The Equal Opportunity Tribunal hears and makes decisions about complaints arising from discrimination and harassment that are unlawful under the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 ("the Act"). These complaints are referred to the tribunal by the Equal Opportunity Commission.

The tribunal panel consists of a District Court Judge and two members from the community, who are appointed as Tribunal Members for their knowledge/expertise in certain areas covered by the Act.

Preparing for tribunal hearing

What is unlawful discrimination and harassment?

Discrimination may occur when a person is treated unfairly based on their:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Chosen gender
  •  Disability 
  • Sexuality
  • Marital or domestic partnership status
  • Pregnancy
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Association with a child*
  • Identity of Spouse or Domestic Partner
  • Religious Appearance or Dress**

It is unlawful where the discrimination takes place as part of:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • the provision of goods and services
  • Accommodation
  • Clubs and associations
  • Advertising
  • Conferral of qualifications
  • Superannuation
  • Partnerships
  • Qualifying bodies
  • Sale of land
It is also unlawful for a person to be sexually harassed or victimised.  Victimisation can occur when someone is treated unfairly because they have acted upon their legal rights by using equal opportunity laws.
* in customer service or accommodation only
** in employment or education only


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Exemptions under the Equal Opportunity Act

If there are sound reasons for treating people differently, the Equal Opportunity Tribunal can grant specific temporary exemptions from the Act.

Applications for exemptions need to be in writing, and should include:

  • the part of the Act from which they want to be excluded
  • the reasons why this should happen
  • the length of time for which they want to be excluded.

The application needs to be signed by the applicant or their lawyer and then filed with the District Court Civil Registry.

There is no fee required when applying for an exemption under the Act.

An exemption application requires a directions hearing and a principal hearing. A person representing the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity may attend the principal hearing. The Commissioner may support or oppose an application. Anyone else willing to make a submission can also attend the hearing.

Details of the application will be provided in the Public Notices of The Advertiser newspaper a week before the hearing. The notice will include the orders that are being sought, the section of the Act that they relate to and details of when the application will be heard.

If the tribunal grants the exemption, it may apply with some conditions. If any conditions are breached, the Tribunal can cancel the exemption. Unless cancelled, the exemption will apply for up to three years, but can be renewed on expiry. All exemptions granted are published in the Government Gazette with details of the conditions that apply.

The applicant can withdraw the application for exemption at any time before the hearing, by filing a written notice of withdrawal with the Registry and sending a copy to the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity.

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How can I make a complaint about discrimination or harassment under the Act?

Contact the Equal Opportunity Commission:

Phone: +61 8 8207 1977

The commission will assess whether the alleged treatment could be unlawful under the Act.

Once a complaint has been accepted, it will be investigated further. A confidential conciliation conference may be held to assist the parties to reach an agreement.

Examples of what might be agreed between the parties at conciliation can include:

  • Agreement to end the unlawful behaviour
  • Agreement to provide what was denied
  • Change to policy and procedure
  • Apology
  • Compensation
  • Job re-instatement
  • Disciplinary action
  • Training.

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Who are the parties to a complaint?

The complainant – the party who has made a complaint of discrimination or harassment.

The respondent – the party against whom a complaint of discrimination or harassment has been made.

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How do complaints get to the tribunal?

The tribunal only hears complaints that have been processed by the Equal Opportunity Commission.

The commission may refer a complaint to the tribunal if it cannot be resolved by conciliation.

Or, if the commission dismisses the complaint because it is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance, then the complainant has the right to request that it be taken to the tribunal. The complainant must make this request within three months.

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What does the tribunal have the power to do?

The tribunal has the power to:

  • decide whether or not unlawful discrimination has occurred
  • order the respondent to stop the action that is being complained against
  • order the respondent to pay the complainant an amount of money, to balance out some of the economic loss or injury to feelings experienced by the person making the complaint
  • order the respondent to carry out a particular action to make up for any damage, injury or loss caused by their actions
  • dismiss the complaint if unlawful discrimination has not been proven.

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What does it mean if the tribunal awards costs?

If costs are awarded to one party, the other party must pay them the amount of money ordered by the tribunal.

Costs may be awarded if the tribunal finds that the complaint was vexatious, frivolous or where the proceedings have been brought for the purpose of delay of obstruction.

Costs may also be awarded if one of the parties applies for an adjournment.

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What happens if a party does not agree with the tribunal’s decision?

If either party is unhappy with a decision made by the tribunal, they can appeal to the Supreme Court of South Australia.

Appeals must start within one month of the time the decision was made.

For information about fees and procedures of appealing a decision, contact the Supreme Court Appeal Clerk on +61 8 8204 0495.

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What happens if a tribunal order is not complied with?

A person will be fined if they do not comply with an order made by the tribunal.

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Who can go to a tribunal hearing?

Anyone can attend a tribunal hearing, including members of the public and media, unless an order has been made for the hearing to be closed. Media can report on any complaint that is heard at the tribunal.

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Where is the tribunal?

Tribunal matters are heard in the Sir Samuel Way Building, 241-259 Victoria Square, Adelaide, South Australia.  Click here for a map of the building’s location.

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How do I prepare for a tribunal hearing?

