Alice Springs hotel segregation highlights gaps in NT anti-discrimination laws



March 11, 2019 18:40:04

A case of racial segregation in an Alice Springs hotel has highlighted gaps in the Northern Territory’s anti-discrimination laws, 18 months after the Government promised an urgent overhaul.

Key points:

  • Northern Territory law prevents whistleblowers from flagging discrimination on someone’s behalf
  • The anti-discrimination commissioner says “representative complaints” could make a difference
  • The laws have been under review in the NT since 2017

The fallout is continuing after an investigation by the ABC’s Background Briefing program uncovered discrimination against Indigenous guests at the Ibis Styles hotel in Alice Springs.

Staff members will undergo anti-discrimination training in the coming days, according to hotel operator Accor.

The chain also said it had put “interim management” in place at the Ibis and started an internal investigation.

One staff member knew there was a problem, but the whistleblower who spoke to the ABC was unable to lodge a formal complaint with the Northern Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Commission.

Commissioner Sally Sievers said the current act prevented anyone but the victim of the discrimination from making a formal complaint, which could put off people who may not have the time, resources, language skills or confidence to navigate the process.

She said a change to allow complaints on someone’s behalf was being considered as part of a review that the Government announced in 2017.

Background Briefing

The Black and White hotel

A big name hotel has been racially segregating guests, and our undercover recordings captured it. Would you pay $129 for a room with dirty sheets, chicken bones and broken glass on the floor?

“The process which currently exists under our legislation means individual people have to complain,” she said.

“We are actually suggesting a change to the legislation, which is around a representative complaint so that peak organisations can make a complaint on behalf of people who are being discriminated against.”

Aboriginal health and legal organisations wrote submissions to the Government’s review supporting the creation of a “representative complaints” mechanism.

Legal aid group NAAJA said the measure would allow them to act when multiple people were affected by systemic discrimination, citing examples such as racist comments on Alice Springs Facebook groups or experiences with police stationed outside bottle shops.

Legislation only part of the solution: commissioner

The hotel segregation was reported weeks after it was revealed staff at a Darwin bar were told that no “blacks” should be allowed in.

The stories served as “an informal Green Book”, said Andrea Mason, from the NPY Women’s Council, referencing the recent film about African Americans navigating racism at stores and services in the 1960s.

Ms Mason said the council heard from their members about experiences with accommodation in Alice Springs, and also worked with businesses if there were any complaints about rooms booked under its name.

“What was probably more of a raised eyebrow for me was the fact that it was a poorer service of housekeeping for the rooms for community,” she said.

“It wasn’t the same, equal service of housekeeping for all rooms.

“That really upset me, because they were paying the same amount.”

A spokesperson for Northern Territory Attorney-General Natasha Fyles confirmed the review of the Anti-Discrimination Act was ongoing.

It commenced in September 2017 with a discussion paper describing an “urgent need for modernisation”.

Ms Sievers said changes to the law could make it easier to complain, but that still put the onus for addressing discrimination on its victims.

“The real question is, why as a society, is this still happening?” she said.

“Anti-discrimination legislation is just one part of the jigsaw. Really we’ve got to ask, how could this still be happening in 2019?

“How can we have businesses that think this is OK when clearly there’s been race discrimination laws and anti-discrimination laws for 25 years?”









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