%) fnalised within 12 months of receipt, exceeding the target of 85%. The average time taken to fnalise a complaint was just under fve months, quicker than last year at 5.4 months.

During 2020-21 we continued to receive complaints directly relating to COVID-19. Many of these were about the Public Health Order requirement to wear a mask and the effect of an exemption due to medical reasons. We resolved some of these complaints but there are still many complaints being investigated. An example of mask related complaints with which we are dealing relates to the circumstance where a person has experienced discrimination on the ground of disability. The law is complex and there are public health exceptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 that may apply.

This year we identifed priority areas for community engagement, including disability, multicultural, youth and LGBTQ+, and designed our community engagement plans for each targeted area. We engaged with the community at 283 events, including meetings, presentations and webinars. We also focused our community engagement work on understanding the impacts of the pandemic and responding to stakeholders with the information and resources they needed from us.

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team continued its activities in 2020-21, which were also adjusted because of the pandemic. As well as ongoing networking within the community, the team worked with other agencies to provide joint information sessions for community workers and leaders, attended two face-to-face events, and reached more than 1,000 people across NSW using videoconferencing and teleconferencing engagement strategies.

This year we redeveloped our website to feature a new look and feel, easy navigation and improved accessibility. Our beta (test) website went live in June 2021, and we shared this site with our internal and external stakeholders so that they could provide feedback.

As part of the website redevelopment, we produced new, online resources including:

  • four Easy Read guides for people with intellectual disability
  • two explainer videos featuring Auslan interpreters
  • information about discrimination and our services in 22 community languages
  • our complaint form in 22 community languages
  • a series of fact sheets.

Social media continues to be an integral part of our communications strategy in effectively achieving our communications objectives at a minimal cost. Our social media posts have enabled us to connect with communities, communicate important information during the COVID-19 pandemic, raise awareness about discrimination, the law, our services and resources, as well as to promote social cohesion and engage with individuals, community groups and organisations on topical issues. In 2020-21 we increased our social media followers by 27.6% and reached more than 161,000 users across our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages.

An exemption is an approval that is granted under section 126 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, to help improve access to specifc jobs, programs or services for certain groups of people. In 2020-21 we received 61 exemption applications. Most of the exemptions granted related to education, training and employment of women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Certifcation is an approval granted by the NSW Attorney General under section 126A of the Act, certifying special needs programs, activities or facilities that promote access for certain groups of people affected by unlawful discrimination. During the fnancial year, there were 11 applications for certifcation under section 126A.

This year I appeared before two NSW Parliamentary Committees: in August 2020, in relation to the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Complaint Handling) Bill 2020; and in November 2020 regarding the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020. Both Bills are under consideration by the NSW Government.

ADNSW provided advice to government and made submissions on a range of issues, including:

  • the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020
  • the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020
  • proposals for minimum accessibility standards in housing construction
  • the reform of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport
  • proposed amendments to the Solicitors’ Conduct Rules
  • the Safeguard and Quality Issues Paper published by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Throughout 2020-21, I have used my role and platform as President to take a strong public stance against injustices, speak up about social issues and raise awareness about discrimination and its impacts, as well as to promote the important work of ADNSW. I issued media statements calling for responsible and ethical reporting during COVID-19 (August 2020), reminding people that there is a difference between hate speech and comedy (August 2020), and condemning racial hatred letters sent to Sydney councillors (March 2021). With the help of my fellow Board members, I have also reached out to government agencies to promote the work of ADNSW, and to explain our processes to their staff, so that they are aware of our services and better understand the complaint handling process.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the important work that we do. There is still a lot of work to be done but, with the dedication of my team, I am positive about the future and the continuing progress that we can achieve. 

I fully appreciate the interest, dedication and enthusiasm of my fellow Board members. Each of them has contributed to the strategy for ADNSW and has provided support for me and for the Executive Manager.

Finally, I want to thank Executive Manager Elizabeth Wing, whose outstanding leadership in these difcult times has enabled ADNSW to continue to function so well. This could not have been achieved without the managers and staff of ADNSW, to whom I also extend my thanks and appreciation. To each and every one of my colleagues, thank you for your dedication, professionalism and fexibility during these unprecedented times, and your unwavering commitment to eliminating discrimination.

The Hon. Dr Annabelle Bennett, AC SC FAA


Last updated:

06 Dec 2022

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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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