When does the Equal Opportunity Act say it is OK to discriminate?

There are times when we need to treat people differently, because they are different.  The law understands this, and there are special times when it is legal (OK) to discriminate.  This is called an exception. There are different types of exception.


If people are treated differently because a certain group needs help, that would be an exception.

For example, if somebody runs a program to help people who are homeless, they don’t have to include people who have a home.

Different needs

If people are treated differently because they have different needs to other people, that would be an exception.

For example, if children with autism needed a special school, that would be legal.  These children are treated differently because they need a school that can teach them in a certain way.  Other children do not need a school like that.

Sport clubs might need to treat people differently so that everyone has a fair chance to do well. This is why we have teams for certain ages, boys only, girls only, or people with a disability.

Health and safety

If the different treatment is needed to protect the health or safety of some people, that will be an exception.

For example, if the managers of Luna Park do not let pregnant women on a ride because it is dangerous for them, that is legal.

Special exceptions

Where there is a special reason to treat people differently, a person can for an exemption. A court must decide if it is a good enough reason.  Some examples of exemptions that the court said yes to are:

  • Special opportunities for indigenous students – in an area where not many indigenous people worked
  • Swimming sessions for women only – for Muslim women who can’t swim with men.