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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12292


Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (9:21 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will implement a package of amendments to improve the operation and effectiveness of our antidiscrimination legislation.

Disability Discrimination Act 1992

On this, the International Day of People with Disability, I am pleased to announce that the bill will implement key recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in 2004 for improving the operation and effectiveness of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

This reaffirms the Rudd government’s commitment to upholding and strengthening the rights of people with disability—a commitment demonstrated earlier this year with the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The key amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act will introduce an explicit and positive duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disability.

The original intention of the act was to recognise that positive action may be required to avoid disability discrimination.

Comments of the High Court in the 2003 decision of Purvis cast doubt on this. The proposed amendments implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to remove this uncertainty.

This duty to make such adjustments is balanced by limiting it to measures that would not impose unjustifiable hardship. The general unjustifiable hardship defence is also being extended to all areas in which discrimination is unlawful under the act—an amendment also recommended by the Productivity Commission.

The amendments also implement the recommendation to extend the ‘inherent requirements’ defence to most employment contexts. This extension is only implemented to the extent that it is appropriate for the defence to apply. It will not apply, for example, when making available promotion opportunities.

The bill also proposes to rectify discrepancies in the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act highlighted by the Federal Court in the case of Forest. The amendments provide that discrimination on the grounds of a person having a carer, assistant, assistant animal or disability aid is equivalent to discrimination on the ground of disability.

The amendments clarify obligations regarding assistance animals, including making it easier to determine what is an assistance animal. The amended act will recognise animals accredited under either a state or territory law, or by a relevant organisation.

The amendments also extend the scope to make standards to cover all areas of unlawful discrimination, simplify requirements for demonstrating indirect discrimination and place the burden of proving the reasonableness of a requirement or condition on the person who has imposed it.

These changes will make the Disability Discrimination Act clearer, more comprehensive and more effective. They will modernise the operation of the act and further achieve the objects of the act to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against people with disability.

Age Discrimination Act 2004

The bill also proposes to amend the Age Discrimination Act 2004 to remove the ‘dominant reason’ test. The amendment will provide that, if a person’s age is one of the reasons for taking discriminatory action that disadvantages them, then this will be sufficient to be considered discrimination. It will no longer be necessary for a person to prove that age was the dominant reason.

This will give effect to the 2007 bipartisan recommendation of the House Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in the report titled Older people and the law. It will harmonise the act with other federal antidiscrimination laws, better align it with state and territory laws and provide a better level of protection from unlawful discrimination for people of any age. In particular, it will ensure that older Australians will be better protected from age discrimination.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 and other acts

The bill also proposes amendments to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 to formally change the name of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Earlier this year, the commission changed its corporate identity to assist in ensuring that all Australians know that Australia has an independent national institution with the responsibility to protect and promote human rights in Australia.

The amendments will implement the government’s agreement to a request by the commission to also change its legal name. Consequential amendments to other laws that refer to the act or the commission will also be made.

Another key amendment to that act is to extend from 28 to 60 days—that is, to more than double—the period in which a person can take a complaint to the Federal or Federal Magistrates Court after it is terminated by the commission. This gives effect to another recommendation from the Productivity Commission’s report.

A number of amendments are also proposed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the commission’s complaints-handling process, including allowing the president of the commission to finalise settled complaints and complaints for which the complainant expresses no intention to pursue the matter.

Other amendments

Finally, amendments of a minor and technical nature are proposed to the acts already mentioned, as well as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. These amendments will remove redundant or unnecessary provisions, improve readability and apply modern drafting conventions.

Conclusion

This bill is another important step towards promoting greater equality for people with disability and enhancing the human rights and antidiscrimination framework in Australia. I acknowledge in the House the presence of the parliamentary secretary with responsibility for disabilities and also acknowledge the presence of the shadow minister.

On this, the International Day of People with Disability, I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Wood) adjourned.