Table 1 provides an overview of the allocations provided by the Attorney-General’s Department to fund the work of the Commission for the financial year 2009-10 and from 2016-17 to this financial year. Projections of future allocations up until 2022-23 are also outlined.
As Figure 1 shows, in the 10 years between 2009-10 and 2019-20, there has been a 54.5% decrease in funding to the Commission.
In that same period, the remit of the Commission’s work, as per the grounds and areas covered by the Act have increased. The expansion of areas covered by the Act are reflective of changing social attitudes on issues such as breastfeeding in public, the inclusion of mental illness and learning difficulties in the definition of disability, and concerns around discrimination on the basis of religious dress or caring responsibilities, among other grounds.5
In 2019-20, core funding provided for 5.6 full time equivalent (FTE) Commission staff, including the Commissioner (see Fig. 2 and Table 2). This is down from 6.9 FTE in 2018-19. In 2009-10, the Commission was funded for 20.26 FTE staff.
Note: The above represents the positions funded through the Commission’s core budget, allocated by the Attorney-General’s Department. Additional contract positions within the Commission are funded through fee-for-service consulting activity.
3.2. Executive employment in the Commission
None – the Commissioner is a statutory appointment.
3.3. Risks associated with the decline in funding for the Commission
It is the unwavering view of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity that the current funding allocated to the Commission is insufficient to adequately administer the functions under the Act and meet the objectives of the legislation.
At present there is overreliance on an extremely industrious and high-performing small team, driven by a passionate sense of responsibility to uphold the ideals of the legislation. This situation is not sustainable or desirable from a risk-mitigation perspective.
In introducing the Equal Opportunity Bill in 1984, the Hon Greg Crafter MP, then Minister of Community Welfare, outlined that the intention of the legislation was to give ‘each and every person a basis on which they can live their life in dignity and in equality and with the respect that is due to every single person in the community’.7
In debating the Equal Opportunity Bill in 1984, all sides of politics were in agreement about the intention of the Act to bring about change in attitudes and behaviour, and that the educative function of the Commission was therefore of paramount importance. The Bill, originally introduced as the Anti-Discrimination Bill, was renamed to emphasise the Commission’s major objective in providing education and promoting equal opportunity. It was argued that change in behaviour would come only with change in attitudes,8 and hence the provision of adequate resources to the Commission was deemed necessary to ensure its capacity to fulfil its functions and responsibilities to the community.9
While community attitudes on the issue of discrimination have come some way since 1984, the anecdotal evidence and consistency of complaints and enquiries received by the Commission illustrate that the ‘injustices stemming from prejudices’10 that drove Parliament to enact the Act in 1984 continue today.
The reduction of funding over the past decade has severely reduced the capacity and potential impact of the Commission in the South Australian community. There are a number of risks associated with this, including but not limited to the following.
1. Delivery of legislative objectives in the South Australian community:
- Possibility of further exclusion of minority groups in the community owing to the lack of capacity within the Commission to undertake proactive functions regarding all attributes protected under the Act.
- Risk of perceived ‘ranking’ of certain protected attributes above others, contrary to the intentions of the Legislature in passing the Act.
- Reduction in relevance and observance of equal opportunity laws in the community if administration of the Act is seen to be of low importance to the State Government.
- Missed opportunities for the Commission to make recommendations for legislative and policy reforms at both state and national levels to further the objectives of the Act.
- Ongoing lack of capacity within the Commission to develop and disseminate educational materials, including practice guidance, on matters relating to the Act.
- Ongoing missed opportunities to engage with requests from school students about Commission functions and objectives, to help inform the younger generation of South Australian community members.
2. Service delivery:
- A reversal of the substantial service delivery efficiencies delivered over the last three years and a return to long delays in responding to public enquiries and processing complaints.
- Reduced rate of successful conciliations due to time delays in complaint handling. This may mean a greater number of matters referred to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT).
- Ongoing lack of capacity to respond to data and policy enquiries and requests from the community and government agencies.
- Lack of capacity to undertake a much-needed data project to enhance reporting capabilities by developing new methods and metrics.
- Complaints about the Commission’s services
- Inability to fulfil existing work requirements during periods of unplanned staff leave.
3. Staff wellbeing and advancement:
- Reduced morale and heightened risk of staff burnout or turnover where community expectations of service provision and support cannot be met, in spite of increased system efficiencies implemented in recent years.
- Lack of career and professional development opportunities for Commission staff.
7 South Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Assembly, 4 December 1984, 2079 (Greg Crafter, [former] Minister of Community Welfare).
8 South Australia, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Council, 23 October 1984, 1316 (Barbara Wiese).
9 South Australia, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Council, 17 October 1984, 1181 (Diana Laidlaw).
10 In her second reading speech in support of the Act, Diana Laidlaw AM stated, ‘How satisfying it would be if we could say with conviction and pride that members of our society do not encounter injustices that stem from prejudices, and how satisfying it would be if we could demonstrate that we do not blindly squander the creativity, energy, experience, talents and training of any sector of our community by the placement of artificial barriers in the way of a person’s development. However, to entertain such thoughts is wishful thinking. The fact is that we do not live in an ideal world and injustices do occur and artificial barriers are in place.’ South Australia, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Council, 17 October 1984, 1176.