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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1131

Mr HAYES (11:06 AM) —I thank my colleague the member for Solomon for jumping in the way he did. He is very nimble on his feet. The Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will implement a package of amendments to improve the operation and effectiveness of the antidiscrimination legislation. It will form an important part of the government’s commitment to enhancing the rights of people with disabilities and will assist in pursuing the goal of greater social inclusion. The current act is part of a suite of Commonwealth antidiscrimination laws which includes the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986, and the Age Discrimination Act 2004.

The disability discrimination bill will make disability discrimination unlawful by dealing with the physical and attitudinal barriers that directly and indirectly preclude people with disability from making use of their knowledge, skills and talents and preventing their effective participation in our community. It will afford people with disability the right to expect quality of opportunity in employment, education and the provision of goods and services. How we treat people with disability is, in my way of thinking, almost a reflection of our attitudes.

Madam Deputy Speaker Vale, you also come from an outer metropolitan area of Sydney. Apart from being a great place to live, we are over-represented with people who live with disability. That is probably for a range of different reasons, but the most likely reason is that the land is more affordable in the outer metropolitan areas of Sydney—if land is more affordable anywhere. Therefore, people with disability and their families tend to gravitate out there. In my electorate in the south-west of Sydney, we have a heck of a lot to do with people with disability. In fact, I have engaged in my office Vicki Meadows, whose daughter has very serious autism. Apart from her efficiency, Vicki can help us with a range of things. The fact is we can deal with those people with disability who come to our office. They are not just another number or just another constituent to us. We are their last port of call when they need assistance; when they need people to listen to them. Sometimes we act as a conduit to various agencies, not only to Commonwealth agencies. We tend to be the clearing house for people with disability or families who live with disability for entitlements, whether they fall under federal, state or local government provisions. We must have due regard to the fact that some people in our society, unfortunately, have been dealt a very difficult hand and we should be doing as much as possible to assist people and families in that situation.

Talking about families, we are very proud of our nephew, Patrick Donachie. He swam for Australia at the Sydney Paralympics. That was a wonderful event. Young Patrick enjoyed himself thoroughly. Ever since birth Patrick has had an intellectual disability. He regards himself as being a bit slower than others, and that might be so, but you would not find a more loving kid anywhere. This kid is dedicated to his training. I know his coach and I watched him grow up—that shows I am getting a bit old—and now he is training swimmers. Patrick’s disability is intellectual and feeling included meant so much to him. He went to school throughout the south-west of Sydney, before I went into politics of course, and he was able to get up and talk in front of other students. For a kid who has an intellectual disability, for a kid who is reserved, the fact that he was included brought Patrick out, quite frankly. He talked to fellow students and then he started talking to business and community leaders, and now he works for Macarthur Disability Services. Patrick has become an icon for young sporting people in our area, particularly for young people with disability, to show them that you can do things.

So it was to my profound regret and anger that Patrick did not get a chance to swim at the Athens Paralympics. Do you know why? A Spanish journalist, I think—and I do not want to belittle the people of Spain—wanted to prove a point and his point was that he thought he could fake an intellectual disability and get into a Paralympic team, and write a story about it. He had a lawyer involved with him, so he could prove the point that people can fake a disability. What followed was such a ruckus around Paralympic circles that as a consequence that particular category of intellectual disability was dropped from future Paralympics. Patrick missed his opportunity but as of last week he is still training because that is what he loves and what he cares to do. But when you look at this and the fact that someone faked a disability for personal gain, the truth is that that Spanish journalist really did have a disability—an antisocial disability. What he did was almost a crime against humanity. I do not want to labour the point but, despite the fact that Patrick Donachie is my nephew, all the kids who fall into that particular category of intellectual disability have had any chance of inclusion in the future, any chance to stand in the limelight, stripped away by a journalist who wanted to prove a point and sell a story. That does not reflect my view of journalists generally, but when a person would stoop that low to exploit disability to sell a story I regard that as a crime against humanity.

As I said at the outset, the south-west of Sydney is an area which is overrepresented with people living with disabilities. On that point, I convened a disability forum in December of last year. I was very pleased to be able to host this forum and Vicki Meadows, who I mentioned earlier, played a very significant role in pulling together all the various carers, providers and parents, and a number of people with disabilities themselves were able to come along to this forum. The basis of the forum I put on was to ensure that people in south-west Sydney had the opportunity to contribute to the development of the government’s National Disability Strategy. The key points that came out of our forum were issues of access to services, accommodation, education, employment, obviously, finance, health, transport, and volunteers working in the sector. Above all—and this came from the parents—what is needed is a whole-of-life approach to disabilities.

