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Indigenous rights - frequently asked questions

What is discrimination?

Unlawful discrimination occurs when someone is treated unfairly because of a personal characteristic or attribute that is protected under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. This also applies where there is a threat to treat someone unfairly.

Discrimination can also happen if an unreasonable policy or practice is applied which can or does disadvantage a person because of a personal characteristic (attribute). This also applies if the policy or practice is proposed.

The characteristics (attributes) that are protected under the Act include:

  • Age
  • Breastfeeding
  • Employment activity
  • Gender identity
  • Impairment
  • Industrial activity
  • Lawful sexual activity
  • Marital status
  • Parental status or status as a carer
  • Physical features
  • Political belief or activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Religious belief or activity
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Personal association (whether as a relative or otherwise) with a person who is identified by reference to any of the above characteristics (attributes).

 Bob is 58 and looking for a new job. During an interview, he is told that they can't hire him because he is too old and that 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks'. This is an example of age discrimination.

At work, Gavin noticed that some people at work received new laptops and felt he was being treated unfairly. When he asked his manager for a new laptop, he said no because the people with the new laptops needed them for specific work. Gavin stated that his manager was discriminating against him. This is not an example of discrimination because Gavin was not discriminated against on the basis of a protected characteristic (attribute).

See our Discrimination and Types of Discrimination pages for more information.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs when a person with a protected characteristic (attribute) is treated unfavourably because of that characteristic. This also applies where there is a threat to treat someone unfairly.

Mary informs her boss that she is pregnant and will need to go on maternity leave in the coming months. Later that day her boss fires her because ‘mothers can’t cope with work and children at the same time’.
This is an example of direct discrimination based on Mary’s pregnancy

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs when an unreasonable condition, requirement or practice is imposed that disadvantages or is likely to disadvantage a person or group with a protected characteristic (attribute). This also applies if the policy or practice is proposed.

John is a single father of two children. Recently, John’s manager told the staff that if they want to be eligible for a promotion then they need to be in the office every morning at 7:30am. Because John needs to take care of his children, he can’t start at this time. If this condition is not a reasonable requirement of the job, then it is indirect discrimination.

Who can make a complaint?

Anyone who believes that they have been unlawfully discriminated against because of a protected characteristic (attribute) can make a complaint, or give permission for someone to make the complaint on their behalf.

People can also make complaints about sexual harassment and victimisation.

Where can discrimination happen?

Under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, discrimination can occur in 8 areas of public life. These are:

  • Accommodation
  • Clubs
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Goods and Services
  • Land sales and transfers
  • Local government
  • Sport

Steven and Leah are Aboriginal Victorians. They call a real estate agent and enquire about a property for rent. The agent says that the property is available and they organise a time to inspect it. When Steven and Leah arrive and meet the agent, he says that he can’t rent them the property because Aboriginal tenants are more trouble than they’re worth as they never pay rent on time. This is an example of race discrimination when offering goods and services.

Alice is an 8-year-old girl who wants to play soccer like her brothers on the weekend, but there are no teams nearby for girls her age. When her mother asked the coach of the local boys’ team if she could play, he said no because ‘girls shouldn’t play with boys as they aren’t good enough and she’ll probably just get hurt’. This is an example of sex discrimination in sport.

Ben and Claire want to enrol their vision impaired son, Michael, into their local state high school. However, his enrolment is refused because, as the principal put it, ‘having a blind student would be too much work for the teachers’. This is an example of disability discrimination in educational institutions.

See Places of Discrimination for more information.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome sexual advance or conduct of a sexual nature directed at a person that could make them feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be written, verbal or physical. For example:

  • Comments about how a person looks
  • Sexually suggestive jokes, staring, hugging
  • Repeated requests to go out
  • Displaying offensive photos, objects and wallpapers/screen savers.

See Sexual Harassment in the workplace for more information.

What is vilification?

Vilification is behaviour that encourages other people to hate, have serious contempt for, or feel revulsion or severe ridicule of a person or group based on their race and religious beliefs.  Examples of vilification may include the following where they are likely to incite hatred in other people:

  • Publishing material that claims a racial or religious group is involved in serious crime without any proof
  • Repeated verbal or physical abuse about the race or religion of a person
  • Encouraging hate towards a race or religious group by putting up flyers, posters, stickers or posting on websites

See Racial and religious vilification for more information.

What is victimisation?

Victimisation is subjecting, or threatening to subject, someone to unfavourable treatment because they have made a complaint, helped someone else to make a complaint or refused to do something because it would be discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation.

