This was a year of change for Anti-Discrimination NSW (ADNSW). During the first few months of 2021-22 we completed implementation of our digital strategy – our new website and complaints management system went live in July 2021, and in November 2021 we launched webform integration for enquiries and complaints.
The second half of the year brought leadership change and a move to new premises. I was appointed President of the Board in February 2022, succeeding Dr Annabelle Bennett, who stepped down in November 2021. Mia Zahra was appointed Executive Manager in May 2022 following the resignation of Elizabeth Wing in February 2022. In June 2022, ADNSW vacated its separate premises in Parramatta and moved to shared office space at 6 Parramatta Square.
Throughout the year, notwithstanding ongoing COVID-19 related challenges, ADNSW continued to deliver high-quality services in our core functions of answering enquiries, resolving complaints, including through conciliation, raising awareness about the impacts of discrimination, and determining applications for exemptions from the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (the Act).
I would like to formally acknowledge the significant contributions to ADNSW made by my predecessor Dr Annabelle Bennett, who served as President for more than four years; Elizabeth Wing who held various positions during her nearly 20 years of service, including, most recently, Executive Manager; and Dr Patricia Azarias, who stepped down from the Board in February 2022 after serving as a Board member for four and a half years.
In May, the Board and I were delighted to welcome Mia Zahra as our new Executive Manager. Mia has quickly settled into the role and is providing strong support to the Board and effective leadership of the staff and management of daily operations.
The positive experiences of staff working from home during the pandemic and the successful implementation of online services, including virtual conciliations and meetings, created an opportunity to review our premises requirements which resulted in the decision to relocate and share office space with the Department of Communities and Justice. Under Mia’s leadership, the relocation was achieved with minimal disruption to operations. Staff now enjoy a hybrid model of working, with a blend of in-office and remote working. Protocols and procedures have been put in place to satisfy client confidentiality and secrecy obligations.
This year, we entered into an information sharing and complaint referral agreement with the NSW Ombudsman which helps to ensure that there is no ‘wrong door’ for clients, and that complaints can be investigated or otherwise resolved in the most effective manner.
Our enquiry service continues to assist individuals who are dealing with discrimination issues, as well as employers and service providers seeking information about anti-discrimination law. In 2021-22 we answered 2,862 enquiries, up from 2,698 in the last reporting period. Disability discrimination remains the most common type of discrimination enquiry, followed by race discrimination. This year we experienced a marked increase in COVID-19-related enquiries. We responded to 867 enquiries relating to COVID-19, which represents 30.3% of all enquiries.
Discrimination complaints increased this year, with 1,626 complaints received, compared to 1,109 last year. Disability and race discrimination were the most frequent grounds of complaint, followed by sex discrimination. Employment continues to be the most common public area of complaint across all the types of discrimination covered by the Act.
During 2021-22 we received 609 COVID-19-related complaints (37.5% of all complaints received); 142 about mask wearing, 312 about vaccination requirements and 155 about other COVID-19-related issues. Some mask complaints were resolved by ADNSW however many vaccination complaints were declined. Vaccination status is not covered under the Act and many complainants were not able to support their claims of presumed disability discrimination.
We aim to provide an effective and efficient complaint handling service. We finalised 1,572 complaints (96%) within 12 months of receipt, exceeding the target of 85%. The average time taken to finalise a complaint was just over four months, faster than last year at just under five months.
This year, we continued our work in identified priority areas for community engagement including disability, multicultural, youth and LGBTQ+. The community engagement team attended meetings, community events and delivered presentations through face-to-face engagement and via video. We engaged with the community at 192 events, including meetings, presentations and webinars.
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team continued its activities in 2021-22, mainly delivered via video conferencing and teleconferencing. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we participated in the Koori COVID-19 Support Group, where we shared information and support with our stakeholders. We also participated in two Good Service Mob forums held online this year.
Social media continues to be an integral part of our communications strategy. In 2021-22 we reached more than 113,000 people and achieved a 14.3% increase in followers across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Our social media posts have enabled us to connect with communities on topical issues, communicate important information during the COVID-19 pandemic, and raise awareness about discrimination, the law and our services.
This year, we launched our new website along with a new URL – antidiscrimination.nsw.gov.au. The new website, featuring a fresh look and feel, easy navigation and improved accessibility, went live in July 2021. The launch of the new website attracted interest from culturally and linguistically diverse media outlets and received coverage across Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian publications, as well as coverage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media.
Also launched in July 2021 was our new Resolve complaints management system. The new system has allowed us to streamline our enquiry and complaint services and better serve our clients. In November 2021 we launched Stage 2 of this project – webforms to allow online enquiries and complaints to be integrated into our complaints management system. The availability of online enquiry and complaint forms has reduced the volume of data entry work for ADNSW staff.
In March 2022 we implemented OneTRIM, a new digital records management system for ADNSW. The OneTRIM project was a significant program of works which delivered a streamlined and consolidated electronic document and records management system.
This year we received 75 applications for exemptions under section 126 of the Act. The exemptions sought were generally related to employment and recruitment, for example, targeted jobs or recruitment programs for a particular group already protected by the Act. Each exemption must be individually assessed against the statutory requirements which is a time-consuming and inefficient process. Moving forward, we will consider available options to streamline the exemption review process to improve efficiency.
Certification is an approval granted by the NSW Attorney General under section 126A of the Act, certifying special needs programs, activities or facilities that promote access for certain groups of people affected by unlawful discrimination. During 2021-22, there were two applications for certification under section 126A.
During the year, ADNSW considered the impact of proposed laws, and made submissions and provided input on various issues, including the:
ADNSW is a member of the Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies (ACHRA) and actively participates in the work undertaken by ACHRA. This year, this has included providing feedback on various state and federal policy initiatives, such as the Respect@Work Report. Planning is also underway for our participation in the Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference that will be held in Sydney in March 2023.
Looking ahead, there are exciting things on the horizon for ADNSW. We will examine how we can support current policy priorities and legislative changes, including the Respect@Work Report; we will work with the Disability Royal Commission in providing protections to people with disability; and we will review and refresh our 2021-24 Strategic Plan.
I would like to thank the Attorney General for his support and encouragement, my Board members for their enthusiasm, dedication and support, and all of the staff of ADNSW for their hard work and ongoing commitment to the elimination of discrimination. My thanks also go to Executive Manager Mia Zahra for her enthusiastic and positive leadership and her unfailing support.
07 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.