The Victorian Human Rights watchdog again interferes with people's human rights

VCAT rejects woman's bid to set up women-only travel service -- but Muslims can do anything, of course

A TRIBUNAL has rejected a Melbourne woman's bid to set up a women-only travel service. Erin Maitland, a former tour guide, applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an exemption under the Equal Opportunity Act to set up her business, Travel Sisters. She argued some women would feel more comfortable travelling in women-only groups and safer than travelling alone.

Ms Maitland said her tours would also be tailored to common women's interests including cooking, shopping and crafts and that women's partners would be more supportive of them travelling if they knew they were with other women. Ms Maitland relied on a ruling two years ago in which VCAT granted an exemption to a woman, allowing her to arrange tours for women only.

But the tribunal must now assess exemption applications in line with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. VCAT president Judge Marilyn Harbison refused Ms Maitland's application, saying she had not shown enough evidence that limiting a human right is reasonable or necessary. "The grant of an exemption may well be convenient and practical to assist Erin in the establishment of her business but it cannot presently be justified on human rights principles,'' she said.

Judge Harbison said there were other steps that could be put in place to ensure women feel safe and comfortable travelling in groups, without having to exclude men.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, which argued during the hearing that the evidence provided was "weak'', said Ms Maitland could enforce standards of conduct, select facilities with separate male and female change rooms, ensure privacy for her clients and encourage people to report safety concerns.

The commission said that even without an exemption, market forces could result in Ms Maitland's business being successful because men would not be interested in it. The ruling comes after a Melbourne party company specialising in dance events for lesbians and bisexual women won the right to ban men earlier this year.

In May, VCAT granted a three-year exemption to an inner western suburbs gym, enabling it to conduct women-only swimming sessions and related programs. Many of the women at the YMCA gym in Ascot Vale are Muslim who, because of their cultural and religious beliefs, cannot take part in mixed swimming lessons.


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