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How Can I Make a Complain to an External Agency?

1. Under anti-discrimination laws:

Who do I make a complaint to?

In Victoria, you can make a complaint of unlawful discrimination to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) or the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (previously known as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission).

These agencies are responsible for receiving, investigating and conciliating discrimination complaints made under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 respectively.

Before making a complaint, you need to decide to which agency you will make your complaint, as you cannot complain to both.

You should think about this decision carefully, and make sure you get legal advice as to which agency is the most appropriate. The complaints procedures are quite different depending on whether you are using federal or state law, so you should be aware of the differences before making your decision.

Who can make a complaint?

You can make your complaint directly to the VEOHRC or AHRC.

If you are unable to make a complaint yourself because of your disability or health condition, another person can make the complaint on your behalf.

You can also make a complaint jointly with another person.

You may wish to seek advice before you make a complaint to ensure that you have a valid case of unlawful discrimination. People with disabilities are sometimes treated very poorly. However, poor treatment is not necessarily unlawful discrimination.

To find a community legal centre that specialises in free legal advice and support for people with disability discrimination matters, see ‘Where Do I Get More Information?’.

What are the steps to making a complaint?

Below is a list of the steps you can follow to lodge your complaint. Both the VEOHRC and AHRC have brochures that explain their complaints process and how to make a complaint. The brochures can be obtained from the agencies themselves or downloaded from their websites.

The two agencies have similar complaints procedures.

Step 1. You must lodge a written complaint

Your complaint must be in writing, and lodged with the VEOHRC or AHRC by hand, facsimile, email or post. Both agencies have complaints officers who can give you free and confidential advice about your complaint in person or over the phone. They can also help you put together your complaint. Free interpreters can also be provided.

There is no charge for lodging a complaint.

In your written complaint, you should state

  • why you think you have been discriminated against
  • what happened, and when and where it happened
  • what effect the discrimination had on you
  • what you are seeking as redress for the discrimination.

Examples of redress include a letter of apology from your employer, a commitment by your employer to improve equal opportunity training, or compensation for pain and suffering.

You must sign the complaint.

Generally, your complaint must be lodged within 12 months of the event or behaviour that led to the complaint. If you do not to lodge the complaint within 12 months, your complaint may be rejected unless you can show that the discrimination was continuing or there was some undue hardship (reason) that prevented you from lodging the complaint within the required time.

Step 2. Your complaint will be reviewed

When the VEOHRC or AHRC have received your complaint, they will notify the other party in writing and give them an opportunity to respond to the complaint. You may be required to provide further details of your complaint. Your complaint will then be reviewed to see if it should proceed to a conciliation conference or if it should be dismissed.

Step 3. You will be called to a conciliation conference or your complaint will be dismissed

In some cases, the VEOHRC or AHRC will reject your complaint.

However, in most cases, you will be called to a conciliation conference with the other party. A conciliation conference is an informal meeting that aims to help you and the other party reach a mutual agreement about your complaint.

Conciliation conferences can be face-to-face meetings with both parties and a conciliator in one room. Alternatively, the two parties can be in separate rooms if you prefer. If so, the conciliator will move between the two rooms.

The conciliation process may also be conducted by letter or by telephone between you, the other party and the agency. However, this is not the usual course.

The conciliation process is confidential.

The VEOHRC and HREOC cannot make judgments or award compensation. They can only help you reach a mutual agreement about your complaint with the other party.

You can attend the conciliation conference by yourself, or with a friend or family member. However, you may wish to take an advocate or legal representative with you.

Before the conciliation conference, you can ask the conciliator to tell you who is attending from the other party. If a lawyer attending, you may wish to take your own lawyer. This can be advisable, as it is not the conciliator’s job to support you or give you legal advice. Rather, it is to facilitate the conciliation process. You may be able to obtain free legal assistance if you decide you need legal representation.

2. Under the Fair Work Act:

Fair Work Australia (previously known as the Australian Industrial Relations Commission) is largely responsible for administering the protections against discrimination under the Fair Work Act.

If the adverse action involves a dismissal, an application must be made to Fair Work Australia within 60 days after dismissal. Fair Work Australia must conduct a conciliation conference to deal with the dispute. However, in circumstances of dismissal where an interim injunction is sought, an application can be made directly to Court (see next section).

If the adverse action does not involve a dismissal, an application may be made to Fair Work Australia. Fair Work Australia will only conduct a conciliation conference if the parties to the dispute agree to participate. If parties do not agree to participate (or if an application was never made to Fair Work Australia), an application can be made directly to Court (see next section).

Next Section: How can I take the matter further?