History of equal opportunity in South Australia

History of equal opportunity in South Australia


Founded in 1836, South Australia has a history of freedom and tolerance. The state was a leader in the nation with its anti-discrimination laws.

In the mid-1960s, race was the first kind of discrimination to become illegal. This happened at around the same time as human rights conventions were adopted by the United Nations.

These new laws promoted equality of opportunity in South Australia, prevented discrimination, discouraged prejudice, and allowed people to participate in our economic and social life. Below is a brief timeline of anti-discrimination laws in the state, showing when and how they have changed.

1966 Prohibition of Discrimination Act
  • protected people against race discrimination, including skin colour and country of origin, in providing food, drink, services or accommodation, terminating employment and controlling land.
1975 Sex Discrimination Act
  • protected people against sex or marital status discrimination, including de facto relationships, in employment, education, providing goods and services, accommodation, clubs and associations, and granting qualifications.
  • protected people against being victimised for complaining about discrimination.
  • prohibited discriminatory advertisements.
  • allowed the Equal Opportunity Commissioner to investigate and conciliate complaints.
  • allowed the Sex Discrimination Board to hear complaints and award compensation, order the discrimination to stop, and make loss or damages orders.
1976 Racial Discrimination Act
  • protected people against race discrimination.
  • required a court to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant had discriminated and, on the balance of probabilities, it was because of race.
1981 Handicapped Persons Equal Opportunity Act
  • protected people against physical disability discrimination in employment, education, customer service, accommodation, clubs and associations, and granting qualifications.
  • made it unlawful to victimise a person who complained about discrimination.
  • prohibited discriminatory advertisements.
  • established the Handicapped Persons Discrimination Tribunal which could award compensation, order the discrimination to stop, and make other loss or damages orders.
1984 Equal Opportunity Act
  • consolidated the Sex Discrimination Act, the Racial Discrimination Act and the Handicapped Persons Equal Opportunity Act
  • protected people against discrimination due to sex, race, physical impairment, sexuality, marital status or pregnancy, in employment, education, goods and services, accommodation, clubs and associations, granting qualifications, advertising and selling land.
  • made victimisation a ground for complaint.
  • protected people against sexual harassment.
  • established the Equal Opportunity Tribunal which could award compensation, order the discrimination to stop, and make other loss or damages orders.
1989 Equal Opportunity Amendment Act - Intellectual Disability
  • protected people against intellectual impairment discrimination.
  • protected people against sexuality discrimination in trade unions and employer groups.
1990 Equal Opportunity Amendment Act - Age
  • protected people against age discrimination.
1993 Compulsory Retirement Abolished.
  • prohibited retiring people at a certain age.
1997 Equal Opportunity Amendment Act - Sexual Harassment.
  • protected people against sexual harassment by judicial officers, members of Parliament, Councilors and Council employees.
2009 Equal Opportunity (Miscellaneous) Amendment Act - New grounds.

Extended to protect:

  • people caring for a dependent child or a family member
  • parents when accompanied by their children
  • people with a mental illness or an infection without symptoms
  • domestic partners
  • people treated unfairly because of their spouse or partner
  • contract workers
  • people who wear dress or adornments symbolic of their religion
  • people who have been sexually harassed.


  • All secondary schools must have policies to prevent and deal with sexual harassment.
  • Clubs, associations, small partnerships, church-run hospitals, aged-care homes and welfare agencies must not discriminate because of a person’s sexuality.

The time limit for lodging a complaint is increased from six months to twelve months.

2013 Equal Opportunity (Sporting Competitions) Amendment Act 

Introduced addition exemptions to allow for single sex sporting competitions where: 

  • The exclusion on the ground of sex is genuinely intended to facilitate or increase the participation of persons of a particular sex in the sporting activity, and it is unlikely that those persons will participate, or that there will be an increase in participation by those persons if the exclusion is not made. 
  • The exclusion is reasonably required to enable participants in a sporting activity to advance to competitions at a higher level than that in which the exclusion is to occur.
  • There are reasonable opportunities for excluded persons to participate in the sporting activity in another competition.  
2016 Statutes Amendment (Gender Identity and Equity Act) 
  • Protected individuals and families against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
  • Language was amended to ensure non-binary concepts of sex and gender are recognised, and protections against discrimination are extended to persons who do not identify as male or female. 
  • The grounds of 'sexuality' and 'chosen gender' were replaced with 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity'. This change ensured that South Australian law complied with relevant Commonwealth laws. 
2016 Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act 2015
  • Complaints of sexual harassment against judicial officers in circumstances where the alleged conduct had occurred in the officer's court or chamber and while carrying out judicial duties or powers are referred to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner. 
2017 Statutes Amendment (Surrogacy Eligibility) Act
  • Included assisted insemination or assisted reproductive treatment services to be covered by the Equal Opportunity Act. 
  • Services registered to provide assisted reproductive treatment prevented from refusing to provide assisted reproductive treatment to another on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or religious beliefs unless that are a registered objector (as defined in section 8 of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 1988). 
2017 Statutes Amendment (South Australian Employment Tribunal) Act 2016
  • Dissolved The Equal Opportunity Tribunal  any matters previously heard by the Equal Opportunity Tribunal are referred to the South Australia Employment Tribunal (SAET). 
  • Supplementary Panel Members are added as an additional category of SAET members and appointed by the Governor for the purposes of proceedings under the Equal Opportunity Act. 
2017 Dog and Cat Management (Miscellaneous) Amendment Act 2016 
  • The definition of 'assistance animal' is changed from 'guide dog, an accredited hearing dog or an accredited disability dog' to 'an assistance dog'. 
2017 South Australian Employment Tribunal (Miscellaneous) Amendment Act 
  • Repealed Section 105 of the Equal Opportunity Act (the power of the Presiding Officer of the Tribunal to make rules regulating the practice and the procedure of the Tribunal). 
2017 Relationships Register Act 2016
  • Allowed a couple to register their relationship with the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages in SA regardless of whether the couple is opposite sex or same sex, and irrespective of their sex or gender identity. 
  • The definition of 'domestic partner' is expanded to include a person who is in a registered relationship. 
  • Where there are protections from unlawful discrimination on the grounds of marital or domestic partnership status under the Equal Opportunity Act, people in registered relationships (including same-sex couples) are covered by these provisions (with exemptions in relation to employment or enrolment in an educational institution administered by a religious institution).
  • Intersex status becomes a protected ground for discrimination. 
  • The Equal Opportunity Commissioner assumes the power to issue practical guidelines (detailed and authoritative information about legal obligations) to promote compliance with the Equal Opportunity Act.