States fear discrimination law mess


States fear discrimination law mess

News Limited Network
January 26, 201312:00AM

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Attorney General Nicola Roxon’s department insists the states will not be hamstrung by federal ant-discrimination laws. Source: The Daily Telegraph

A BROAD range of commonsense state rules and regulations are threatened by changes to federal anti-discrimination laws, state governments have warned.

The conservative states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland are fighting for blanket exemptions from the Gillard Government’s draft legislation, which will outlaw discrimination on 17 grounds ranging from age to sexual orientation, medical history and nationality.

They claim the new laws will stop them setting age limits for driver’s licences, or insisting that public servants be Australian citizens or permanent residents.

Judges could no longer be forced into retirement and public transport fares could not be discounted for children or seniors, they have told a Senate inquiry into the proposed new laws.

The draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill combines and updates five sets of federal discrimination laws covering race, sex, age and disability.

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The NSW Government claims the federal laws could “invalidate” state laws that “legitimately discriminate” on the grounds of gender identity, nationality and citizenship.

It cites the ban on mentally ill people owning firearms, as one that could be challenged.

The office of Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark provided News Ltd with a list of state government regulations that could be challenged under federal law, ranging from police arrests to guardianship orders and licence restrictions for the elderly.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie attacked the federal “nanny-state” laws, which he said could override state legislation on such matters as age.

South Australian Attorney-General John Rau said he wanted “appropriate consultation” before the Federal Government finalises the bill.

“It is important that all states and territories are brought along,” he said. “Confrontation on this issue would be unhelpful.”

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon is on leave, but her department yesterday insisted that the Government “has no intention of changing the way state anti-discrimination laws work”.

“The draft bill explicitly contains provisions that seek to allow state laws to continue,” spokesman David Curry said.

A general exception for “justifiable conduct” would let state governments defend claims of discrimination where their laws or programs differentiate between people for “legitimate policy reasons”.

States that desired greater certainty could apply for an “explicit exemption” from the operation of the bill.

The state governments, however, want an automatic exemption so they do not have to seek federal approval.

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