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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 999

Mr RIPOLL (7:18 PM) —It is with great pleasure that I speak on the Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. A lot of good bills that come into this place take a long time both to get here and to take the really great steps forward that legislation can achieve in this place. This bill is one of those great bills that really do make a difference out in the community. It is something that, as a member of parliament, I am very proud to associate myself with and support. I know that we in here are all supportive of removing barriers for all Australians—people with disabilities and anybody who has some sort of barrier in front of them. I know that we in here are all supportive of removing either regulatory or legislative barriers, as well as physical and emotional barriers and other things that impede people’s ability to make a full contribution and, as we heard from the previous speaker, celebrate life—good words about the contribution that so many different people can make.

I spent a little time thinking about what this bill meant to me and how important it was. Maybe I have an unfair advantage in this place, in that one of the schools I went to, Corinda State High School, which is in my electorate, was a little unique, particularly in the days when I attended that high school. We had a student cohort there with profound disabilities. They were integrated as part of the school in probably an unusual environment for the time. Every class had a student with some form of disability, be they in a wheelchair or something of the like. It was a great experience for me, as a student, to be in a class with somebody who was deemed to have a disability, somebody with some sort of impairment, because it really taught me a whole heap of lessons. One of the most important lessons that it taught me is that in the end we are really just the same. Whatever our physical attributes might be, whatever limitations are placed in front of us, whatever physical things we may or may not be able to do, we are really all just the same, with the same wants, needs and desires, and in the things we want to achieve in life. We laugh about the same things and share a common humour. There is a whole range of things. It made me, over a period of time, almost blind to people’s disabilities because no longer did I see the disability—I just saw the person. I did not realise until I was much older just how much impact that had on my life—to be able to be in a room with people who have profound disabilities and not feel uncomfortable and to be able to be with people that other people have trouble or difficulty in talking to because they only see the disability and do not see the person first. So maybe I have some advantage over others in this House who have not had that experience.

When I looked at this bill and what was proposed, I supported it. It is a good bill. Any steps that we can take in here to remove physical, regulatory and other barriers so that people can enjoy a full life are really important. The changes in this legislation relating to recognising the different needs of people are laudable. I believe that clarifying that ‘disability’ does include people who have a genetic predisposition to a disability is important, as is looking at the definition of indirect discrimination—how discrimination itself plays a role in our society. Such was the case when I was a youngster at school, but what was not acceptable in those days is much more commonplace and acceptable today. We have made progress in our capacity to move beyond the way things were. I think that we can see that as part of a continual change in improvement and acceptance, just as in parliament we are giving better recognition for people who use animals for assistance and other aids and recognising that those people’s carers may have particular needs for those animals as well. In all these different measures we are helping people with a disability to go about their lives and business with as much support as is needed. It certainly does, I think, go to the core of some of the issues.

I just want to deal with a couple of other measures, in particular the ‘special measures’ in the Migration Act 1958 which exempted from the Disability Discrimination Act—general actions that were incidental for those measures at the time. It is important that we are dealing with those in this bill as well. Also important are the standards that are formulated in terms of the Disability Discrimination Act and relate to actions that are unlawful, particularly in the way in which they can override state and territory laws in the same area. It is a good way for the Commonwealth to override, in a whole range of areas, inconsistencies that exist across states and territories.

Also important in this bill, particularly in relation to discrimination on the basis of age, is the removal of a particular dominant purpose test. It was the case that, where there was more than one reason for discrimination, the dominant reason had to be age. The change now is that that no longer needs to be the case. If there is more than one reason for discrimination, the other reason could be just as important as age. The reality is—in life and in society—that discrimination continues, and it continues on the basis of a whole range of factors, be they age, disability, assistance animals or a range of other factors. Continually improving the legislation that we have in order to remove those barriers is, I think, the key purpose in what is being done here today.

This bill will improve the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act and other human rights laws. It comes out of some key recommendations of the 2004 Productivity Commission report and other reports, and it goes a fair way in clarifying important aspects of the Disability Discrimination Act. The bill, as I said, also removes the dominant purpose test in complaint-handling processes for the commission and changes the legal name of the commission to better reflect what the commission does. In the end, these changes further enhance the rights of all people in this country, whether they have a disability or not, and assists in pursuing our goals—and, I think, everybody’s goals in this place—of greater social inclusion, which takes me back to where I started. When I was at school, as for all young people growing up, difference was a very obvious and important factor in the way we lived our lives. The more that sense of difference is removed and not made a basis for discrimination and the more people can be included in all the things that we do, the more they can enjoy a better life. So to support this bill is, for me, a great pleasure. It is a good bill, and it is something which I think this House is fully supportive of.

There are also changes to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 and other acts. The bill proposes to amend that act to formally change the name of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to the Australian Human Rights Commission—something which is also, I think, important. Earlier this year, the commission changed its corporate identity, and that was really done to assist in ensuring that all Australians know that Australia actually has an independent national institution—that we are not somehow excluded from this, and that the name reflects what the institution actually does. We have also changed the period in which a complaint to the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court can be brought forward—it has been more than doubled from 28 days to 60 days. There are also a number of other amendments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the commission’s complaints-handling process. Not only do you need to do everything you can to make things fairer by removing the barriers of discrimination but you also need to make sure that, when problems do arise, complaints-handling processes are efficient and do not create further problems. You also need to ensure that people feel that there is some transparency and accountability and that there is a resource for them to access. It is our responsibility to make sure that those things operate in an efficient and proper manner.

In summing up, I would like to congratulate the minister for his work in this area. I know he is a passionate believer in improvements in these areas. It is very important that we make these sorts of changes in the Disability Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination Act and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act, and I commend the work that he has done. I fully support this bill and commend it to the House.

Debate interrupted.