Discrimination complaints

Learn about discrimination complaints and exemptions and the application process.

A person may be discriminated against based upon a range of personal, physical, racial, religious, political or sexual attributes.

QCAT hears complaints of alleged unlawful discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification and victimisation after they have been investigated and referred to QCAT by the Queensland Human Rights Commission.

QCAT also considers applications for exemptions to the law.

What do you need to know about discrimination and the law?

If you are considering making a complaint about discrimination, you can learn about the definitions of discrimination under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

Discrimination is when you are treated worse than somebody else because of something about you, like your race, age, or sex.

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 makes unfair discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification, and victimisation unlawful in Queensland.

The law says people can’t discriminate against you because of your:

  • sex
  • relationship status
  • pregnancy
  • parental status
  • breastfeeding
  • age
  • race
  • impairment
  • religious belief or activity
  • political belief or activity
  • trade union activity
  • lawful sexual activity
  • gender identity
  • sexuality
  • family responsibilities; or
  • association with, or relationship to, someone who has any of these characteristics

The Act also outlines the areas in which discrimination is unlawful such as at work, school or when dealing with government agencies.

There are also other types of behaviours made unlawful under the law, including sexual harassment, vilification and victimisation.

You can make a complaint if you believe you have been discriminated against. QCAT sets out the process below on how to make a complaint.

(For further information please view the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991)

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (the Act) includes circumstances where it is not unlawful to treat people differently. The Act requires you to apply for an ‘exemption’ to do this.

The circumstances where you can apply for an exemption may include:

  • to make things better for people who might be disadvantaged
  • to protect health and safety; or
  • to allow religions or cultures to protect their tradition

Some exemptions are specific to areas under the Act and others are general exemptions that apply across all areas. Examples of exemptions may include:

  • operating a single sex accommodation facility
  • operating a single sex health centre
  • jobs that are open only to Indigenous people; or
  • disability parking spaces reserved for people with a disability

Applications for exemptions can be filed with QCAT. Please see below to learn more about applying directly to QCAT for an exemption.

What is the process for making a discrimination complaint?

If you wish to make a complaint about discrimination, you can learn more about where you need to go to make your initial complaint and matters you can bring to QCAT directly. Read below for more information.

The Queensland Human Rights Commission (Commission) is an independent statutory body. It was originally established under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991. The Commission’s functions are now set out in the Human Rights Act 2019.

If you have a complaint about discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification or victimisation you must submit a complaint to the Commission here.

The Commission handles complaints under the law in the first instance and has comprehensive information to assist you in starting the complaint process.

If your complaint is accepted by the Commission, conciliation may then be conducted to attempt to resolve the complaint between the parties.

The Commission does not try to determine who is right or wrong, but rather assists people to resolve the complaint. During conciliation, the Commission may also request opinions from QCAT in specific situations about how the law applies to the complaint.

If the complaint is resolved, a settlement agreement may be made between the parties to finalise the complaint. You can then register the settlement agreement with QCAT for future reference or enforcement. If you need to file a settlement agreement find out how to submit the agreement below in the application section.

If your discrimination complaint is not resolved, you may ask the Queensland Human Rights Commission (Commission) to refer it to QCAT to be determined further. The Commission can also give a written notice that the complaint cannot be resolved through conciliation and refer the complaint themselves to either the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission or QCAT.

Only the Commission can refer the discrimination complaint for further determination to QCAT. A complainant or respondent cannot commence the QCAT process for discrimination complaints.

When the Commission refers the discrimination complaint, a referral report is provided to QCAT along with copies of any material you originally provided to the Commission. QCAT will then send a copy of the referral report to the parties once received.

When you make a discrimination complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission (Commission), at any time before a non-work related complaint is referred to it, QCAT can make temporary orders prohibiting a person from doing an act that might prejudice:

  • the investigation or conciliation of the complaint; or
  • an order that QCAT might make after a hearing

This is called an application to protect a complainant’s interests. If satisfied it is in the interests of justice, QCAT can consider this type of application in the absence of the respondent.

For example, a principal may have excluded a student from a school due to a reason you consider is discrimination. You can ask QCAT to make temporary orders allowing the student to attend school until conciliation has been conducted with the Commission and the complaint resolved, or if the complaint has not been resolved, until after referral and determination of the complaint by QCAT.

Unlike your original discrimination complaint, you must make the application to protect a complainant’s interests directly to QCAT for determination. Use application for order to protect a complainant’s interests before complaint referred to QCAT at the bottom of this page.

If the discrimination complaint is not resolved and is referred to QCAT and you wish to apply for temporary orders at the referral stage, you can apply for what is called an interim order during the QCAT process. To make either application please see below for the process to apply. Use application for interim orders after complaint referred to QCAT at the bottom of this page.

When you make a discrimination complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission (Commission), if the discrimination complaint is accepted, the complaint can lapse (expire) if the Commission forms the view that the complainant has lost interest in the complaint.

If the Commission makes a decision that your complaint has lapsed, you can seek to review the decision of the Commissioner in relation to the lapsed complaint at QCAT.

To request a review of decisions made by government agencies please go to QCAT’s comprehensive review page here.

