Bill a response to ageing population

A BILL introduced into Federal Parliament in the winter session will complement Australia’s suite of anti-discrimination legislation.

The Age Discrimination Bill 2003 is a response to a growing awareness over several years of Australia’s ageing population.

The need for such a bill was underscored by several reports, including one by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The Commonwealth’s portfolio of anti-discrimination legislation has not yet included age, although the Workplace Relations Act 1996 has prohibited dismissal based on age.

And the States and Territories have already legislated against age discrimination.

Hence, any new legislation is not likely to have a large impact on workplaces, according to Minter Ellison HR/IR group solicitor Kylie Groves.

“Most employers would already have an anti-discrimination policy, and this just highlights that including age is important,” said Ms Groves, describing the bill as non-controversial and predicting it would become law relatively quickly.

General exemptions dealing with the inherent requirements of a particular job and for youth wages would protect employers against unreasonable difficulties. The HREOC also has the power to grant exemptions.

“Youth wages are important both for business development and for creating employment opportunities for young people,” the Federal Attorney General’s department said.

The department said the new bill would complement legislation covering Commonwealth statutory office holders – the Abolition of Compulsory Age Retirement (Statutory Officeholders) Act 2001 – and the Public Service Act 1999.

The Federal Government will also amend the Corporations Act 2001, to abolish a restriction on the appointment or reappointment of public company directors who are 72 years or older.

However, Blake Dawson Waldron has pointed out potential difficulties for some complainants, with the bill requiring age to be the dominant reason for treatment.

BDW representatives pointed out that Federal anti-discrimination law covering disability required that this be only part of the reason.

Further, inherent requirements had not been sufficiently explained, BDW said, and State and Territory legislation did not contain this type of exception.

The recently released Leadership Employment and Direction survey conducted by Quantum Market Research put some questions to participants based on the prediction that half of the Australian working population will be 45 years or older by 2011.

Just over a third of employees reported they were unsure whether or not their leaders were aware of the implications related to this, but almost half of the senior managers surveyed and 62 per cent of business leaders said they were aware of the implications.

More than 40 per cent of employees did not know if any action had been taken, but 12 per cent said their employers had implemented changes to deal with an ageing workforce.

Senior managers and business leaders said they were considering or implementing changes in relation to succession planning, part-time employment, employment of younger people and ongoing training.

Quantum and survey commissioner Leadership Management Australia said: “Curiously, business leaders seem more inclined to imagine retrenchment whilst senior managers would prefer to implement a means of retaining their experience in the organisations.

“Either way, the balance between retention and dissemination of knowledge and management of employee profile looms large.”

Federal anti-discrimination legislation includes the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

The Federal Attorney General’s department said the new bill would “introduce a nationwide complaint-handling, education and awareness-raising regime for age discrimination.

“The development of comprehensive national age discrimination legislation, that protects persons of all ages in a range of areas of public life, puts Australia at the forefront of international initiatives to eliminate age discrimination.”

Ireland, some Canadian provinces, New Zealand and the US have laws containing anti-discrimination provisions with respect to age, and the United Kingdom is in the process of developing age anti-discrimination legislation.

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