5.1. Activities funded by the Attorney-General’s Department
Information relating to discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation is disseminated through the Commissioner’s public speaking engagements and media activities (see section 184.108.40.206) as well as via other activities reported in this report.
5.1.1. Disability-related data capture – revision of Commission categories
The Commission undertook a revision of its disability-related data collection categories in 2019-20. This was in recognition that the categorisation of disabilities as part of the Commission’s enquiries and complaints process was outdated, had other limitations and required reconsideration.
In determining the new categories, the Commission consulted with the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding their current classification system for disability; considered the Commission’s reporting obligations; considered present trends and potential future trends in complaints/enquiries; and aligned the categories so far as possible with the classification of certain types of disability by key texts or peak bodies.
These revised disability categories were implemented by the Attorney-General’s Department ICT Team and will be utilised for the 2020-21 reporting period and beyond. The revised categories are intended to more accurately and usefully capture data to assist in identifying trends and providing a clearer evidence-base on which to base the future work and focus of the Commission in this area.
5.2. Research activities developed in collaboration with other organisations
5.2.1. The University of Adelaide iPhD Program
The University of Adelaide PhD program was established in 2017 as a resource-effective means of furthering the research function of the Commission while influencing and supporting doctorate research in South Australia in relevant areas.
In 2019-20 the Commission continued its PhD program with the University of Adelaide to deliver research into key workplace and cultural equity issues facing South Australia. During this period, the program was brought under the University of Adelaide’s Industry PhD (UAiPhD) stream, formalising the industry component and placement associated with the PhD research for accepted candidates going forward.
The UAiPhD with the Commission includes a stipend scholarship funded by the University for up to four years, as well as an internship component with the Commission. Students with a strong academic record in fields such as psychology, law, economics, social sciences, business or management are eligible for the scholarships. The Commissioner provides academic supervision and guidance in collaboration with the student’s university supervisor.
Scholarships were offered through the University of Adelaide’s regular major round PhD scholarship cycle in September 2019. Six applications were received, with one applicant being considered suitable and shortlisted for interview. This applicant was ultimately unsuccessful following eligibility advice from the University of Adelaide, and so no new PhD students were accepted into the program this reporting year.
The Commission team has reviewed research topics on offer in line with the key areas of work within the Commission, which will be advertised again in the next major round of the PhD scholarship cycle in August/September 2020.
The two successful candidates from the 2018-19 major round continued their research this year into men’s uptake of flexible working arrangements, and best practice for resolving disability discrimination disputes in education where the student’s behaviour is an issue, respectively.
The latter research aims to make recommendations to improve the efficiency of the Commission’s conciliation service and to address knowledge gaps that exist in the literature. The candidate has received high risk ethics clearance from the University of Adelaide and commenced their research in December 2019. The first chapter of the literature review on Alternative Dispute Resolution has been completed, and recruitment emails and letters have been issued to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission, as well as various other statutory and educational bodies, regarding phase one of the research.
The research regarding men’s uptake of flexible working arrangements, and impact thereof on gender equity, seeks to understand barriers and facilitators to men’s flexible work and will provide actionable recommendations to improve the accessibility of flexible work. A series of interviews with organisational leaders has been completed and a second series of interviews with men engaged in flexible work is planned. This candidate’s research has been accepted for presentation at the international Gender, Work & Organization conference in 2021.
5.2.2. University of Adelaide’s Law and Justice Internship Program
In 2019-20 the Commission has continued its partnership with the University of Adelaide in providing placement opportunities to Bachelor of Laws students as part of the university’s Law and Justice Internship Program.
Student interns are able to gain an appreciation for the practical operation of equal opportunity law by undertaking a 22-25 day placement at the Commission, usually part-time over the duration of a semester. Interns are typically final year students who are recommended by the university program coordinator as high-achieving and with a demonstrated passion and interest in public law.
During their internship, students are supported by Commission staff to analyse the impact of law from a policy perspective and in the context of social and cultural diversity.
During their internship the student produces a project proposal, literature review, research, and final report regarding a specified research topic, and presents an overview of this research to the Commission team in their final week. Student interns are also supported to conduct consultations with key stakeholders to inform their research and further develop their professional skills.
In early 2019-20 a student report was completed summarising research into the accessibility of the Commission’s complaint service to First Nations people in South Australia. The research involved consulting with prominent South Australian First Nations leaders, community workers and cultural advisors on issues relating to the Commission’s activities and services.
The report identified a number of barriers for First Nations people in accessing the Commission’s complaint handling process, and made recommendations to improve the accessibility of the Commission’s services. These included by providing information and education to First Nations people with a focus on rural and remote areas, co-designing with community culturally specific and appropriate material, providing educational and informational seminars within targeted areas, establishing a trusted and ongoing presence in the First Nations community by collaborating with trusted leaders and organisations, and altering aspects of the conciliation process to make it more attractive and accessible to First Nations people.