One thing I know about Vicki, who works for me, is that every so often she has got to go along and prove her daughter’s disability. Young Melissa is now 18. As a matter of fact I went to her debut not so long ago. Melissa has never actually acquired speech; she is profoundly autistic. Vicki as a mother nevertheless still has to go along and actually prove her daughter’s disability every now and again. She would love to be able to be like everybody else. That is why we did the debut for the Macarthur district family care. Vicki and Anne-Marie Woods came up with this idea that parents of kids with disabilities are often shut out. It has been in the back room as something they did not venture into society with. My view is that people who live with people with disabilities, and people with disabilities themselves, are as much part and parcel of our society as anybody else. They should be celebrated the same as anyone else, and hence our position that we should be looking at social inclusion.

So late last December we decided to put on a debut. We had, I think, 22 young ladies, some turning up in wheelchairs, some without limbs, young Melissa Meadows turned up with her brother, and we had an absolutely fabulous evening. The parents without exception had thought, ‘We will never actually do what other parents do out there, have a debut to celebrate the coming-out of our daughters.’ So we had it and it was wonderful. I have got to say there was not a dry eye in the whole house. It was certainly a wonderful experience and gave an opportunity to us as a society to reflect on disabilities.

When I grew up and no doubt when you grew up, Madam Deputy Speaker Vale, we probably knew that one or two members in our distant families had disability but you did not see them much. We have to get to the situation now where not just in employment, not just in accessing services but throughout the whole fabric of the community there is an understanding that people who have got disabilities are as much community members as anybody else.

There was a High Court decision taken not that long back in the Purvis case. I do not know all that much about the case. I did read the head note. As I understand it, this fellow had mental disability and part of his disability was obviously his actions but he wanted his animals around him. He decided to visit a clinic in Queensland for a dental appointment, I think, and he took his dogs. He was discriminated against on the basis that he could not bring animals in. One of the things in discrimination is that if you have a document saying you are disabled and it is legally prescribed then you can enter, whereas in his case it was almost a symptom or a predisposition of his actual mental illness that was on display. It was regarded originally by the authorities and then by the lower courts that he was not being discriminated against. The High Court read through that to not look at what people who have disability might have legally associated with their disability as a whole but look at their symptoms, look at their whole predicament and then make the decision whether they should be reasonably excluded. What this bill does is to try to address that and to try to bring some common sense, if you like, to the way we treat people with disabilities in our community.

Many of the recommendations followed in this bill emanate from the Productivity Commission report of 2004. It is designed to improve the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The key amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act introduce an explicit and positive duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, such as Mr Purvis. It is not okay just to be able to say we have done what we thought we were theoretically legally required to but we did not actually go that extra yard. In terms of making adjustments, this really comes very much into employment. It is all very well to say, ‘We could not have this person here because we would have to make changes in our operation to accommodate their disability.’ If those changes are not unreasonable, it is appropriate that those changes be made. If someone refuses to do that, is it appropriate to regard that as being an offence under the act and being discriminatory? That is one of the key factors that this act seeks to bring about.

I note the comments from Dr Belinda Smith, a researcher from Sydney University, particularly looking at this aspect of disability legislation. Dr Smith says:

Such a provision acknowledges that to achieve substantive equality, organizations need to do more than simply apply their criteria consistently and treat everyone the same. An obligation to provide reasonable adjustments in effect distributes some of the burden for change across a range of actors in society.

I think that is pretty close to the mark.

I have spoken about and, I am afraid, a little maligned the Queensland health service in discussing the Purvis case. Now that I am actually looking at my notes, I discover that the case against Queensland Health involved Che Forest. Che Forest was the fellow who had the mental disability and wanted to have his animals in his area. I suppose I should have looked at that as I was talking. Clearly that is an example of where we do need to make allowances for people with a range of disabilities, not just for the disability but for their symptoms or how they publicly exhibit their disability.

The Purvis case was actually a New South Wales based case and was dealt with in the High Court. It dealt with a student who was expelled and who had engaged in various acts of antisocial and violent behaviour whilst at school. That case certainly dealt with matters that were also clearly spelt out in the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, which balanced the duty to make adjustments 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. These amendments, as I say, were also recommended by the Productivity Commission.

One of the proudest moments I had last year was not just attending Macarthur Disability Services. This service supported a lot of teenaged kids who were trying to become job ready. They were going through various training exercises and being allocated to a number of areas. One of the kids had some time working with Marsdens law firm. Others were working in shops, learning to use cash registers. After I had spent a couple of hours with them, they invited me to go to their Macarthur disability ball. I thought it was a wonderful occasion. I turned up there. As I said, my nephew Patrick Donachie works there, as does Anne Thorn, who is the CEO of Macarthur Disability Services and does such a wonderful job throughout the greater community of Macarthur, from Picton through to Liverpool. It was a wonderful event, held at the Catholic Club at Campbelltown. They had a very understanding band on that night. This was these kids’ one night out, and they got up there onto the stage, participated, mimed and danced. Again, it was just wonderful that we went that extra yard for social inclusion. (Time expired)