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Complaint mechanisms

Lodging a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission or the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is a relatively easy and cheap means of addressing an issue of discrimination.

One common, and low cost option, for resolving complaints about media reporting of activists or protests is to go to the Australian Press Council. While this can be effective, and require the media outlet involved to publish a retraction or clarification, it is worth bearing in mind that almost half of the membership of the 22 members of the Council are nominees of media organisations which are "constituent bodies" of the Council. While a 'balance' of views are often represented in the panels considering each complaint, this does not necessarily make them entirely impartial in all circumstances.

In June 2004, a formal complaint against the Sydney Morning Herald was upheld (by the Australian Press Council) for its use of the terms 'illegal immigrants' and 'illegal entrants' to describe asylum-seekers. The complaint was initially against the Sydney Morning Herald, but the Australian Press Council has also agreed to formulate general guidelines for Australian press against the use of these terms for asylum-seekers and refugees.

Mira Wroblewski, a refugee advocate, who proceeded with the complaint said:

"The term 'illegal' is used by the Government to vilify these people and to justify their treatment. It is one of a number of fear tactics being used to keep this government in power. I believe that the media should use the more accurate and respectful terms 'asylum-seekers' or 'refugees' to describe people who come to seek our help. They are not criminals. This has been supported by the Press Council decision."

Complaint mechanisms exist to cover many government departments, such as the Australian Broadcasting Authority, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the police. Private industry has set up similar schemes such as the private utility and Banking Ombudsman offices.

These mechanisms are easy to use and usually free. Although complaints may need to be lodged by individuals, a large number of complaints can force a rethink of common practices and thereby achieve systemic change.

Administrative law remedies in areas such as planning and environmental law, tenancy and social security may also be worth exploring where a government decision is involved.