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Strengthening protections for Victorians under the Equal Opportunity Act

Our vision: For the Equal Opportunity Act to protect a wider range of groups vulnerable to discrimination, to minimise the harmful impact of social exclusion and mistreatment.

The problem

The Equal Opportunity Act does not adequately protect volunteers

Volunteers and unpaid workers make a significant contribution to the Victorian community. While they are protected from sexual harassment, volunteers and unpaid workers are not protected from discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act. This sends a harmful message that volunteers and unpaid workers are not as valuable as paid employees.

The Equal Opportunity Act does not protect victims/survivors of family violence

Victims/survivors of family violence are vulnerable to discrimination in employment and housing, which may limit a person’s ability to leave a violent relationship, or could result in homelessness if they do. Women, in particular, are more likely to experience family violence and are at greater risk of unfavourable treatment in employment due to the impacts of family violence.

The Equal Opportunity Act does not protect people with irrelevant criminal records from discrimination

Discrimination on the basis of a person’s irrelevant criminal record can have wide-ranging impacts, including reducing employment opportunities, access to housing and other services, entrenching disadvantage and reinforcing marginalisation. Discrimination also holds back people from reintegrating and fully contributing to society, and can compound existing discrimination, for example, discrimination experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Equal Opportunity Act does not protect homeless people from discrimination

A person’s lack of access to safe and secure housing is often a barrier to full participation in society, including employment, and may limit a person’s access to essential services. This can be compounded by assumptions about a person’s background, character, lifestyle and ability to pay.

Discrimination can be direct (for example, not allowing a person to stay in a hostel who is paying with a charity cheque) or indirect (for example, requiring a person to provide a telephone number or permanent address to access services).

In 2019, one in 57 people in Victoria received homelessness assistance, higher than the national rate (one in 86). Of those seeking assistance 61 per cent were female and 10 per cent identified as Indigenous. This figure is likely to increase significantly due to the medium-term economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis as already vulnerable groups may face additional barriers to employment, services and housing.

The solution

The protections under the Equal Opportunity Act should be expanded to adequately cover volunteers and the new attributes of ‘status of victim/survivor of family violence’, ‘irrelevant criminal record’ and ‘homelessness’.


Work we are doing

In our submission to the Legislative Committee’s Inquiry into a Legislative Spent Convictions Scheme, we advocated for the addition of ‘irrelevant criminal record’ as a new attribute in the Equal Opportunity Act, alongside the establishment of a spent convictions scheme.

We recently briefed the Attorney-General on these reform priorities and will continue to engage with the government and stakeholders.


Related resources

2015 Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence


Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries

1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians and recognises their culture, history, diversity and deep connection to the land.

We acknowledge that the Commission is on the land of the Kulin Nation and pay our respects to Elders past and present.