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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 981

Ms CAMPBELL (5:52 PM) —I rise today to speak in support of what on the surface might sound like a dry, legalistic piece of legislation but which, at its heart, is designed to fundamentally improve the functioning of the Disability Discrimination Act. The Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 implements the key recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s 2004 review. In particular, it makes it clear that there is a general duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with a disability. In my home state of Tasmania this is particularly relevant. Tasmania has one of the highest levels of expressed rates of disability in the country. It is in the vicinity of 23 per cent—that is, around 100,000 people. The 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers found that around 23.5 per cent of Tasmanians reported some form of disability. Disability was defined as any ‘limitation, restriction or impairment which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and which restricts everyday activities.’ Examples ranged from hearing loss requiring the use of a hearing aid or difficulty dressing due to arthritis, through to advanced dementia requiring constant help and supervision. There was little difference in the percentage of males and females with a disability—around 23.2 per cent and 23.8 per cent respectively. Approximately 18.9 per cent of males and 21.6 per cent of females in the 2003 survey reported having a core activity limitation—including communication, mobility and self-care—and/or a schooling or employment limitation. Surely, the very least that we, as a society, can offer them is that we ensure ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made to accommodate their disability.

As I said, on the surface this seems to be a legalistic and semantic piece of legislation. I will, if I may, spell out for the House exactly what this legislation will do. It will make explicit the general duty to make reasonable adjustments, excluding adjustments that would cause unjustifiable hardship. It extends the defence of unjustifiable hardship to all unlawful discrimination in the Disability Discrimination Act, except harassment and victimisation, and it will extend the defence of inherent requirements to all employment situations, except where it would be meaningless or inappropriate, and clarify matters to be considered when determining unjustifiable hardship. This legislation will clarify that ‘disability’ includes a genetic predisposition to a disability and that it includes behaviour that is a symptom or manifestation of a disability. This is consistent with the High Court’s Purvis decision of 2003.

This legislation amends the definition of indirect discrimination to remove the proportionality test, placing on a respondent the onus of showing a requirement is reasonable, and include incidences of proposed indirect discrimination. It will ensure that the ‘special measures’ and Migration Act 1958 exemptions from the Disability Discrimination Act do not exempt general actions that are incidental to those measures. It allows disability standards to be formulated in relation to any area in which it is unlawful to discriminate under the Disability Discrimination Act and for a standard to set out the extent to which it can override state and territory laws on the same topic. It clarifies that discrimination on the basis of a disability of any of a person’s associates, as well as discrimination on the basis of having a carer, assistant, assistance animal or disability aid, is discrimination on the basis of disability—overcoming the Forest decision of the Federal Court. It will improve the recognition of assistance animals, clarify the obligations of potential discriminators and people with assistance animals and extend the public health exemption in the Disability Discrimination Act to diseases of assistance animals.

This legislation also applies to the Age Discrimination Act 2004 and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986. Regarding the former, this legislation removes the dominant purpose test so that, if an act is done for two or more reasons and one of those reasons is the age of the person, the age of the person will no longer need to be the dominant or substantial reason for that act to be found to be discriminatory; regarding the latter, it changes the name of the commission to the Australian Human Rights Commission. It also extends the period within which a person can take a terminated complaint to the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court from 28 days to 60 days and enhances the commission’s ability to handle complaints efficiently and effectively by giving powers to the president to finalise complaints that have been settled.

Make no mistake, for those people to whom these acts apply these changes have been a long time coming, and they greatly improve the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act and other human rights laws. It does this, as I said, by implementing the recommendations from, among other reports, the Productivity Commission’s 2004 report. It also clarifies aspects of the Disability Discrimination Act which have been in doubt due to court decisions. It improves the complaint-handling process for the commission and forms an integral part of the Rudd government’s commitment to enhancing the rights of people with a disability. It will assist in the pursuit of our goal of enhancing greater social inclusion.

With that focus on social inclusion in mind, I will host a social inclusion forum next month in my electorate of Bass. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so alongside Senator Ursula Stephens. I note the Senator’s commitment, drive and passion and commend her work in the duel roles of Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector and Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Inclusion. It is in these capacities that Senator Stephens will visit Tasmania next month, and I look forward to facilitating an ongoing dialogue between the Rudd government and key stakeholders across a range of sectors in Bass. These sectors include disability services, migrant support services, counselling and trauma support services, to name a few. All these groups are critical to a functioning and inclusive community. They provide the services and support to reduce the marginalisation of the most vulnerable in our society. I take this opportunity to commend the work carried out by these groups and individuals across northern Tasmania.

I have spoken in this House before about the unique opportunities afforded me by the privileged position I hold and about the amazing people with whom I come into contact in my capacity as the member for Bass. Prior to Christmas, I had the wonderful joy of visiting the Adult Day Support Service at Rocherlea. The staff, including Tony Crothers, Belinda Ferrier and Eleanor Kramer, provide amazing support and care for around 90 participants from the greater Launceston region. Gail O’Conner and Liz Scholes opened their pottery and craft workshop to me, and Mark Lynch and Michael Stott were kind enough to share with me their music. They are tireless in their commitment and they give not only their time and expertise but their love to those in their care.

Their work is supported in the wider community by people like Kev Smith. Kev runs an outfit called Kev’s Tricycle Hire and provides hours of untold joy. To talk with Kev is to understand some of the compassion which is evident across Bass and northern Tasmania. Kev’s bicycles are specially designed to allow those people who would otherwise never ride a bike to enjoy the freedom which comes from feeling the wind in your face. Those who have used his service tell stories of families uniting in a pastime which was previously unavailable to them—and let me tell you: it is an absolute joy to watch. These are the kinds of people, I am proud to say, who call northern Tasmania home.

As a government, we are committed to supporting their work through the steps we have taken to reform and improve the lives of people with disabilities, including the development of a national disability strategy and the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon. Jenny Macklin, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, the Hon. Bill Shorten, have visited my electorate of Bass. Those whom they met on those visits know them to be absolutely committed to their portfolios. They also know them to be honest about the task they face in fundamentally improving the lives of those with disabilities. The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services heard firsthand, at a forum I held in Launceston last year, from key stakeholders and people who have a form of disability. I thank them both for their commitment to Bass and to northern Tasmania and I look forward to working with them in the future, as this government continues with its agenda of social inclusion and a greater focus on the values which underpin a humane and decent society.

How we treat our elderly, how we raise our children and how we show compassion and commitment to those people with disabilities says a great deal about us as people and about our society. The Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 implements recommended changes and improves various aspects of the Disability Discrimination Act, and I am proud to commend it to the House.