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Federal discrimination laws are ‘falling short’ according to Australian Human Rights Commission 

THE Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has proposed 38 recommendations to reform Australia’s federal discrimination law system, part of the Free and Equal project which launched December 10, 2021. 

Free and Equal: An Australian Conversation on Human Rights began in 2020 as an extensive consultation process that invited parliament, government, and community members to identify qualities of an effective human rights system. 

Part of this process was addressing limitations and barriers to human rights protections and considering principles that could reform these.    

Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM said the National Conversation addressed weak spots in Australia’s discrimination laws. 

“I wanted to be ambitious in setting targets to address inequality where it exists,” she said. 

“To reimagine our system of protection so that we can provide everyone with the opportunity to be the best they can be.” 

According to the AHRC, Australia’s discrimination laws are outdated.  

“Some of these laws have remained substantially untouched since being introduced over 30 and 40 years ago,” President Croucher said. 

The commission highlighted the challenge of safeguarding individuals from complex and relatively new forms of discrimination like algorithm bias. 

Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow defines algorithm bias as “a kind of error associated with the use of artificial intelligence in decision making.” 

“Algorithm bias can cause real harm, he said. 

It can lead to a person being unfairly treated, or even suffering unlawful discrimination on the basis of characteristics such as their race, age, sex or disability.” 

Pioneering research into algorithm bias is Joy Adowaa Bulamwini, a computer scientist and digital activist who founded the Algorithmic Justice League in Boston, Massachusetts. 

The ‘coded gaze’ is a term coined by Ms Bulamiwini to describe algorithm bias as a reflection of the priorities, preferences, and prejudices of those who have the power to shape digital platforms. 

Ms Joy Buolamwini’s TED Talk on Algorithm Bias. SOURCE: Youtube/ @TED

With these findings, the AHRC is finalising an updated Federal Human Rights Act which has been reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. 

The Act will address current limitations in Australia’s discrimination laws and implement human rights protections that are relevant to modern-day discrimination experiences. 

President Croucher aims to modernise Australia’s current discrimination law system, to better protect individuals from algorithm bias, and other forms of discrimination. 

“Put simply, Australia’s discrimination laws are falling short, and the need for reform is pressing,” she said. 

“They are outdated, difficult to use and do not respond to the challenges of modern life.”

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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