That’s discrimination!

Many a bemused journalistic eye has this week turned to the human rights commissions, who have been busily cracking down on discrimination in all its forms. Although commissioners have the power to grant exemptions to antidiscrimination laws, they’ve chosen instead to display principle-over-practice reasoning at its best.

First off the rank was the Victorian decision that a women-only travel company was illegal, because it shut out men. The owner wanted to create an alternative to the sleazy Contiki-style bed-hopping adventure and put craft, cooking and shopping on its itinerary. The Tribunal said no; women who felt uncomfortable on a mixed tour should simply report their concerns to the tour guide.

The decision rubs against earlier holdings by the same Tribunal. A women-only lesbian nightclub and women-only swimming lessons with Muslim participants were let off the hook and granted gender discrimination exemptions. In those contexts men could seem highly threatening, argued the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. No such luck for threatened, straight, travelling women.

Maybe the difference has something to do with the Australian Human Rights Commission Strategic Plan, which identifies a key aim as making courts ‘develop progressive approaches to human rights’. Craft probably doesn’t make the progressive cut.

The Australian Human Rights Commission had its own two cents for the antidiscrimination debate this week. Yesterday it decided to stop cruise ship operator Carnival Australia from banning young passengers during the schoolies period, because that would be age discrimination. Carnival was worried about the prevalence of alcohol-related security incidents, but that wasn’t enough for the Commission.

Inconveniently for the government, the decision came down just as Health Minister Nicola Roxon unveiled her latest tool in the campaign against youth binge drinking: Kids and Alcohol Don't Mix. Perhaps no one has told her that’s discrimination?

The human rights commissioners can pat themselves on the back this week. They have ensured that all women have the chance to be sleazed on and upheld the right of all young people to over-booze. No one should be excluded just because of their gender or their age. It looks like we really are the country of a fair go.