Wielding the big stick – lessons for enforcing anti-discrimination law from the fair work ombudsman

Anti-discrimination law is enforced by a person who has experienced discrimination by lodging a complaint at a statutory equal opportunity agency. The agency is responsible for receiving and resolving discrimination complaints and educating the community; it does not play a role in enforcing the law. The agency relies on ‘carrots’ to encourage voluntary compliance but it does not wield any ‘sticks’. This is not the case in other areas of law such as industrial relations where the Fair Work Ombudsman is charged with enforcing the law, including the prohibition of discrimination in the workplace, and possesses the necessary powers to do so. British academics, Hepple, Coussey and Choudhury developed an enforcement pyramid for equal opportunity. This article shows that the model used by the Fair Work Ombudsman reflects what Hepple et al propose, while anti-discrimination law enforcement would be represented as a flat, rectangular structure. The article considers the Fair Work Ombudsman’s discrimination enforcement work to date and identifies some lessons anti-discrimination law enforcement can learn from its experience.


Dominique Allen is a Senior Lecturer, School of Law, at Deakin University.

Publish Date: 
November, 2015
Publication title: 
AJHR 21-1
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