Discrimination Bill Could Cost Construction Industry $3.2 Billion

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A leading building and construction industry group has slammed the Federal Government’s new Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill, calling it significantly more confusing than existing legislation and claiming it would cost the industry up to $3.2 billion in compliance.

Richard Calver, legal counsel and acting chief executive officer for Master Builders Australia says there is ‘no upside’ to the Bill in its current form and has called on the government to reconsider the entire drafting of the legislation.

Calver says while the intention of the Bill – to consolidate five acts into one and simplify the legislation – is fair enough, its actual wording is such that it would achieve the exact opposite.

Furthermore, based on figures from the Government’s Regulatory Impact Statement, which indicates businesses may need to invest between $3,000 and $25,000 on policy updates and staff training, Calver puts the total compliance cost of the Bill across the construction industry at between $600 million and $3.2 billion.

“As it stands, there is no upside to implementing the Bill. It is more confusing that the existing laws and could cost billions to comply with. Its basic drafting should be reconsidered,” Calver says. “There are numerous compliance implications for business because the Bill creates a new definition of discrimination and reverses the burden of proof during the complaints process.

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He adds that if the bill is enacted, it will place a burden on businesses, who will be forced to update existing policies or create new ones that outline acceptable behaviour when it comes to relationships with everyone from clients to colleagues to the public at large.

“To avoid an increase in disputes under the new Bill, if it is brought into effect, businesses would need to invest to update company policies, train staff and complete due diligence processes,” he says.

Introduced into Parliament last year, the new Bill aims to simplify the current anti-discrimination regime by converging five Acts into one.

In addition, the Bill:

  • Expands the lists of grounds upon which discrimination in employment is unlawful to include industrial history, religion, political opinion and social origin, nationality or citizenship and medical history
  • Shifts the burden of proof to ensure that the party in the best person to know the facts (the reason for the discrimination) is required to show them
  • Aims to provide more certainty to business by allowing organisation to seek certification for compliance codes, temporary exemption and special measure determinations.

While the desire to simplify legislation has won broad support, business groups have raised concern that the Bill as it stands will lead to greater uncertainty and compliance costs.

 By Andrew Heaton
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