In the second semester of 2019, the Commission hosted a student intern who researched and produced a report on ‘Mitigating the Disadvantages of Conciliation as a Method of Resolving Equal Opportunity Complaints’. This research considered the benefits and disadvantages of conciliation as the dominant method of resolving equal opportunity complaints, and the extent to which conciliators can mitigate these disadvantages. In addition to reviewing the available research, consultations were conducted with conciliators from three equal opportunity commissions operating in different Australian jurisdictions.
The report concluded that the disadvantages of conciliation are deeply intertwined with its benefits, making it difficult for conciliators to mitigate these disadvantages without compromising the qualities that make conciliation a true alternative to the formal adversarial system. However the report found that conciliators are developing a coherent practice that enables them to manage these difficult balancing acts.
The discussion in this report also emphasised the importance of the interplay between conciliation, later parts of the complaint resolution process, and the Commission’s educative, training and research functions in achieving the Act’s imperative of eliminating discrimination. It was concluded that for this system to function effectively, there must be a governmental commitment to adequately resource all of its functions.
In the first semester of 2020, the Commission hosted a student intern who conducted research into assistance animal laws across Australian jurisdictions, and the impacts of the operation of these laws on various stakeholders. As part of this research, 10 key stakeholders from various peak bodies and research institutions, some with lived experience, were consulted, and submissions and case studies were received from a further six people living with disability.
The final report produced identified that the current inconsistencies across jurisdictions have the effect of creating confusion, ultimately undermining the objectives of the relevant laws, and made recommendations to harmonise laws across jurisdictions regarding the definition of an ‘assistance animal’ and the associated accreditation and identification requirements.
In 2020-21 the Commission plans to summarise and fact-check this report with the assistance of the national Assistance Animal Working Group,22 prior to distributing and making the report publically available.
5.2.3. Flinders University ‘Law in a Digital Age’ software application development
In Semester 1 2020, the Commission took part as a collaborating agency for two software applications regarding equal opportunity, developed by students undertaking the ‘Law in a Digital Age’ course at Flinders University.
The Law in a Digital Age course is taught to Bachelor of Laws students at Flinders University, and requires students to undertake research into relevant laws and learn coding to write legal software applications related to access to justice issues.
The Commission core team identified two topics that could be fitting for the development of publically available software applications (apps) and that would further the work of the Commission and create greater efficiency in resource usage.
One application, the ‘Jurisdiction Finder’ app, was developed in collaboration with the Commission’s conciliation team. This app provides the user with information to assist in identifying whether the user’s issue of concern falls within the jurisdiction of the Act. If so, the app provides information to the user on how to make a complaint to the Commission. Where the matter is outside of jurisdiction, the app directs the user to alternative complaint bodies that may have jurisdiction to consider the complaint.
The second app developed in collaboration with the Commission’s policy team, the ‘Access Alert’ app, is aimed at providing a means by which a person with disability can notify a publically accessible venue when they have encountered an access issue. The purpose is two- fold in providing an informal notification to the venue to raise awareness of their obligations under the Act, and to educate people living with disability about their right to make a formal complaint to the Commission.
In the development of the Access Alert app, the Commission collaborated with JFA Purple Orange to arrange a co-design session between the Flinders University students and four people living with diverse disabilities. The vast majority of the co-designer contributions were incorporated into the final design by the students.
The Commission core team and Commissioner attended the end of semester ‘Law in a Digital Age’ online presentation evening on 9 June to view the final applications developed by the students, and subsequently met with the course convenor to finalise a list of adjustments required before the Commission could acquire the apps.23
In order to acquire and host these apps the Commission is required to undertake a number of Government ICT processes at an additional cost. These budget implications will be assessed in 2020-21, and if acquisition is feasible the Commission will proceed with beta testing the apps more broadly in the community.
5.2.4. Pamphlet on assistance animal laws produced with the Dog and Cat Management Board
In 2019-20 the Commission collaborated on a project led by the Dog and Cat Management Board regarding the production of a publication detailing the rights and responsibilities of publically accessible venues and facilities with regard to access for assistance dogs.
This publication outlines the relevant provisions of laws in operation in South Australia, including the Act and the federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The Commission provided advice and input on the obligations and exemptions under the Act, and has made the finalised publication available via its website and promoted it amongst its networks, including via social media. The Commission has insufficient funding to print and distribute this publication in hard copy form.
22 AAWG is made up of representatives from all states and territories and relevant Commonwealth departments, and is focussed on progressing the work on nationally consistent regulations and accreditation of assistance animals.
23 Including ensuring the apps meet Attorney-General’s Department branding and accessibility requirements.