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Media Contacts

Commission – General

About the Commission


  • What is unlawful discrimination? Who decides what is discrimination?

    In Australia, it is unlawful to discriminate against people on the basis of their race, sex, age, disability, marital status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and a number of other protected attributes in certain areas of public life. Federal, state and territory parliaments make laws that outline what constitutes unlawful discrimination.

    There are four federal anti-discrimination Acts (see 'Legislation' above). These Acts make discrimination unlawful in certain areas of public life, including employment, education, the provision of goods and services, accommodation, and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

  • What is lawful/positive discrimination?

    Discrimination is not always unlawful. ‘Positive’ discrimination is lawful when defined by federal anti-discrimination Acts which allow for ‘special measures’ that aim to achieve equality by supporting groups of people who have faced entrenched discrimination. More information here.

  • Can the Commission tell me if something is unlawful discrimination?

    The Commission and its Commissioners are frequently asked to comment on a proposed piece of legislation, or a government or private sector policy, and asked for their opinion on whether it is discriminatory.

    The Commission frequently makes submissions on proposed legislation and you can find these on our website here. We do not generally comment until we have had the chance to review the legislation.

    The Commission can provide general advice on how federal anti-discrimination law might apply in a particular situation. However, we cannot comment on whether an individual case or conduct is lawful or unlawful.

  • Illegal vs unlawful

    Illegal conduct and unlawful conduct are both prohibited by law, but illegal conduct is a breach of criminal law while unlawful conduct is a breach of civil law. Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are civil laws, so it is correct to describe an act of discrimination as unlawful, rather than illegal.


Complaints and Conciliation

  • What is the difference between an enquiry and a complaint?

    Anyone can make an enquiry to the Commission if they think they have faced discrimination or would like to know more about their rights and responsibilities under federal human rights and anti-discrimination law. Some of these enquiries will progress to become complaints, but not all will. For example, in the year 2019-2020, the Commission received 12,554 enquiries and 2,307 complaints, and in the year 2020-2021, the Commission assisted 15,746 enquiries and accepted 3,113 complaints about discrimination and breaches of human rights.

    The Commission accepts a complaint if it meets the threshold set out in section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, including that it is reasonably arguable that the alleged conduct constitutes unlawful discrimination.

  • What happens when someone complains to the Commission?

    Investigating and conciliating complaints is one of the Commission’s chief functions, and is managed by a dedicated conciliation team. Commissioners are not involved in the process. Access to the Commission’s complaints service is free of charge.

    The majority of complaints that reach the conciliation process are successfully resolved (in 2019-2020, 70% of conciliations were successfully resolved). Complaints that are unable to be conciliated may proceed to the Federal Court.

    More information about the Commission’s complaints process is available here.

  • About the conciliation process

    Many of the thousands of unlawful discrimination complaints the Commission receives every year are resolved through conciliation.

    Through our free conciliation service, the Commission acts as an impartial third party facilitating the discussion of a dispute between a complainant and a respondent with the aim of reaching a mutual agreement. This process allows many unlawful discrimination disputes to be resolved out of court, saving time and money for complainants, respondents, and the Australian judicial system.

    During the conciliation process, both parties may propose outcomes to resolve the complaint. In accordance with alternative dispute resolution practice, the Commission’s role is to facilitate discussions of any proposed outcomes with the aim of assisting the parties to reach a mutual agreement.

    When a complaint cannot be resolved and is not otherwise discontinued, the Commission must terminate the complaint and is required by law to issue a Notice of Termination. This finalises the Commission’s involvement in the dispute.

    The Notice of Termination is required by the courts in the event that a complainant decides to apply to have their matter heard in the Federal Court of Australia or Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. The Commission does not refer complaints to court and is not involved in applications made to court by complainants.

    The Commission’s conciliation service is an essential function of the Commission, and has a very high satisfaction rating from both complainants and respondents. In 2020-2021, the Commission had a 96% satisfaction rating from participants in conciliated complaints. More information about the Commission’s complaints and conciliation service is available at

  • What can a complaint be made about?

    Complaints to the Commission can be made about matters that fall under the following human rights and anti-discrimination legislation:

    • the Disability Discrimination Act 1992,
    • the Sex Discrimination Act 1984,
    • the Age Discrimination Act 2004,
    • the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and
    • the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
  • Can I find out more information about a complaint before the Commission?

    The Commission does not release information about individual complaints. Complaints to the Commission are confidential to protect the privacy of all parties involved, and to avoid interfering with due process if the complaint is unable to reach conciliation and proceeds to the Federal Court.

    The Commission’s Conciliation Register provides summaries of resolved complaints with details de-identified. These can be used as illustrative examples of the nature of complaints conciliated by the Commission.

  • Where can I find information on how many complaints are made to the Commission/about different topics?

    The Commission publishes annual complaints statistics, including numbers of complaints made under each Act.

    The Commission counts complaints by complainants. Discrimination is sometimes intersectional, covering a number of grounds, and, therefore, complaints to the Commission may be made under more than one anti-discrimination Act. For example, a complaint alleging workplace discrimination may be made under both the Disability Discrimination Act and Race Discrimination Act. While this would be counted as one complaint, two grounds for complaint would be recorded.

    The Commission’s media team is available to clarify any questions regarding the Commission’s complaints reports and statistics.

    You can find links to the past five annual Commission complaints statistics reports below.

  • Can the Commission share a complaint case study?

    The Commission is unable to provide case studies to the media. However, our Conciliation Register (see above) may be useful.

  • Someone complained to the Commission and you aren’t investigating it. Why not?

    The Commission’s powers to investigate a complaint are determined by legislation.

    There are a number of reasons why a person may make an enquiry or complaint to the Commission that is not investigated, for example:

    • It was not a matter falling within federal anti-discrimination legislation
    • It was not in an area of ‘public life’
    • It was not made to the Commission, but should be made to a state or territory commission