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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1134

Mr BIDGOOD (11:26 AM) —It is with pride that I rise to speak on the Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. This bill implements key recommendations of the Productivity Commission in its 2004 Review of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, in particular making it clear that there is a general duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with a disability, extend the defence of unjustifiable hardship, modernise key concepts such as indirect discrimination and improve the readability of the act. The bill also provides a comprehensive legislative scheme for dealing with ‘assistance animals’ such as guide dogs and for the recognition under the Disability Discrimination Act of state and territory legislation that accredits those animals, and it clarifies the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act in relation to carers, associates and disability aids.

This bill will implement a 2003 recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission and the National Health and Medical Research Council to make it clear that discrimination on the basis of a person’s genetic predisposition to disability is unlawful. This bill is about improving the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act and other human rights laws by also implementing key recommendations from the 2004 Productivity Commission report and other relevant reports. Importantly, the bill will also remove the dominant purpose test under the antidiscrimination act, improve the complaint handling process for the Australian Human Rights Commission—formerly the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission—and change the legal name of the commission. This bill forms an important part of the government’s commitment to enhancing the rights of people with a disability and will assist in pursuing its goal of enhancing greater social inclusion.

Discrimination can be both overt and subtle. Discrimination is always wrong. Whether it be age discrimination, disability discrimination, withdrawing human rights or sexual discrimination, it should not be tolerated in any way, shape or form. I am proud that we live in a country where the government works towards promoting fairness and stamping out discrimination in society through the laws against discrimination.

People with a disability and their carers contribute so much to our society, and that is too often—unfairly—unrecognised. When the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, the member for Maribyrnong, Mr Bill Shorten, visited my electorate of Dawson, we saw firsthand the great work done at the Endeavour workshop at Slade Point. We also visited the Chances R workshop, operated by Mackay Regional Council, which provides important training to young people and is also an important boost for the environment through the recycling it does. Both workplaces provide a great service to the community and both workplaces employ at least some people with varying degrees of disability. Both workplaces have excellent, hardworking and dedicated employees and managers.

On a personal note, friends of mine who have disabilities are actively engaged in the workforce. A good friend of mine, John Pollock, is blind in one eye and has only 20 per cent vision in the other eye. Yet John is able to work in the local minilab in Mackay and has been a darkroom technician for over 25 years. In spite of his visual impairment and disability, he is truly an excellent photographic technician. I pay credit to him because he has a very positive attitude to engaging in the workplace. In all the years I have known him, since 1993, I have never once heard him complain about his disability. I am proud to call him a good, close and loyal friend of mine. He is a person who exemplifies the willingness of people with various impairments and disabilities to be fully engaged in the workforce. I commend his employer, Healthpoint Chemist in Sydney Street, who gainfully employ him. He has been there, I believe, somewhere between eight and 10 years. He is doing a fantastic job and I know that he is highly regarded and respected in his workplace.

Another personal friend of mine in Mackay is Garry Matthews, who became wheelchair bound some years ago. Regardless of the wheelchair, he has been actively engaged in the community. Again, he is another prime example of someone who has been involved in local community radio, various charities and social activities in the Mackay region. He is currently studying for a degree and also helps the homeless. In spite of his disabilities and in spite of his restrictions, he has a positive attitude to life. These people are to be admired, because it would be easy to be negative and to beat oneself up and become frustrated. But they have a positive attitude.

It is the role of government at a federal, state and local level to encourage people who want to be gainfully employed in spite of their disabilities, impairments and restrictions. I believe that that is the true role of a compassionate, caring government that wants to mobilise its whole workforce, particularly those who have certain limitations. We should encourage and not exclude those people. It is important that discrimination not be tolerated and that basic human rights be upheld. A person’s religious views, ethnic background, level of education or gender should have no bearing on an individual’s chances and opportunities in this country.

In conclusion, I am proud to be a part of a country that wants to mobilise every aspect of the workforce—those who are able-bodied and those who are not. For those who have various impairments—whether it be to sight, hearing or the ability to communicate through voice—we must do everything possible to enhance their abilities so they can reach their full potential in contributing to the whole of society so that they have an enriched and fulfilled life in the workplace and a sense of connection and contribution to the whole of society. I believe that is the role of a federal government which shows true compassion to all of its people and is inclusive. I am proud to be part of a government that is improving the human rights conditions for its people. I wholeheartedly commend this bill to the House.