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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1125

Mr PERRETT (10:39 AM) —I begin by commending the member for Shortland on those fine words. I too rise to give my full support to the Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I also thank all the children who taught me, when I was a teacher, about reasonable adjustments and also about courage, in terms of how people with disability are able to get through the day with a reasonable amount of accommodation and the good old common-sense test.

The legislation that is before the House is very important because it goes some way towards improving the rights of people with disability to enjoy equal opportunity for employment, education and access to goods and services. While we have come a long way since the Disability Discrimination Act was passed way back in 1992 under Paul Keating’s prime ministerial leadership, but people with disability still face discrimination, particularly in Australian workplaces.

Through employment, all people have the opportunity to earn money and gain financial independence, to develop skills, to meet friends and perhaps their partners, to grow in confidence and to have a greater sense of purpose in life. A job also enables us to contribute to society and, with that, to gain a sense of achievement and pride. For so many of us, work gives a sense of belonging to our community.

Unfortunately, some people with disability still face barriers that discourage them from working. As a result, they are grossly underrepresented in the workforce. In their paper Left out and missing out: disability and disadvantage, Mission Australia report that 34 per cent of Australians with disability are unemployed. It is estimated that, of the 700,000 recipients of the disability support pension, 20 per cent or 140,000 people are capable of work. That is the population of a fair sized city and obviously way too many to be missing out on employment.

It is well known that long-term unemployment can have a negative impact on people, particularly those who have the additional challenge of disability. Reliance on the disability support pension can be hard on families, marriages and children and can lead to social isolation, depression and other impacts. It can also delay recovery for those with a temporary disability. It is therefore obvious to all of us that Australia must do better. We must do better to fully include people with disability in all parts of Australian life.

The bill before the House implements the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s 2004 Review of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. It amends the Disability Discrimination Act to make it a general duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disability. Therefore, a failure by employers, businesses or governments—unfortunately, governments do this too—to make reasonable adjustments amounts to discrimination. Before people become concerned, I remind the House again that there is a common-sense test built into this legislation.

The bill also improves the unjustifiable hardship provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act to include all unlawful determinations on the grounds of disability, except harassment and victimisation, in line with the Productivity Commission recommendations. Often people with disability require a carer, an aid, an interpreter or an assistance animal like a guide dog. The bill before the House clarifies that discrimination on the basis of these aids or helps is regarded as discrimination on the basis of the disability. Groups like Guide Dogs Queensland have been training and supplying dogs to support blind and vision impaired people since the 1960s, so this legislation is long overdue.

This bill also removes the proportionality requirement. Under the current act, a person commits indirect disability discrimination where it is determined that the person has imposed on a person with a disability a requirement or condition with which a substantially higher proportion of people without the disability can or would be able to comply but with which the person with the disability cannot comply. However, the common-sense bill before the House puts the onus on the respondent to prove that a requirement or condition is reasonable.

This bill also helps to clear up any uncertain language regarding our definition of disability. Firstly, it extends the definition to include disability which may exist in the future because of a genetic predisposition, clearing up any ambiguity on that front. It also amends the definition of disability to adopt the High Court’s interpretation to include behaviour that is a symptom or manifestation of the disability.

This will not be confronting legislation for most fair-minded and reasonable employers and businesses that are already operating inclusive and accepting organisations. In fact, smart employers know that employing people with a disability is good for the workplace. I commend again the member for Shortland and her comments around this topic. Smart employers will embrace people with disability and look for employment opportunities for them. I will give some data to indicate why they should do so. Deakin University’s Joseph Graffam found in 2002 that the number of occupational health and safety incidents among workers with a disability was six times lower than that recorded for the general working population. And the Australian Safety and Compensation Council in 2007 found that workers with disability have fewer workplace injuries, reduced absenteeism and increased workplace morale—all good reasons to employ someone with a disability. ASCC stats showed the rates of absenteeism and sick leave among employees with a disability were nearly two-thirds less than those for the general population.

This bill also amends the Age Discrimination Act 2004. Acting on the 2007 recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, this bill removes the ‘dominant purpose’ test for adjudicating age discrimination. If an act is done for two or more reasons and one of those reasons is the age of the person, the age of the person will no longer need to be the dominant or substantial reason for that act to be found discriminatory.

I also welcome the amendments to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986. As well as a name change for the commission—I think it the third one—to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the bill delivers some improvements to the complaints resolution process. For example, the time frame for people to lodge a terminated complaint to the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court will be increased from 28 days to 60 days and the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission will be given powers to finalise complaints that have been settled.

This is a piece of legislation that will bring great benefits to workplaces and to all of the Australian community. Could I particularly acknowledge and thank the advocates who have come before us over the last 40 or 50 years to fight for people’s rights to be recognised. Many advocates over the years have had to endure discrimination and hardship in their workplaces to lead the way. I particularly want to acknowledge one of them, a gentleman by the name of Kevin Cocks, who comes from my home town; in fact, I was at the footy ground the day that he became a quadriplegic. He went on from a career in banking to be in charge of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated. He has had to take on the Queensland state government in a couple of cases and has fought the good fight. Because of that, hopefully everyone will benefit. The good thing about this legislation is that all Australians will benefit because, as we age and become less steady on our feet, we benefit from people making reasonable adjustments in workplaces and other buildings.

Everyone, regardless of age, race, sexuality, disability or religion, deserves the right and opportunity to access services, complete a meaningful education and compete in a fair job market without discrimination, and it is the responsibility of this parliament to smash down any barriers and any discrimination people may face in exercising those rights. I am therefore proud to commend this bill to the House and particularly welcome the measures to address disability discrimination.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DS Vale)—I thank the member for Moreton for his contribution. The question is that this bill be now read a second time. I call the member for Hasluck.

Mr Price —Hear, hear! Happy birthday!

Mr Hale —Happy birthday!