There are two different types of hearing involved in the tribunal process:

  • Directions hearing
  • Principal hearing.

The directions hearing is the first hearing, and is used to sort out some of the details of the complaint and to identify when more information is required.

At the principal hearing, each party is given the opportunity to tell their side of the complaint and give evidence.

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Going to a hearing

On the day of a hearing the parties should:

  • confirm the time of the hearing
  • arrive at the courtroom well before the scheduled time
  • find the courtroom in which the complaint will be heard: a list should be available in the entrance of the building.

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Behaviour during a hearing

When the Judge arrives, everyone will be instructed to stand up until the Judge sits down. Anyone who enters the room when the Judge is present should pause at the door and bow their head, as a sign of respect.

During a hearing, anyone spoken to by a Judge should stand up and address the Judge as "Your Honour".

If a party has legal representation, the lawyer will answer some questions for them.

During the hearing, people sitting in the public gallery are not permitted to:

  • talk
  • eat, drink or chew gum
  • wear hats or sunglasses
  • leave mobile phones and pagers on
  • read documents, unless instructed by the judge.

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Booking an Interpreter

An interpreter can be arranged for parties or their witnesses if they have difficulty understanding English. Please contact the tribunal well before the hearing date, so it can be arranged. For further information, see the Translation Services section.

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Preparing for a directions hearing

The following steps will take place before a directions hearing:

  • A complaint is filed with the tribunal and the complainant notified in writing.
  • The complainant has fourteen days to provide the name and address of the respondent, and the `Particulars of Complaint’. The particulars include a concise, numbered paragraph about the facts of the complaint, and a statement outlining the outcome that the complainant is trying to achieve (for example, an apology, reinstatement to a job, money, etc.).
  • The registrar will send a copy of the particulars to the respondent.
  • The respondent has seven days to reply in a `Particulars of Defence’. The respondent must admit or deny each of the allegations outlined by the complainant in concise numbered paragraphs that clearly answer the respective paragraphs in the `Particulars of Complaint’.
  • If the respondent has difficulty complying with the seven-day time limit, he/she can apply to the Deputy Registrar, Civil, for an extension of time.
  • In both the `Particulars of Complaint’ and `Particulars of Defence,’ the parties should be referred to as `Complainant’ and `Respondent.’ rather than using individual names. If there is more than one complainant or respondent, they should be referred to as `First-named Complainant,’ `Second-named Complainant,’ etc. The same applies for more than one respondent.
  • Within 21 days of receiving the details of a complaint, the registrar will notify the parties, in writing, of the date, time and place of the directions hearing.

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Directions hearings

A directions hearing is required prior to the principal hearing before the tribunal.

The purpose of a directions hearing is to work out some of the details of the proceedings, such as:

  • the nature of the complaint
  • the identity of the parties
  • any amendments to the complaint
  • to set a timetable for the parties to provide documents to the tribunal or to each other.

A member of the tribunal will conduct the directions hearing, which either the parties, or their lawyers, must attend.

At the directions hearing, the issues involved in the complaint will not be discussed and evidence will not be required; however, the parties should know how many witnesses they intend to call during the principal hearing, so that the appropriate amount of time can be allocated for the hearing.

The tribunal member may instruct that further particulars be provided, and another directions hearing scheduled.

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Preparing for the principal hearing

The following things need to be arranged for a principal hearing:

  • Before the principal hearing, witness statements need to be prepared.
  • Anyone who is going to appear as a witness, including the complainant and respondent, need to prepare a statement of evidence.
  • The statements should set out all of the evidence that the witness intends to give, and it should be in numbered paragraphs. Witness statements should include the witness’ name, address and occupation, and be signed and dated by the witness.
  • If witness statements refer to documents as evidence, these should be shown to the other party before the hearing, and taken to the hearing as evidence.
  • Witness statements need to be filed with the tribunal and given to the other party before the hearing.
  • A witness can be summonsed to give evidence, produce a document or thing, or do both, if they will not voluntarily attend the hearing.
  • The party that wishes to summons the witness need to provide the registrar with a written request for the issue of a summons and provide the full name and address of the witness, what it is they want the witness to do (i.e. give evidence, produce a document/thing, or both) and the date that they want the summons returned.
  • Once the registrar has prepared the summons with these details, the party who requested it is responsible for serving it on the witness. Once the witness has received the summons, they are not required to attend the principal hearing unless the party that requested the summons pays reasonable travel expenses to the witness before the hearing.

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Principal hearing

At a principal hearing, both parties present their side of the complaint before the judge and the tribunal members.

The complainant starts by telling their account of the complaint, and witnesses are called to support their case (if they have witnesses). Any documents to be used as evidence will be tendered at this stage.

The respondent then cross-examines (questions) the complainant and his/her witnesses to determine whether there are any weaknesses in their case.

The respondent and his/her witnesses will then have the opportunity to give evidence, and the complainant will have a chance to cross-examine.

The complainant and then the respondent will need to make closing statements to the Tribunal.

The tribunal may not make a decision on the day of the principal hearing, if they require more time to consider the matter. The parties will be notified when a decision has been made.

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Opening Hours

9:30am to 4:30pm
Monday – Friday
Excluding public holidays