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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 3732

Mr GRIFFITHS(10.46) —Whilst I am not within striking distance of 50 years of age, after listening to some of the comments of my colleague I certainly feel it this morning. It is worth noting that in a very real sense the disability services legislation before the House had its genesis in the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. Whilst we always seem by definition to have a year dedicated to one particular cause or group, it is important to acknowledge the very real impact, particularly in my own experience, that that United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons had. For example, I must confess on my part to not having had a very detailed knowledge of policy insofar as it affected disabled persons, apart from that which one would normally gain within the legal profession. After having been elected in early 1983 one of the first things I sought to do was ensure that my office provided basic facilities for disabled people, not only in terms of access but also in terms of toilet facilities and so on. It is worth placing on record the enormous difficulty that I confronted in finding suitable accommodation. It transpired in the final analysis that the only accommodation I could get that had access and toilet facilities for disabled people was available simply because the building-the famous building which includes the Moonee Ponds tavern in that great city-made provision in the office space above the tavern for handicapped people. That was only because the council, as a result of the International Year of Disabled Persons, adopted the policy that any buildings it went into or built would provide these facilities. So I commend not only those responsible for the United Nations Year of Disabled Persons but also the Essendon City Council and many other councils in my electorate and elsewhere that have acted upon the basic philosophy underlying that public education program.

Arising out of that we have the home and community care program, one of this Government's major initiatives in this area and one that ought to be acknowledged in the context of this legislation, and the handicapped programs review which of course led to the well-known `New Directions' report. Coincidentally, I will be visiting a place called Northern Brite Industries, I think on Monday or Tuesday of next week. It conducts supported employment, to which I shall turn in a few moments. Before I do so I think it is worth commenting on changed public perceptions of handicapped people. I was very interested some nights ago-or perhaps it was some weeks ago, given our lifestyle-when my teenage daughter came home from school and I posed an oft-repeated question: `How was school today?'. She said it was in fact very interesting. In one of her lessons the members of her class had their eyes completely covered with dark tape and they were kept that way for, I think, something like 20 minutes. The purpose of the lesson was to let them know how difficult it is for people with substantial sight impairment just to conduct a very normal part of one's day. That included, for example, going to the toilet, walking along a corridor to a classroom and so on. I think that is another manifestation of how people, not only within the education system but also elsewhere, have become much more sensitive to those unfortunate enough to suffer various degrees of physical or psychological impediment in our community. Once again, that ought to be acknowledged and those people ought to be congratulated.

I think one of the important points about the legislation before us is that it represents one of the few times in my experience in this House when a Minister has tried to set out a series of principles and objectives upon which the legislation is based. Whilst I do not have time to go through in detail the principles and objectives set out by the Minister, I think it is worth mentioning a few of them and also just stressing again that adopting that approach to most legislation in this House ought to be commended. I think too often we speak in this House on legislation that simply comes in in black and white terms, and very few people who have not addressed the detail of the legislation have any understanding of the amount of work and research involved and the underlying philosophy upon which any government initiatives are based. If one gets the principles and objectives right I think it is much easier and much clearer for people to understand where we are trying to go with these Bills. Some of the principles and objectives are worth repeating. They may sound a little cliched but in my view they are not. The first is:

People with disabilities are individuals who have the inherent right to respect for their human worth and dignity.

In my submission we have a long way to go before that underlying principle is accepted without demur by people in the community. I think there is still a vast gulf between those Australians fortunate enough not to suffer dis- abilities and those who do. So it is again worth stressing those underlying principles. Another is:

People with disabilities, whatever the origin, nature, type and degree of disability, have the same fundamental rights as all members of Australian society.

When I became a member of this House I was on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform which was in the process of revising the electoral laws of this country. I remember looking at certain, not significant but nevertheless important for disabled people, initiatives that we could take to assist those people to participate fully in a democratic system. That was another manifestation of the heightened awareness that I think came out of the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. Another of the principles is:

Every person with a disability has the same right as other members of Australian society to realise his or her individual capacity for physical, social, emotional and intellectual development.

To a very large extent, of course, the realisation of that objective, if you like, rather than principle will require a very much greater sensitivity, again by the non-handicapped people in our community. I could go through those principles and objectives, but I know that time is somewhat short and I do not think I have the same time allowed to me as has been allowed to my colleague on the other side of the House. We tend to give honourable members opposite a greatly better deal in this institution than they ever gave us when we were in opposition.

As I indicated, I will be visiting Northern Brite Industries in Melbourne early next week. One of the reasons I am doing that is that I have an interest in the concept of supported employment. Certainly it has been around for a long time with varying degrees of success, but I think it is potentially one of the key areas where, rather than by rhetoric, governments can get involved in a meaningful way. I am reminded of the old saying about politics. If one is putting one's money on a horse in the political race, always put money on a horse called Self Interest, because one knows it will be in there trying. That might be putting it a little crudely, but really some degree of self-interest does flow as a corollary of government support in this particular area. It goes without saying that, in the extent that people can be encouraged into meaningful employment, they are removed, by definition, from most of the government support mechanisms that cost a amount of money. That is why I say that governments, even for reasons of self-interest, ought to be encouraged into these areas. Of course that is not the major factor in, nor indeed is it the major objective of, this type of legislation. It really does go to individual human rights and certain individuals' opportunities in a community that hitherto has not provided a lot of opportunities to them.

Supported employment, of course, is for people with disabilities for whom competitive employment at or above the minimum wage rates is unlikely and who, because of their disability, need ongoing support to participate in a work setting. In this context I think it is worth acknowledging the role of the trade unions, certainly to my knowledge in Victoria-I have less knowledge of their role in the other States, of course. Trade unions have, over some considerable number of years now, tried, I think to the greatest extent possible, to accommodate the opening up of employment opportunities for people who, by definition, cannot often demand the same wage levels as more fortunate people. Supported employment should ensure that people with disabilities have access to a choice of wage generating work with job security and opportunities for job mobility and career advancement.

I think that a couple of the key features of supported employment ought to be pointed out and then I will conclude and let some of my colleagues address the Bills. In the context of employment, the purpose of the programs is employment with all the usual outcomes of having a job. Obviously, wages, working conditions and job security are key considerations but, also obviously, status, to the extent that that applies, personal self-respect and so on ought to be included in terms of the desirable outcomes. The concept is one of providing the ongoing support required to begin and keep a job, rather than of preparing a person for a more independent job out of the support service.

Another key criterion is opportunity creation, with the emphasis on creating varied opportunities to work rather than on providing services supposedly to develop skills for transfer to open employment. I think that is an important point to stress. Another feature is full participation. The concept of supported employment grew out of research and experience which has proved that people with the most severe disabilities are in fact capable of performing complex tasks with appropriate support and on the job training. There is a 10-year history of individuals taking out of institutional settings people who have been seen as the most severely disabled and hardest to assist, and proving their capacity to work.

I will conclude on the theme with which I began; that is, by acknowledging the very real importance of the United Nations International Year for Disabled Persons in 1981. Certainly it significantly heightened my awareness. That was manifested at a micro level-perhaps it was not so important in the great scheme of things-when I refused to accept accommodation for my electoral office that did not provide basic facilities for handicapped people. It has been manifested, as I indicated previously, again in the micro sense, with my children, in that part of their curriculum provides a far more detailed understanding of the effect of disabilities than I, for example, was provided with in my student years. A degree of bipartisanship has been shown here today in relation to the objectives of the Bill. It is important that the Minister be congratulated, as I indicated at the outset, not only on the content and the objectives of the Bill but also on the provision of certain principles that underlie the legislation. That is an important concept and one that ought to be taken note of by other Ministers.