Allan Takes Aim Blog

About common sense and discrimination

Posted on: 9 June 2010

Published The Chronicle, Canberra. Tuesday 1 June 

Do you think there’s anything wrong with the following advert?  ‘Retired couple wanted to look after large country home while owners abroad. Small salary payable. Married quarters available.’ Well, if you think there’s nothing wrong with it not only would you be wrong, it is likely that any media which published or broadcast it could expect trouble.

Fortunately as Boadicea and I do not own and are unlikely to own a large county house, we will never need to advertise for caretakers when we go on holiday. Unfortunately owners of Canberra’s Super Big MacMansions (SBMs) are not in the same boat.

Being concerned about the SBMs I would advise them that before boarding yacht or plane and heading to the sun soaked island paradise in the Pacific, Caribbean or Aegean where they intend to relax in a beachside shack built of driftwood they should be careful how they phrase the ads they intend to use seeking people to caretake the SBM.

I would further advise checking with their lawyers just to make sure their advert is not in breach of any discrimination laws. No doubt their lawyers will advise that using an advert like the one outlined in the opening paragraph is to be avoided.

Why shouldn’t they use a similar to that in the first paragraph? Australia’s Age Discrimination Act 2004, aims to ensure that ‘all Australians – young and old – and everyone in between are treated equally and have the same opportunities as others.’ (I admit to having problems with this wording in the Act because it suggests discrimination by citizenship). Shouldn’t the Act’s wording be: ‘all residents of Australia regardless of age and gender.’

The Act also says ‘the law protects people across Australia from discrimination on the basis of their age in different areas of public life, such as work, education and buying goods and services. Negative stereotypes often lie at the heart of age discrimination. That’s why an important part of our work is to help foster positive community attitudes towards young and older Australians.’

That said it seems to me that if the SBM’s owners used a similar advert, they would become a target for those people who abandoned common sense for political correctness and now see discrimination where none exists. For example, the SBM owners would be asked what they meant by “retired couple and what were the qualifications they used to make their decision as none were specified in the advert.

Although the 2004 Act is about age discrimination, if retired homosexual, lesbian or couples of other genders were turned down the SBM owners could also find themselves in court being asked as to why the former had been turned down and did the words ‘married quarters’ in the advert mean the position was open only to a married heterosexual couple.

 They might answer that based on their liberty to make choices the couples had been turned down based on strong, deeply held, religious convictions? Unfortunately the Act would seem to suggest they had neither liberty of choice nor the right to decide on the basis of their religious convictions.  

 It is always tempting to simply accept the law. The truth however, is that if a couple had been turned down because of their racial origins the owners of the SBM would rightly have been accused of bigotry. But this case is different. Would it be bigotry if the decision had been made because of religious faith?

If, as a matter of law, the court decided that the owner of the SBM was wrong to decide on the basis of religious belief, it seems to me the decision should be appealed. (Let me discourage those people who think my opinion is based on religious belief. It is not. The fact is: I am agnostic.) 

 That the decision should be appealed is based on the fact that time and again in history people with the courage of their convictions challenged the law and, to the benefit of society showed that parts of some laws were bad and needed changing.

Do you think the latter applies in this case? And do you think the latter also applies to that part of the Age Discrimination Act 2004 with which I found fault?

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