Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (13 March) . . Page.. 1076 ..
As a consequence of introducing these new inclusive definitions, the definition of marital status in the Discrimination Act has been replaced by the new term relationship status. That is inclusive of a range of domestic partnerships other than marriage. Again, this is in no way intended to detract from the value of marriage as a social and legal institution-it merely reflects more accurately and equitably the range of relationships in today's community.
The bill also extends the definition of impairment in the Discrimination Act, in order to protect people against discrimination on the ground of possible future impairment. This is a topical issue, as advances in medical science-particularly in the area of genetic information-make it possible to determine that some people have a greater likelihood of developing an impairment than others. This opens up a new potential for discrimination. The government wants to ensure that science does not get too far ahead of the law in this area.
Discrimination law is a way of balancing the rights of particular groups to access work, education and services. Where it conflicts with the interests of others in the community, who may be put to expense and inconvenience in the process, this bill removes an anomaly in the Discrimination Act to allow employers to terminate the employment of a person with an impairment on the same basis upon which they could refuse to employ the person.
The bill amends section 49 so that, if an employee develops an impairment that requires special facilities or services to allow him or her to continue to do the job, and providing those facilities or services would cause the employer unjustifiable hardship, then the employee can be dismissed without unlawful discrimination. In other words, an employer will be able to terminate the employment of a person if the person's impairment is such that, if he or she had not already been employed, the employer could have refused to employ him or her.
This brings the ACT legislation into line with equivalent provisions in the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act and removes an unreasonable burden that occasionally falls on employers when an employee develops a serious impairment. The bill also improves the effectiveness of the Discrimination Act by strengthening the agreements conciliated under the act. They will be able to be filed in the Discrimination Tribunal registry and enforced as if they were orders of the tribunal.
In conclusion, the amendments in this bill, together with the new definitions inserted by the Legislation (Gay, Lesbian and Transgender) Amendment Act, fulfil this government's commitment to regular review of discrimination legislation to ensure optimum protection from unfair discrimination for people in the ACT.
As I said before, Mr Speaker, this is exceedingly important legislation. A significant package of legislation has been passed today. It is important because of the changes that have been made and the practical impact those changes will have on the administration of law, in a raft of circumstances and situations. It is also important for its symbolism as a further step forward by this community, in being inclusive, in standing against discrimination, and being prepared to stand up for what is right.