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Thursday, 16 May 2002
Page: 2406

Ms HALL (11:01 AM) —My initial reaction to the Disability Discrimination Amendment Bill 2002 was to oppose it. I felt that this was a retrograde step. After examining the issues, I can see that it is very positive and a step forward for people with disabilities. By allowing exemptions, it will put in place framework legislation that will establish standards for people with disabilities. It is quite sad that we have to establish standards first, but it is very important that we do have disability standards which govern access to public transport and facilities.

As a person who worked in both a spinal injury and a head injury team prior to entering parliament, I know of the difficulties that people with disabilities experience in trying to access public transport, or any form of transport. I know about the mobility issues they experience. One of the issues that governments have to grapple with and have to come to terms with is the fact that people with disabilities do have rights and should be able to access transport like other people in the community. I see this as a positive step because it is taking us in that direction.

The transport disability standards were formulated by the Attorney-General under section 31 of the Disability Discrimination Act. A draft of the standards relating to public transport were published by the Attorney-General on 27 September last year. These standards can now move from being draft standards to being standards that will have a real impact on public transport systems throughout the state.

The exemption that has been agreed to has been done in consultation with the working group on transport. This group included a national federation of disability consumer organisations: the Australian Deaf Association; Blind Citizens of Australia; Deaf Forum of Australia; Head Injury Council of Australia, a very important group with regard to accessing public transport; the National Council of Intellectual Disability; the National Ethnic Disability Alliance; Physical Disability Council of Australia; and Women with Disabilities.

I wonder if there was also any consultation with Paraquad because I know that people who suffer from paraplegia in particular are able to use public transport. I also wonder if any thought has been given to providing retractable ramps that can be placed on those buses or any form of transport that is given exemption as a temporary measure. I know that has worked in the past for people with disabilities. I thought that was worthwhile throwing in.

With the exemptions, the bill does provide up-front certainty by enabling a provider of public transport services or facilities to apply for an exemption from the disability standards. As I have already said, that is important because it allows these standards to come into effect. An exemption is only given where hardship will apply. My one little concern is that this is for a five-year period. I note that it can be extended, but it worries me that it will be extended and extended and extended. I think that some timeframes need to be put in place so that, if an exemption is given, there is a plan for meeting those requirements in the long term.

I am very pleased to say that, before the exemptions are granted, there is the need to talk to the bodies. It is terribly important to discuss these issues with people who have disabilities. For too long people with disabilities have been treated as second-class citizens. I have to take issue a little with the member for Mitchell. I remember the school case he was talking about. I think it is vitally important that people with disabilities be able to access schools. In my past life, we helped convert schools so people with disabilities could attend them. Maybe people with disabilities just have to accept that they cannot access all forms of public transport or that they may not have the same opportunities as other people. That is once again treating them as second-class citizens. I really strongly feel that they have the same rights as other people.

That brings me to the issue of disability pensioners and how they have been treated as second-class citizens in the budget. That links very closely into this issue because the one issue that the government says that it wants to progress is for people with disabilities to get into the work force. For people with disabilities to be able to enter the work force, one of the vital issues is the ability to use transport. Therefore, it is important that these standards come into play and that, further down the track, these exemptions are not continually given. I do not want to see the same sort of commitment to the implementation of standards as we have had for people on disability support pensions. This legislation puts into place issues that I think have the ability to achieve the desired outcome. They will, if fully implemented, allow people with disabilities to use public transport. That is what it is all about.

I would like to add to the words of the member for Canberra. She said it is vitally important that we continue to consult with disability groups and that their concerns be really taken into account when we are working in this area. No-one knows better than they do the problems that they experience when accessing public transport. Nobody understands the issues of disability better than a person with a disability who has to confront the restrictions that that places upon them every day. I do not know if any members here have been in a position where they have had to use crutches. I think it is a very good exercise to try to access public transport or to do everyday activities when you have a restriction in mobility. I believe that we need these standards. I believe that it is vitally important that they are fully implemented. I see this as a step in the right direction.