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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 991

Mr SIMPKINS (6:42 PM) —I seek to make a contribution on the Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I will begin by stating that if we are to drive this country forward and keep it being the best it possibly can be then we should always be a little critical of our performance and strive to do better. We should, however, always be constructive in that criticism and not be afraid of comparing ourselves positively in the context of the wider international community.

Rather than concentrate on our shortcomings, I feel that we should not be worried as much by what the international community thinks of us, given that we are towards the front on providing opportunities for the disabled and removing discrimination. Certainly there will always be more to be done, and we should never accept that we have achieved everything, but we have no reason to feel that the international community should judge us badly.

I will now move through the legislation before us and comment on a number of matters. The first matter relates to the amendment of section 16 of the Age Discrimination Act 2004. This section as amended certainly makes sense. It seems appropriate that, regardless of whether an act of discrimination is the dominant reason for an employer acting against an employee, the mere fact that a person was treated differently and that the treatment was as a result merely of the age of a person is wrong and should be dealt with. That, of course, seems different from a person being unable to undertake their assigned duties and being dealt with on those grounds. That should not be involved in the amended act.

I would also say that in reading this act I personally gained a great deal from the experience. I found section 33 very interesting as it relates to positive discrimination. I have never held a position of great support towards the concept of positive discrimination. I still subscribe to the position that the vast majority of those in this nation are in a position where they can compete equally on the merits of their character and their education. For those who cannot due to circumstances beyond their control, I appreciate the fact that, for example, in this act section 33 allows points of positive discrimination such as seniors’ discounts and specific scholarships.

I will now move on to the schedule 2 amendments, which make changes to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. I note the changes to section 4 interpretations and the reference to section 9, which is essentially about guide dogs and assistance animals. These changes are worth while and will refine the act after these amendments are passed. Given the nature of the amendments and that this matter is fundamentally about disabilities, I would also like to speak about the challenges, the efforts and the successes of the education support centre at Wanneroo Senior High School. The principal of Wanneroo Senior High School is Pauline White, and she has led the school at Wanneroo Senior High for four years. The school has a small education support centre, or ESC, of one classroom, which caters for nine students this year ranging from year 8 to, in the case of one student, what is the equivalent of year 13. The ESC draws children from the surrounding district and provides them with progressive programs and opportunities to develop their potential in the areas of community skills, independent-living skills and work skills.

In 2009 Wanneroo Senior High School will undertake the ASDAN pilot program for year 11 and year 12 students. I know that the ESC teacher, Debra MacDonald, is very excited about implementing the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network, which offers credits and awards for self-management, work and study skills, and problem solving. I understand that ASDAN was developed in the UK and is working very well in New Zealand. While I am very pleased to be able to speak about the great work being done at Wanneroo Senior High School, it is with a little regret that I realise that the school has never before been mentioned in the House Hansard and so I am pleased to correct that situation today.

When I started speaking about Wanneroo Senior High School and the education support centre I did so with some level of understanding of the challenges facing those with disabilities. Last year one of the ESC students adopted me as part of the politician adoption scheme. Justin Cox is now in year 10. Justin has septo-optic dysplasia, which is a visual impairment, with epilepsy, hormone deficiencies and an intellectual disability. Justin is a very friendly young man and despite his visual impairment loves his basketball and his time down at the local gym. That time at the gym has helped him to lose weight, and in fourth term last year his hard work paid off and he was awarded the school’s flexibility award. I would also mention that Justin Cox has been greatly assisted by Nadine Williams, an education assistant at the ESC. I have met Justin’s mum, Sue, and his stepdad, Steve, and it is great that Justin now has a baby brother, Cayl. I know that Justin is doing very well at Wanneroo Senior High School and I pay tribute to the dedicated efforts of his teacher Debra MacDonald; her education assistant, Nadine Williams; and all the staff at Wanneroo high for all the work they do to integrate students with disabilities into mainstream classes and to educate mainstream students about the challenges presented by disabilities.

I understand that the nine students in the ESC have nine different sets of needs—not even two students would be classed in the same disability group. The challenges facing the students and the staff range from learning disabilities to severe cerebral palsy. If it were not for the professional and dedicated staff at Wanneroo high, such as Debra MacDonald and Nadine Williams, children with disabilities and the community in general would be far worse off. As the federal member for Cowan I thank them and the other staff at Wanneroo Senior High School for the work they do.

I should also make mention of another excellent organisation that operates in the northern suburbs of Perth, and in particular Girrawheen, within the Cowan electorate. In December last year I was invited to the Valued Independent People, or VIP, organisation’s end-of-year function. VIP provides a flexible, daytime occupation focusing on community access, integration and participation for people with disabilities, according to their needs and desires. VIP’s staff and volunteers provide services to school leavers and older people with disabilities under the Post School Options and the Alternatives to Employment programs. These services are for people who live at home or in hostels or group homes. VIP operates on the principle that each person is an individual and they plan the service around his or her needs, interests and aspirations. VIP provides services for adults who have intellectual and/or physical disabilities and who require a daytime activity as an alternative to employment.

The CEO of VIP is Margaret Walsh. She is supported by training and support officer Cheryl Rogers and administration and finance officer Lynn Smith. At the Girrawheen centre, the supervisor is Pam Haunold and the assistant supervisor is Linda Norman. They also have other centres at Nollamara and Hamersley, in the electorate of Stirling. VIP is a great organisation that does excellent work for a lot of families and people who have disabilities. At the function that I attended it was very clear that the board, the management and the staff of VIP approach the service they provide seriously and with great personal regard and respect for the people with disabilities who they assist. I think very highly of the VIP team and all their volunteers. I wish them well for the expansion of their operations and their new facility in Duncraig in the electorate of Moore.

Finally I would like to make mention of the Landsdale Family Support Association in Darch. For over 10 years this not-for-profit organisation has been providing support to children with special needs and their families. They provide holiday camps, accommodation and respite care. For example, they provide camp activities and accommodation on the weekends for two-day blocks and also over the weekdays of the school holidays in five-day blocks, giving respite to families and interesting activities for the children. The executive officer is Andre Shannon and his staff are Carly Latcham, the service manager; Cathy Watkins, the administration manager; Tina King, the finance officer; Kaitlyn Morrell, the receptionist; and the chairman of the board, John Morrell. A special mention must be made of the respite carers and host families, such as the Keeble family, who do so much to help these children.

I have digressed a lot in my speech on this bill. This bill is very technical and detailed. I see the value in the changes the government is proposing and I support those changes and the bill in total. I support it because I have had the opportunity to see the challenges that face families and the challenges that young people with disabilities face in their futures. Those challenges are not insurmountable, but the physical challenges of their disabilities are enough for them to deal with, let alone any form of discrimination placed in their path to reaching their overall potential. I commend the bill to the House.