This was a year of unprecedented changes for Anti-Discrimination NSW (ADNSW). We spent the first six months of 2019-20 applying the finishing touches to the organisational restructure which had dominated most of 2018-19. The second half of the year was focused on overcoming the operational hurdles caused by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health measures to contain it. Through the day to day leadership of the Executive Manager, Elizabeth Wing and the management team, with the strategic advice and support of the Board, those challenges became opportunities for productive and innovative change across our service delivery.
The restructure was a key milestone for ADNSW, as it established a more collaborative, proactive and strategic approach to service delivery and community engagement while leveraging our existing strengths and partnerships. I strongly believe that our achievements in the last six months were enabled by the success of the organisational restructure, which better positioned ADNSW to adapt to the changing environment of the pandemic while still providing a high standard of services to the diverse communities of NSW.
Following the creation of the new Governance and Advice team, the Regional Services team and Community Engagement team, recruitment became one of our key priorities during the first half of 2019-20. The Board and I were excited to welcome our new recruits, each bringing a broad range of skills, diverse lived and professional experiences and unique perspectives to complement our existing cohort of passionate, highly skilled and professional staff.
The Board and I were also delighted to welcome a new board member, Joanna Davidson, a distinguished barrister specialising in public law. In the latter half of 2019-20, I was also pleased to announce the reappointment of our sitting board members Melissa Monteiro, Dr Patricia Azarias and Trevor Robertson for another term. Each has demonstrated passion for, and commitment to, the work of ADNSW. I look forward to continuing our work together and I take this opportunity to express my personal gratitude to my board colleagues for their ongoing guidance and support.
In March, our office doors closed and our face to face services were either modified or postponed in response to the COVID-19 restrictions. While we were operating at reduced service levels, facing IT challenges of working remotely and adapting to the new normal, our enquiries and complaint handling services remained in high demand. At all times, our enquiries officers worked tirelessly to ensure that each person who contacted us for information was well informed about anti-discrimination law and their rights. Despite our face to face conciliation conferences being put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic, our experienced conciliators continued to assess and investigate complaints and conducted shuttle negotiations before telephone conferencing was re-introduced.
The continued support of the Department of Communities and Justice, for which we are very much grateful, has been invaluable in providing ADNSW with the resources to help us achieve our organisational goals and deliver our important work to the people of NSW during unprecedented times.
ADNSW was fortunate to be one of the first to receive the Department’s Windows 10 rollout. The new laptops, accompanied by reliable IT support, training and consistent video conferencing capabilities enabled our staff to improve our service delivery, trial video conciliation conferences and to engage with the community. The opportunity for video conferencing, along with telephone conferencing, has allowed more people to participate in the complaint handling process in a variety of ways without the need to travel — one of the many silver linings of the pandemic.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of unprecedented stakeholder engagement via video conferencing. Our community engagement team were quick to take advantage of these strategic opportunities to engage with existing partners and stakeholders as well as to grow our network. In addition, our community engagement officers continued to deliver online antidiscrimination information sessions, took part in panels and collaborated with state government and local councils to run several online events.
During the organisational restructure, we also pivoted towards a more proactive and strategic communications and marketing approach in order to broaden our reach, build our reputation and raise our profile on par with our interstate counterparts and federal agencies. In 2019-20, I used my role and platform as President to take a strong public stance against injustices, speak up about social issues and raise awareness about discrimination and its impacts, as well as to promote the important work of ADNSW.
In February this year, an Inquiry into the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Complaint Handling) Bill 2020 was established to consider the Bill’s proposed changes to the AntiDiscrimination Act 1977. With the support of our Governance and Advice team, I addressed the Parliamentary Committee as part of the inquiry’s public hearings to express my views and my concerns about the proposed changes to the Act. ADNSW also made a further submission to the inquiry into the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020, which aims to make discrimination based on a person’s religious beliefs or activities unlawful.
Looking ahead, there are exciting things on the horizon for ADNSW. We will continue work on our website redevelopment project, which will enable our digital transformation towards a more accessible and user-friendly website. We are also pursuing a partnership in an academic research project, the details of which will be announced later in the year.
As we continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future, the Department is co-ordinating COVID-Safe workplace safety plans across the entire cluster with some measures already in place. Elizabeth, with the assistance of the Business Support team and the managers, is continuing to implement the necessary safety measures for our eventual return to the office.
It is without a doubt that the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the important work we do. There is still a lot of work to be done but, with the dedication of my team, I am positive about the future and the continuing progress that we can achieve. Finally, I want to thank Elizabeth, the managers and staff — to each and every one of my coworkers for their hard work, resilience and flexibility during unprecedented times and their unwavering commitment to eliminating discrimination — thank you!
The Honourable Dr Annabelle Bennett, AC SC
02 Dec 2022
We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the ongoing connection Aboriginal people have to this land and recognise Aboriginal people as the original custodians of this land.