The Federal Government has apologised to ABC presenter Patricia Karvelas after she was asked to leave the Parliament House press gallery this week for showing “too much shoulder”. The incident has sparked outrage at the dress code for the parliamentary chamber and a debate about updating it. But the fact remains that the attendant who pulled up Karvelas for wearing a half-sleeve pantsuit that bared her arms had every right to do so.
The right to bare arms: the Twitter photo from Patricia Karvelas showing her contentious sleeve.
While there are no laws that cover dress codes, either to enable, regulate or ban them, they can nonetheless be legally enforced by the establishments that have them in place – unless they breach anti-discrimination laws. In essence, that means that places such as clubs, restaurants and nightclubs have the discretion to bar entry to anyone in breach of a dress code, as long as the code is non-discriminatory.
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In NSW for instance, dress codes must apply equally to men and women – an establishment cannot allow a woman to wear thongs and a singlet, yet turn away a man in the same garb. Also, religious clothing, such as a hijab or turban, cannot be a reason to refuse entry.
It's OK: The Macquarie Law School's Julian Dight says the officer who ejected an ABC reporter from Parliament for showing too much skin had every right to do so.
In such instances, the person who believed they were discriminated against on the basis of gender, race or religion could make a complaint to the federal Human Rights Commission, or take legal action under the anti-discrimination act of the state or territory in which the incident took place.
While it would be best practice for a venue to give advance warning of its non-discriminatory dress code, say on a website or signage at the entry, there is no law that says it has to.
So if you turn up to a fine-dining restaurant in ripped jeans, bare feet and a cap on backwards, and the maître d’ refuses to let you in, you have no legal recourse. Your lawyer would advise that as long as there was no discrimination, you just wouldn’t bother suing, no matter your level of pique.