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- Start of Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Stone, Sharman, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
One Nation Party
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Kelly, De-Anne, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Cameron, Eoin, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(McMullan, Bob, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
(Kelly, Jackie, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Crean, Simon, MP, Moore, John, MP)
(Nugent, Peter, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport
(Filing, Paul, MP, Zammit, Paul, MP)
(Billson, Bruce, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Goods and Services Tax
(Evans, Gareth, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Gambaro, Teresa, MP, Moylan, Judi, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Thomson, Andrew, MP)
(Forrest, John, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
Goods and Services Tax
(Ellis, Annette, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Taxation: Foreign Corporations
(Hawker, David, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- ONE NATION
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- STANDING AND SESSIONAL ORDERS
- HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1998
- REGIONAL FOREST AGREEMENTS BILL 1998
- TARIFF PROPOSALS
- CORPORATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1998
- SOCIAL SECURITY AND VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (BUDGET AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 1997
- NATIONAL CAPITAL AUTHORITY
- ASSENT TO BILLS
- FAMILY LAW AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1998
- REQUESTS FOR DETAILED INFORMATION: RESPONSE
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Indigenous Cultural Property
(Latham, Mark, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Department of Veterans' Affairs: Funding and Grants for the Electoral Division of Oxley
(Hanson, Pauline, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
International Maritime Conventions: Australian Ratification
(Morris, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
- Indigenous Cultural Property
Tuesday, 30 June 1998
Ms MACKLIN (5:17 PM) —We are again debating the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1998. I have already made some remarks. It is and, I must say, it remains an injustice that people can be prevented from working, from studying and from doing the everyday things of life such as shopping and going to the library simply because they have a disability.
In 1992 the Labor government established the Disability Discrimination Act. That act was about providing people with disabilities with a legal avenue of redress for discrimination against them on the basis of their disability. We introduced the separate position of Disability Discrimination Commissioner to make sure that the Disability Discrimination Act delivered real changes to people's lives in these areas. What we needed then and what we need now is national leadership. I am very sorry to say, particularly on behalf of people with disabilities in this country, that we are not getting national leadership from the Howard government. We will no longer be able to get it from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner either, because there will not be one.
One of the most important things about the disability discrimination agenda is the standards. The Disability Discrimination Act provided a foundation for standards in a range of areas—employment, education, the built-in environment, communications and transport—so that we could change the environment around us to give people with disabilities a fair go. The standards were a very big step forward. They introduced a process based on negotiation and conciliation. They lifted the focus on individuals with disabilities and put the focus on the environment. The focus was on the fact that disabilities can become a barrier to participation only if our environment is inadequate.
Now all that has changed. People with disabilities face a very different environment. They face a government which is no longer prepared to provide national leadership for reform. This is a government which does not seem to understand that providing access for people with disabilities actually benefits the whole community. Let us take the example of accessible transport. A simple thing like providing a ramp for bus access can make the world of difference not only for a person in a wheelchair but also for the mother with a pram or an elderly person with a walking frame. As our population ages, we need to think about how to make transport more accessible. This bill sees the Howard government walking away from this agenda. This government is turning its back on the five years in which people with disabilities were able to make real gains.
There is also the issue of cost. It is a major issue because the government has changed the way that complaints will be funded under the act. Under the current system, a person with a disability can pursue a complaint with the commission at no cost. The two parties can sit down and, with the help of the commission, try to work out a solution. In the process, people start to understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities. But now, if people want to proceed with their complaint, they have to take it to the Federal Court. If they lose the case, they will of course be liable for costs. People with disabilities will have to pay legal fees and much more if they lose their case. I am sure that honourable members can understand the effect that this will have on people with disabilities.
Disability groups around Australia are most concerned about these changes. They are saying that people will not pursue complaints because they are terrified about the costs. We must remember that most people with disabilities are on low incomes because of their disability. I want to read to the House part of a note that I received from the Physical Disability Council of Australia about the result of the changes that we are debating. They said:
This means that people with disabilities will almost always commence an action with no real idea of the chance of success. A person losing a case against a `big spending corporation' could face bankruptcy. People with disabilities believe this is too high a risk for the potential gain—access to a theatre, access to a bus system, employment discrimination and so on.
That is from the Physical Disability Council of Australia. They said:
What good is a Disability Discrimination Act if people cannot afford to use it? What good are disability standards if the current substandard access for people with disabilities is rarely challenged?
Another significant aspect of the bill before us is that it aims to shift the focus away from intervention in particular cases and toward the provision of education and the raising of public awareness of discrimination issues. It does this in two distinct ways. First, it re-orders the primary functions of the commission to emphasise its educative role. Secondly, it reduces the commission's powers in respect of individual cases by requiring it to obtain the permission of the Attorney-General before seeking to intervene in court proceed ings and by removing its power to recommend the payment of damages in discrimination cases.
I certainly do not wish to downplay the importance of public education in this context. Of course, it has a vital role to play. However, it must not be forgotten that individual cases play a very important part in raising public awareness. Such cases are often widely publicised and can send a clear message that unlawful discrimination will not be tolerated. One case that is often referred to is the case of Cox v. Queensland state government. In this case a person with a physical disability successfully challenged the building of the convention centre in South Bank in Brisbane city because there was no access through the front door. As surprising as this may sound—a major entertainment complex with no thought to wheelchair access—it happened. And it still happens. The person who challenged the building was successful. The Queensland state government had to install a lift and the case received a lot of attention.
This demonstrates the power of the current approach. It sends a very strong message to all governments and all businesses that they need to be constantly thinking about people with disabilities and how they will fare in using services or getting into buildings. It is the kind of constant reminder that governments of all political persuasions and at all levels, and all businesses also, need. We all need this constant reminder about the problems that people with disabilities face in either getting access to services or getting into buildings.
Labor opposes this bill and we feel particularly strongly about the attack on the Disability Discrimination Commissioner. We will not walk away from the Disability Discrimination Act. There is an enormous amount more to be done to make sure that people with disabilities get access to services, to the built environment, to the ordinary things of life that all of us take for granted. Our platform commits a future Labor government to retaining or, if this government is successful, putting back the Disability Discrimination Commissioner and to continuing the implementation of the standards that we were so proud to put in place.
Social justice for people with disabilities is an aspiration that Labor fundamentally believes in. It is a Labor value. It is something we will continue to fight for and we will certainly oppose the whittling away of the avenues that people with disabilities have had to date that this government seems so intent on doing.