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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 998


Mr OAKESHOTT (7:12 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 and I do so as the son of a man who has spent his life improving the quantity and quality of life for people with disabilities. I start with this and mention it with pride because—as a consequence of growing up playing at places like the House With No Steps in Lismore and learning to swim at the hydrotherapy pool at North Shore Hospital, which was mentioned by the previous speaker, and associating with many people who, on the surface, would be defined as people with disabilities but who, in so many ways, have strengths which many able-bodied people of the world can certainly learn from—I can report to the House that, if this bill is a step towards the future where all are treated the same, which is the background that I come from, then the future is certainly a good one. The future is one that does not have a mere step or a mere handrail or a lack of consideration for these simple, built-form acts of acceptance and grace; the future is one where these simple impediments do not get in the way and are not points of difference when we all have so much to celebrate and enjoy together within Australian society.

I know that several speakers since the member for Tangney spoke have made reference to his speech, but there was one point in that speech that I certainly agree with, and that is that all of us in this chamber do need to focus on what unites us and we do need to work on what we have in common. But that is the point at which he lost me and where I am fundamentally opposed to the logic put forward in that speech by that honourable member. In my time in this chamber, even though it has been short, I would have to give that speech the points for being what I consider the most poorly considered contribution to date. In a week where there have been some tremendous contributions made in bipartisan spirit, that speech certainly disappointed me and, I would hope, would disappoint parliamentary colleagues.

The reason for my disappointment at the contribution of the member for Tangney is that it is our job here as members of parliament to promote more than the simple Darwinian theories of survival of the fittest, and we have a job to do in making sure that our society is not ruled by the simple laws of the jungle. If these theses are true, we may as well shut this place down, as none of us has a role or a purpose in public policy if that is the case. That is where I hope the honourable member reflects and considers what his role is in celebrating a life enjoyed by all. This is the exact point made by Justice Kirby when he was talking about this very topic and discussing the nature of Australian democracy and the balancing act in human rights, where, yes, we work for the majority but in doing so we have to defend the rights of individuals and the vulnerable minorities. They need to be respected and defended and that is what this legislation is contributing in building a better Australia.

I was surprised by the contribution of the member for Tangney because, when I look through the background notes with regard to this legislation, this bill looks to be the product of a rich bipartisan history on this matter. It started in 2004, when the coalition government was in place, following recommendations from the Productivity Commission. I was pleased to see that most of those recommendations were accepted by the coalition government at the time. The roots of this bill and its bipartisan background bring together all of us in this chamber, bar a few. I support this legislation because, from my point of view, I want to engage with all Australians at a practical level. I have just moved an electoral office because of poor access issues, in that it was denying people access to their local member. I want to be able to talk to everyone, as I would hope all members of this chamber would like to do within their own electorates. I do not do this to be airy-fairy, antsy-pantsy, chardonnay sipping or an amateur socialist, which I think is another term that was used. Rest assured that my reasons for doing so are far from wanting to be any of those. I do this to celebrate life in all its many wonderful, varied, confused and challenging shapes and forms. My life and our life is a lesser place if a simple step means I have fewer people to celebrate life with, and my community and our community is a lesser place if a simple step means we have fewer people to celebrate life with. I will be pleased to see this bill go through the parliament because my country and our country is a lesser place if a simple step means we have fewer people engaged in the celebration of Australian life. I welcome the legislation, I applaud its bipartisan roots and I certainly look forward to it making a real difference in community life in Australia.