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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1153


Mr DEBUS (Minister for Home Affairs) (12:55 PM) —As a member of the baby boomer generation I particularly associate myself with the observations of the member for Bonner. The Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 is indeed a significant step in improving the operation, the efficiency and the effectiveness of our system of antidiscrimination. The bill will implement a number of the recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in 2004 for the improvement of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Key amendments make explicit the duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disability. They broaden the operation of the defence of unjustifiable hardship. They make more certain and more clear the coverage and application of the act in relation to carers, assistants, disability aid and assistance animals, and they recognise state and territory initiatives on accreditation of assistance animals. The power to make standards under the act is broadened.

The bill clarifies a range of other matters in the act. It expressly includes within the meaning of disability genetic predisposition and behaviour that is a symptom or manifestation of a disability, and it adds additional criteria for what is to be considered in determining unjustifiable hardship. The bill also clarifies where certain burdens of proof will lie. With regard to other antidiscrimination acts, the bill proposes to remove the so-called dominant reason test from the Age Discrimination Act 2004. This gives effect to the bipartisan recommendation of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in its 2007 report called Older people and the law. The bill will amend the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 to formally change the name of the commission to the Australian Human Rights Commission. Amendments will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the commission’s complaints-handling process.

I would like to thank members for their contribution to the debate, and the vast majority of members, including opposition members, for their support of this bill. In particular, I acknowledge the contribution by the member for Maribyrnong, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services. He is a passionate advocate for this sector and has made a most considerable contribution in the area more generally since he has been in this House. As the member for Farrer, the shadow minister for justice and customs, said in her speech to this House yesterday:

… it is very important that we as a parliament stand in support of the right of those with disabilities to participate fully in employment in our society.

For the record, with respect to the member for Tangney, I note that his comments yesterday were completely wrong in both fact and law, both with regard to the bill and with regard to the rights of persons with a disability. As I have outlined, this bill makes changes that have been reviewed and considered carefully, not only by the Attorney-General’s department but by respected bodies that include the Productivity Commission, the Australian Law Reform Commission and committees of this parliament. The changes are not radical; neither are they tinkering. The bill provides important corrections and clarifications, and appropriate improvements to our laws and administrative mechanisms, in a practical and measured way. We look forward to seeing the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which is presently considering the bill, and we will, of course, give careful consideration to that committee’s recommendations. The bill is another significant step in ensuring that our laws continue to promote greater equality, equal opportunity and a fair go for people with disability, and I commend it to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.