SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MULTICULTURAL BILL

 The equal opportunity commissioner then went on to address some other matters, including expanding the scope and purpose of the legislation to enshrine multicultural directions, and made a contribution in that regard. I think it is important that she supported the inclusion of the words to cover:

All South Australians come from diverse backgrounds in South Australia. That is the richness that such diversity brings to the community and encourages the full participation of people from diverse backgrounds in the cultural, economic, political and social life of South Australia to help build a prosperous state.

Further, she went on to contribute, to review the functions and powers of the commission and, again, similar to ARA, she outlined the need to be able to have authority to work at the executive level with state government and peak bodies, generally collaborate with them, that there be a review of the appointment process of the commission members and that the language in the act be contemporised—namely, the intercultural initiative and removal of 'ethnic', which has been canvassed and acknowledged. What is important about this submission is that it does not introduce or suggest that there be a movement towards practices which are foreshadowed in amendments. I will come to them more specifically, but I just wanted to place them on the record.

The second resolution I want to speak to is that of the Multicultural Communities Council of SA (MCCSA). In their submission of 28 May 2019, they point out that this is an organisation which really had its roots in the Good Neighbour Council from 1949; that it has obviously matured, changed and modernised over a period of time; and that it represents membership of over 160 individual and community organisations. It has a role as a peak body and it made a contribution in the development of law and the new act.

On the question of the constitution of the commission, it suggested that there be an equal number of men and women—that is, seven men and seven women. In relation to its composition other than that, it reflected on what was appropriate to diversity of ethnicity, age, location and occupational background and then, obviously, experience in multiculturalism and the like, again no prescriptive measures that are proposed in foreshadowed amendments. The functions of the commission are obviously to work with state authorities to advise government, keep under review and establish four-yearly action plans and the like.

Again, these initiatives have been picked up largely in this bill and there are some more novel approaches that have been foreshadowed, but we will have a look at those. Some of them seem to be harmless and I think can be accommodated; others really have gone quite a bit further.

Can I just say, though, that I think it is important that we appreciate, as I was saying before, that at the time of the birth of establishing what is currently the Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission and the whole recognition, it came at a time when the Equal Opportunity Act was also being developed. I mentioned before that there were what I think were some rather archaic descriptors of other legislation through the 1970s.

With the advent of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, there became a new entity to undertake the work not only to promote equality of opportunity between citizens, whether that was based on sex, race, disability, age and some other grounds, but also to ensure that there was the participation of citizens in the economic and social life of the community. That regime, which has been expanded a bit over the years, did two things: it set out what was unlawful in relation to a prohibition on discrimination on various grounds, as I have indicated, and a whole provision was established to deal with the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of race. That is all in part 4 of that legislation.

I have had to read a fair bit of this Equal Opportunity Act again in the last couple of months because of other aspects, such as sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. I highlight, for the purpose of those following this debate, that this prohibition has been here now for decades. It is a declaration in the statute of what is unlawful and then it sets out what processes are available to deal with it, including enforcement, which I will come to shortly.

If members want to have a look at this, they will see that there are criteria setting out establishing discrimination on the ground of race. It then sets out chapters on discrimination against workers, setting out that it is unlawful, essentially, as to who you should be offering employment to and the terms offered. It is unlawful to discriminate as to terms and conditions and aspects in relation to dismissing an employee, segregating an employee from other persons of other races and subjecting the employee to other detriment. These are all things set out as unlawful within the envelope of prohibiting discrimination against applicants and employees.

There is also a specific chapter on discrimination against agents and independent contractors—same routine and all the same protections. There is the discrimination against contract workers, discrimination within partnerships, and then it goes on to discrimination by other bodies, which sets out, amongst other things, discrimination by associations on the ground of race, which largely prohibits people being refused entry to associations because of their race.

Whilst there has been some addition to a number of these areas—in education, breastfeeding in schools; lots of things over the years—this is all outlined in this legislation. It has a statutory obligation to carry that out. The enforcement of that and the victimisation provisions in part 6 of the act are then set out in part 8. Obviously I will not go through it, but in short it allows a process whereby the Equal Opportunity Commission is responsible for some conciliation processes, but then it becomes a gatekeeper for applications that can be made for damages, injunctive action and enforcement orders by the tribunal. Of course, the tribunal now is with SACAT or, in circumstances where there is already an employment dispute, can in some instances be dealt with by the SAET.

All that body of work has developed. It is very important law, but I hope it also gives some reassurance to those in the multicultural community who might be seeking to have some extra role of the Multicultural Commission, as it will be, in that space. We cannot have two people doing that same job. I would hope that those who work either in the department or in the commission in future years will continue to advocate for all the positive aspects we have in relation to our multicultural and intercultural communities. What is also important is that we recognise that some people have been given different jobs and some of these have been contemporaneously developed alongside. I hope that gives some reassurance to those who might have been concerned that there needs to be some extra role.

There are two areas. One was this question of the composition of the skill base or factors to be considered by the commission. I think we have pretty much covered it in the bill that is before the parliament as to what submissions have come in. In relation to recognition of our First Australians, that has been accommodated and seems to be universally acclaimed.

In relation to the question of the responsibilities of the commission, I think the most significant one that has come to my attention is the question of what is the role of the commission in future in relation to state authorities, that is, government departments and entities that have a responsibility or an obligation under the current Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission legislation and which in this bill it is proposed that it will be elevated under clause 19 to a statutory duty. Far from being a situation of perhaps watering this down, we are actually seeing a heightening of the statutory duty of any state authorities as distinct from the obligations under section 22 of the current act.

I think we are probably at the stage where some concern has been raised. I think they are matters that through some further discussion, which I think has been important in relation to the bill, we have a better understanding of where we are and what we are trying to achieve with the multicultural community, the leadership in this role, to actually have legislation that is going to take us well into the 21st century.

With those comments, I commend the bill and its second reading to the house and indicate that there are amendments that have been tabled that will need to be considered in committee in the event the second reading is accepted. I should say in conclusion that I thank the opposition for their indication of support for the bill.