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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1140

Mr RAGUSE (11:56 AM) —I rise today to speak on the Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I would certainly like to commend the honourable member for Makin on his contribution. He has proven, long service in local government—as a councillor for near on, I think, 30 years. He has spoken briefly today on the work he has done but it does not do him justice, because I know he has been an advocate for the sorts of things we are talking about when it comes to discrimination but also to disability. In fact, when we talk discrimination generally, its most insidious forms are where it relates to issues of disability. It is probably the most cruel and unkind of any level of discrimination when it relates to disability. And while as a culture in this country we have got much better at it over the last three decades or so, it is something we have to be continually aware of and to continually work towards moving forward on.

This bill intends to improve the effectiveness of the Disability Discrimination Act to ensure it continues to protect the rights of people with disabilities. The Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 implements many of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, the Law Reform Commission and parliamentary committees. The previous government accepted the bulk of these recommendations; however, they were never implemented. So I am proud today to say that the Rudd government is continuing with this reform.

In developing this bill, the Rudd government consulted industry bodies, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the states and territories before it was introduced. This bill clarifies existing obligations on employers, service providers and others to make reasonable adjustments to remove discriminatory barriers to people with disability.

The Productivity Commission recommended that the existing obligation to make reasonable adjustments be made explicit. In fact, the bill does implement this recommendation and I was quite disappointed to read in the Financial Review on 11 February in an article by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the ACCI, that they believe that the changes would force employers to accommodate the needs of staff whose disabilities they may not know about. They saw that as a major issue. This is a fallacy, and it is perpetuated by the ACCI—but perhaps they were reported wrongly in terms of their intention. I know that pointing out issues to their membership is important but, when it comes to disabilities, we certainly cannot take this particular line. Again it is a part of the culture that we need to change. I would like to do ask the ACCI to look more closely at this legislation, because I believe the reasonable adjustments are subject to the defence that they will not be required if adjustments would cause unjustifiable hardship. And amendments to the ‘request for information’ provision in the Disability Discrimination Act will allow employers and others to seek information from the person with disability, providing it is for a non-discriminatory purpose. This ensures that this amendment maintains a balance between the rights of people with disability and the legitimate concerns of business owners and others. In a submission to the parliamentary inquiry, in fact, the ACCI stated:

… as we enter into a possible recessionary period, there is no clear policy rationale to introduce such changes that may have unintended consequences.

I suggest to the ACCI that they need to look more closely at this legislation. This legislation follows recommendations, as I said, from the Productivity Commission, the Law Reform Commission and the parliamentary committees and I would suggest that we are moving forward as a government to ensure that discrimination is something that we can put behind us.

The wonderful thing is that this legislation has bipartisan support from the House, and I know members on the other side of the chamber have provided their input. I am pleased to hear, from some of the comments made today, that we all agree that discrimination and how we deal with it, particularly in the area of disability, is something we have to move forward with. I always like to talk specifically about how legislation affects or supports members of my community and would like to talk today about a number of people in my electorate of Forde who work in organisations for people with disabilities. The member for Makin spoke about young people and children and how we should provide the sort of education to people who have disabilities to support them to ensure that when they are of working age they have the right to take their place in the workforce unhindered by some of the issues that we have spoken about and other members have spoken about today.

There are a number of people I would like make special mention of today. As I said, the Beenleigh Special School is in my electorate. The principal, Roselynne Anderson, does a fabulous job. She is a woman with so much compassion and understanding. The idea behind the work that she does with these young people is to provide them with every ability to enter the workforce, and the legislation we have put through this House should ensure that people have that easy transition. I would also like to mention the former P&C president, Tania Gray, who for many years has actively fundraised for the school.

It is interesting that the discrimination shows through. Beenleigh Special School has had a number of attacks of graffiti and other vandalism, and it is unfortunate because the type of vandalism shows that people do have some level of discrimination and a lack of understanding of disabilities and of how people in these communities and schools are working very hard to give young people every opportunity. I should mention that the current P&C president, Leah Rooney, is carrying on the great work.

The Windaroo Valley State High School has a special education program and the teacher and coordinator, Erin Kerr, does a fabulous job. At the end of last year, Parliamentary Secretary Shorten visited WindarooValley school to look at how the programs are being delivered and the caring that comes from people like Erin. In a large high school you need to make sure that the school administration supports these programs, and I should say that the principal, Dennis Irvine, does a wonderful job in supporting this type of program. I will go further and say that we must look at our education systems to allow the transition, particularly for young people. While the mainstream of education does not necessarily accommodate issues of disabilities well, the people in higher administration roles in the region that I represent—the district director, Glen Hoppner, and the executive director for the region, Samantha Knowles—do a fabulous job in supporting the schools that have these special needs and in working with them to provide young people with opportunities. The Beenleigh RSL has done a lot of fundraising for the schools, particularly the special school, in my district, and I must pay tribute to the work that they have been doing in providing services to these young people.

I must make special mention of a gentleman by the name of John Temple, who in his own words is severely disabled. He has certain problems with his coordination and he does not speak very well but he has worked actively for 30-odd years. He is a person who still today at the age of nearly 65 wants to continue in the workforce. He does not have much mobility and yet he has been able to drive large earthmoving equipment for many years. He is a great role model for younger people. John has lived with discrimination and he understands it in the workforce, and I know that he will commend us on bringing these changes forward. Another visit to the electorate by our parliamentary secretary will be precisely to talk to John about some of the other wide-ranging issues for disabled people.

I would also like to say today that I am very proud to be the new convener of the Parliamentary Friends for People with a Disability. It is a group that has operated in this parliament for a long time with great support all over. I am very proud to take on the position. In fact, in this coming year, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper, I would like to see your involvement. I know you are very active in your own electorate with issues of disability and I would like to encourage all members of parliament—certainly those here today—to get involved and to work together to solve some of the issues around disability that we are dealing with in this legislation.

Before I close on my part of the debate today, I want to recognise a group on the Gold Coast, Autism Gold Coast—a group of people who, particularly as parents, have had enormous difficulties over the years convincing governments and other authorities of their special needs. Parliamentary Secretary Shorten has met with this particular group, and I know he was very encouraged by the sort of actions and activities that they want to be involved in. I am encouraging all members to join the parliamentary friends to get a better understanding of the issues that we are dealing with in our community, particularly when it comes to disability. It is so wide ranging and takes so many forms.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 is a step forward in promoting and providing greater services to people with disabilities, particularly in the workplace. Overall this bill will enhance the human rights and antidiscrimination framework in Australia. While we have come so far with human rights and antidiscrimination, this should not mean that we stop. Equality is a right and we need to remain diligent to ensure that we do not go backwards on human rights. For these reasons I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—I thank the honourable member for Forde for his kind words with respect to me personally.