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Tuesday, 15 October 1996
Page: 4200


Senator COONEY(7.16 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I find this a very good report indeed. It was made by Mr Chris Sidoti, Human Rights Commissioner.


Senator Woodley —A good man.


Senator COONEY —He is. I agree, Senator Woodley. In the short time he has been in the job he has proved to be a quite outstanding Human Rights Commissioner. This is a report that should commend itself to everybody.

He says on page 10 of his report that compulsory retirement restricts equal employment opportunities on the basis of age and he recommends the repeal of compulsory retirement provisions in the Public Service Act 1922 and other federal legislation. On page 11, he recommends that the Commonwealth legislate to provide comprehensive national prohibition of age discrimination.

In this parliament we have dealt with discrimination on the grounds of gender, race and disability. The time has certainly come where we should be dealing with discrimination on the basis of age.

In one case, four people who were pilots had reached the age of 60. Their employer wanted to dismiss them, not because they were not able to carry out their functions as pilots, but simply because of their age. That is a wrong approach.

I see, for example, on the ministerial benches opposite a person who has had a most distinguished passage beyond 60 years. He is a considerable surgeon and would be still carrying out great work in the surgery if he was able.

It is a waste of resources. But greater than the economic dimensions to the problem are the issues of human rights. People, when they get to a particular age, should not be seen as being of no great worth or of less worth than they were before they got to that age. If a person is 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100—I will go to the century—and still has an ability to carry out particular functions, he or she should not be prevented from carrying those out simply because he or she is of a particular age.

There was a great trend at one stage to limit people on the grounds of age. I remember a referendum in the 1970s where the age to which judges could sit in the High Court and the federal courts was fixed at 70. It was open before that.


Senator Herron —What about ALP members of parliament?


Senator COONEY —Yes, that is one of the great reasons why perhaps we ought to remove this restriction. In any event, the point is that age simply as a factor on its own should not prevent people from going on to perform the functions they should. Mr Chris Sidoti has done a fine service to the community in bringing this restriction up.