Power to Prevent Coalition

Power to Prevent Joint Statement - December 2023

The Power to Prevent Coalition welcomes proposed changes to an equal costs model as a step forward for discrimination law across the board and for access to justice for victim-survivors of sexual harassment.

This reform is a first for Australia in discrimination law. Once passed, people will be able to bring claims without the huge risk of having to pay the legal costs of the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s employer, should they lose. It also means that people who bring successful sexual harassment or discrimination claims will have their legal costs covered.

The Cost Protection Bill has been referred to an inquiry with submissions due by 9 January 2024. It is a great opportunity to make a final push for the benefits of this legislation with the broad coalition backing an equal costs model.

Download the December 2023 Power to Prevent Joint Statement

Power to Prevent Joint Statement - March 2023

Time for equal access in discrimination claims

We all deserve to be safe at work and free from discrimination and sexual harassment. While sexual harassment is pervasive across all industries and all employment levels in Australia, it is not inevitable. The Australian Government has the power to prevent discrimination and sexual harassment by adopting an equal access costs model to ensure that people who are harmed can access justice and achieve fair outcomes.

A major barrier to justice for people who have experienced discrimination and sexual harassment is the risk of having to pay the legal costs of the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s employer should they lose. Equally, they must be able to recover their own legal costs if they win to ensure that they are not left out of pocket, and that legal representation is financially viable and accessible.

These risks stop people from pursuing their rights. This is especially true for diverse and disproportionately affected communities, for people who are low paid and in insecure work, and when people are up against an organisation with large resources such as many employers.

The rules for awarding costs in discrimination matters have a significant impact on access to justice as legal costs can be hundreds of thousands of dollars and many people do not bring claims for fear that they could have to pay the other side’s costs if they lose. This means people do not enforce their rights and claims are rarely aired in court. This allows discrimination and sexual harassment to flourish.

The Power to Prevent Coalition is a group of more than 60 diverse community organisations, unions, academics, peak bodies, health professionals, lawyers and victim-survivors. We see the effects of discrimination and sexual harassment on people every day. Our recommendations to improve the law are based on this direct experience.

This is why we are calling on the Australian Government to adopt an Equal Access costs model for all discrimination matters. This would allow people who experience discrimination and sexual harassment to recover their legal costs if successful. If unsuccessful, they would not be required to pay the other side’s costs, with some limited exceptions such as for vexatious litigation. This model is similar to costs protections already available in whistleblowing law. Adopting this model would mean that people do not face a lifetime of debt simply for enforcing their rights.

Equal Access means:

  • People who experience the highest rates of discrimination and sexual harassment are supported to come forward without the risk of becoming bankrupt or having a huge debt simply for enforcing their rights.
  • People who have experienced discrimination and sexual harassment can access legal
  • There will likely be more case law that sends the message that this behaviour is unacceptable, and will allow damages awards to better reflect community standards.
  • We can ensure the new protections in the Sex Discrimination Act are upheld to better eliminate and prevent gender based discrimination.

We can prevent and eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination but to do this we must remove barriers to accessing justice and support people who experience discrimination and sexual harassment to take action.

It’s time for Australia to adopt Equal Access for discrimination claims.

List of Signatories

  1. Accountability Matters Project
  2. Associate Professor Alysia Blackham, University of Melbourne
  3. Australian Centre for Disability Law
  4. Australian Council of Trade Unions
  5. Australian Education Union
  6. Australian Lawyers Alliance
  7. Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU)
  8. Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation
  9. Australian Women Lawyers Ltd
  10. Australian Workers Union
  11. Carol Andrades, Senior Fellow, University of Melbourne
  12. Caxton Legal Centre
  13. Circle Green Community Legal
  14. Community and Public Sector Union (PSU Group)
  15. Community Legal Centres Australia
  16. Community Legal Centres NSW
  17. Domestic Violence NSW
  18. Dr Belinda Smith, Associate Professor, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney
  19. Dr Laura Hilly, Barrister, Victorian Bar
  20. Dr Robin Banks, University of Tasmania and Director, Equality Building
  21. Drummond Street Services
  22. Electrical Trades Union of Australia
  23. Emerita Professor, Margaret Thornton, Australian National University
  24. Employment Rights Legal Service
  25. Equality Rights Alliance
  26. Fair Agenda
  27. Finance Sector Union
  28. Gender Equity Victoria
  29. Grata Fund
  30. Hall Payne Lawyers
  31. Health Services Union
  32. Independent Education Union of Australia
  33. Inner City Legal Centre
  34. Jen Hargrave, University of Melbourne
  35. Justice Connect
  36. Katherine Women’s Information & Legal Service
  37. Kieran Pender, Honorary Lecturer, ANU College of Law)
  38. Kingsford Legal Centre
  39. Leah Marrone, Barrister, Flinders Chambers
  40. Legal Aid NSW
  41. Liam Elphick, Monash University
  42. Mackay Regional Community Legal Centre
  43. Maurice Blackburn Lawyers
  44. Migrant Justice Institute
  45. National Legal Aid
  46. Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission
  47. Professor Beth Gaze, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne
  48. Professor Michelle Ryan, Australian National University and Director, Global Institute for Women's Leadership
  49. Professor Nareen Young, Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research
  50. Professor Sara Charlesworth, Director of the Centre for People, Organisation & Work, RMIT
  51. Public Interest Advocacy Centre
  52. Redfern Legal Centre
  53. Sexual Assault Services Victoria
  54. Sexual Assault Support Service
  55. Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA)
  56. South-East Monash Legal Service
  57. Top End Women’s Legal Service
  58. Unions NSW
  59. Unions NT
  60. Unions Tasmania
  61. United Workers Union
  62. Victoria Legal Aid
  63. Victoria Trades Hall Council
  64. Villamanta Disability Right Legal Service
  65. Western NSW Community Legal Centre
  66. WestJustice
  67. Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre
  68. Women Lawyers Association of NSW
  69. Women with Disabilities Victoria
  70. Women’s Health Victoria
  71. Women’s Information and Referral Exchange Inc
  72. Women’s Legal Centre ACT & Region
  73. Women’s Legal Services Australia
  74. Women’s Legal Service NSW
  75. Women’s Legal Service Victoria
  76. Working Women Queensland – Basic Rights Queensland
  77. Working Women’s Centre South Australia Inc
  78. Young Workers Centre
  79. Youth Law Australia

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