After referral of the discrimination complaint is made by the Queensland Human Rights Commission (Commission) to QCAT, the complainant will become the applicant in the referral. The person or entity the complaint is about will become the respondent in the referral. QCAT may then:

  • issue directions to the parties. Directions are instructions to the parties involved on how the matter will proceed. The directions will include time for filing of evidence, other material and joining of further parties if required
  • list the matter for a directions hearing or further dispute resolution proceeding to assist the parties to reach agreement if required
  • ask the parties to gather and file their evidence to support their side of the argument
  • list the matter for a hearing, after the parties have filed their evidence; and
  • After the hearing, QCAT will then make a final decision based on the law and the evidence provided by the parties

When the referral is received by QCAT, a copy of the referral will be sent to all parties to the complaint for your records. The parties to the complaint need to:

  • ensure they have read the above information about discrimination cases and understand the complaint and referral process
  • wait until QCAT issues directions providing further instructions on what happens next in the process; and
  • when directed to by QCAT, file complainant's contentions and respondent's contentions using the correct forms

To learn more about what happens next in the complaint referral process please click here.

The time for QCAT to finalise a case may vary depending on QCAT’s workload and the number of steps to be completed by parties as required by QCAT to resolve the dispute . The current average time to review and finalise your case in the anti-discrmination jurisdiction can be found on our expected timeframes page.

What is the process to seek an exemption from the Anti-Discrimination Act?

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provides for exemptions from the requirements of the act in certain circumstancesYou can learn more below about applying directly to QCAT to make this type of request.

You can apply directly to QCAT for exemptions under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991. The Act includes a number of general exemptions, as well as exemptions that are specific to some areas of activity where discrimination is unlawful.

If your exemption application is:

For non-work related cases, QCAT may grant a temporary exemption from the operation of the Act. If granted, the discriminatory conduct would not be unlawful for the duration of the exemption.

QCAT decides how long the exemption lasts, but it cannot be for more than five years. An exemption may be renewed for further periods of up to five years. An application has to be made to QCAT to renew an exemption.

To apply for consideration of an exemption application or extension of an exemption at QCAT please go to the application section below. QCAT will then seek submissions from the parties and the Queensland Human Rights Commission before a decision is made on the exemption application.

When QCAT determines your exemption application, it may consider the following:

  • the appropriateness and reasonableness of the application
  • other non-discriminatory ways of achieving the objects or purposes for which the exemption is sought
  • other persons or bodies supporting the application
  • social, economic or other reasons
  • the promotion of equality of opportunity
  • the interests of the community
  • the effect of not granting the exemption
  • other possible improvement strategies; and
  • the principles of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991

Please consider these factors before making an exemption application to QCAT.

How do I make an application in discrimination cases?

To make an application, please select your case type from the list below:

Help and further information

Queensland legislation related to discrimination matters includes the:

  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1991; and
  • Human Rights Act 2019
  • Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009

The Act is available from the Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel website.

You can access a range of databases which keep records of previous decisions about discrimination matters. This includes previous decisions made by:

QCAT registry staff cannot give you legal advice in civil matters and are not involved in QCAT decision making.

For legal advice

For assistance in legal proceedings

LawRight Court and QCAT Services

LawRight is an independent, non-profit community based legal organisation that coordinates pro bono legal services for individuals and community groups. Parties with proceedings in QCAT may be able to obtain assistance from LawRight’s Court and QCAT Services to self-represent or, in limited circumstances, be given representation.

If you are unsure whether you are eligible for assistance from LawRight, or wish to make an enquiry, contact the service by phone on 07 3564 7561 or by email at qcat.cts@lawright.org.au or by writing to PO Box 12217, George Street QLD 4003.

To apply for help from LawRight, please complete an application form. If you are unable to complete the online form, contact LawRight to discuss alternative arrangements.

Community legal centres

Caxton Legal Centre
The Caxton Legal Centre is an independent, non-profit community organisation providing free legal and social work advice, assistance and referrals to the general public. Please note that the Caxton Legal Centre does not provide advice about building or other business and commercial disputes.

Women's Legal Service
Women's Legal Service is a community legal centre that provides free legal advice and information to women in Queensland.

Youth Advocacy Centre
The Youth Advocacy Centre offers free confidential legal and welfare assistance to young people under 17 years who live in or around Brisbane. Telephone support is also provided to young people outside of Brisbane and throughout Queensland.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT)’s registry is here to administer your case and provide general information. Please see below what registry staff can and cannot do to assist with your case.

Registry staff can:

* answer questions about QCAT processes

* provide information about QCAT’s different types of forms that are available for your consideration

* provide you with information and support about how to lodge an application

* refer and/or process any request to access the QCAT register of proceedings (a publicly available list of QCAT cases) or the record of proceedings (the case files themselves)

* advise on fees and allowances, and how to apply for a waiver of fees

* guide you in checking your forms are complete before lodgement (e.g. signed in the correct places)

* give you information on legal organisations that could help.

Registry staff cannot:

* provide legal advice

* advise on whether you should submit an application and whether you are filing under the correct legal area (eg minor civil dispute – consumer or trader or minor civil dispute – minor debt)

* tell you if you should lodge an appeal or a counter-application

* recommend a specific lawyer to assist you

* instruct you on how to word your application, supporting documents or what to say at a proceeding

* contact a QCAT member or adjudicator directly on your behalf

* predict likely outcomes of a case or appeal

* help you prepare your case

* advise what orders or decisions you should seek

* explain what you should do to follow QCAT directions

* recommend your next steps regarding enforcing an order or tribunal decision

* advise on exact timeframes for resolution of a case – this depends on your individual case