Special measures aim to foster greater equality by supporting groups of people who face, or have faced, entrenched discrimination so they can have similar access to opportunities as others in the community.

Special measures are sometimes described as acts of ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’. They are allowed under federal anti-discrimination laws.

The Sex Discrimination Act allows special measures that improve equality of opportunity for people based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, relationship status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy status or family responsibilities.

Example: A gym offers a women’s only exercise class as a special measure after it receives feedback that women are less likely to participate in exercise classes with men because they feel uncomfortable.

The Disability Discrimination Act allows for special measures that improve equality of opportunity for people with disabilities.

Example: A housing provider makes modifications to accommodation for a person with a disability.

The Racial Discrimination Act permits special measures that foster greater racial equality in the Australian community.

Example: Rental assistance given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is a special measure. The purpose of the assistance is to increase participation rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in tertiary education to a level equivalent to the non-Indigenous community.

The Age Discrimination Act allows for positive measures to be taken. The Act says that it is “not against the law to provide a genuine benefit to people of a particular age group; to do something that helps meet an identified need for people of a certain age group or reduce a disadvantage experienced by people of a particular age”.

Example: A hairdresser gives discounts to customers with a Seniors Card.