Donna feels that she is being sexually harassed by a work colleague and she makes a complaint to her manager. A few days later, her manager informs her that she needs to move to one of their company’s interstate offices or quit because of the complaint.  This is an example of victimisation based on Donna making a complaint of sexual harassment.

See Victimisation in the workplace for more information.

What is the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities?

The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter) outlines the basic human rights of all Victorians. The Charter requires that governments, local councils and other public authorities comply and consider the Charter human rights when they make decisions.

In certain circumstances, some human rights may be limited. However, this must be reasonable and there must be clear reasons for the decision.

What are my human rights?

The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter) outlines the basic human rights of all Victorians. The Charter requires that governments, local councils and other public authorities comply and consider the Charter human rights when they make decisions.

In certain circumstances, some human rights may be limited. However, this must be reasonable and there must be clear reasons for the decision.

What are my human rights?

There are 20 human rights protected under the Charter.  

The Charter protects:

  • Your right to recognition and equality before the law
  • Your right to life
  • Your right to protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • Your right to freedom from forced work
  • Your right to freedom of movement
  • Your right to privacy and reputation
  • Your right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief
  • Your right to freedom of expression
  • Your right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association
  • Your right to protection of families and children (including best interests of the child)
  • Your right to take part in public life
  • Cultural rights (including Aboriginal peoples distinct cultural rights to enjoy their identity, to maintain and use their language, to maintain kinship ties and their distinct relationship with the land and waters)
  • Property rights
  • Your right to liberty and security of person
  • Your right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty
  • Rights of children in the criminal process
  • Your right to a fair hearing
  • Rights in criminal proceedings
  • Right not to be tried or punished more than once
  • Retrospective criminal laws

For more information on your rights, visit our Human Rights page or download our factsheets.

How do I make a complaint?

If you feel that you have experienced discrimination, vilification, victimisation or sexual harassment, you or someone on your behalf can lodge a complaint to the Commission and we will try to help solve it through our free, fair and independent dispute resolution service.

In some cases, we may decide that we can’t work on your complaint. If this happens, we will ring you and explain why we can’t.

If your complaint is accepted, it will progress on to conciliation.

Complaints can be made online, or for more information you can contact 1300 292 153.

Does it cost anything to make a complaint?

No. Making a complaint and using the Commission’s dispute resolution service is free for all people making a complaint.

Can I make a complaint in relation to the Charter?

No. The Commission does not handle complaints on matters concerning the Charter. If you would like to make a complaint regarding breaches of the Charter, you should contact the public authority concerned. In many cases, you can also make a complaint to the Victorian Ombudsman.

How do I make complaints against police?

If you would like to make a complaint in relation to police misconduct, you can do this by contacting Victoria Police or the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

Can I make a complaint if I am under 18 years of age?

If you are under 18 years of age, the Commission can speak with you about available options should you require assistance or advocacy during the conciliation process.

How does the Commission protect my privacy?

The Commission is bound by the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and a ‘secrecy’ provision in the Equal Opportunity Act. This means that, unless we have the consent of the parties involved, the Commission by law is not allowed to disclose documents or information which has been collected by the Commission (such as documents obtained during dispute resolution).

Find out more about confidentiality.

What is conciliation?

Complaints to the Commission are resolved through a process known as conciliation. This is where the people involved in a dispute talk through the issues with the help of the Commission, and with the aim of reaching an agreement on how the dispute will be resolved.

Conciliation is a very successful way of resolving complaints. Feedback shows that people find our process fair, informal and easy to understand. It also helps them to better understand their rights and responsibilities and come up with good solutions.

The conciliation function does not have the power to make orders or award compensation. Many complaints are resolved at conciliation and outcomes can include:

  • an apology (verbal or written, private or more public)
  • financial compensation
  • a job reinstatement or reference
  • access to a previously denied job opportunity or service
  • an agreement to change or stop behaviour
  • an agreement to amend or develop policies
  • an agreement to undertake human resources and equal opportunity training.

How long will conciliation take?

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, dispute resolution should be provided as early as possible, and its length should be appropriate to the nature of the dispute and the individual circumstances of the case.

Do you have any offices outside of Melbourne?

The Commission has only one office in Melbourne, but staff can provide any necessary assistance through telephone, email or post and conciliation can be held regionally in neutral locations.

What training is provided by the Commission for organisations?

The Commission runs a number of training programs for organisations and members of the community. If you can’t find a course that meets the needs for your organisation, we can tailor a training program that does.

Visit Which course is for me? to find the appropriate training program or contact us on (03) 9032 3415 or email education@veohrc.vic.gov.au.