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Thursday, 27 September 2001
Page: 28200

Senator ALLISON (1:26 PM) —The Democrats support the Abolition of Compulsory Age Retirement (Statutory Officeholders) Bill 2001, too. We have always supported sensible legislative change to remove discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender, race, religion and, in this case, age. The bill abolishes legislative provisions in Commonwealth acts that set compulsory retirement age limits—commonly 65 years of age for statutory officeholders. One pressing issue facing Australia is the need to retain the expertise and life experiences brought to workplaces by older Australians. Statutory officeholders are selected on the basis of specialist expertise or knowledge, and some statutory officeholders reach the age of 65 or are older.

The value of older Australians to society and to the workplace was recognised last year in parliament with the third Senior Australian of the Year award. Last year's winner, Professor Freda Briggs, was a proud campaigner against mandatory retirement age. In her role as an educator, author, scholar and ambassador, Freda has ceaselessly and passionately worked towards her vision to provide a safer and more caring world for children.

Freda Briggs was born in England in the 1930s. Her childhood was lost to the years of war, impoverishment and rationing. Her first job as a filing clerk paid 3 for a 48-hour week. In 1975, Freda and her family moved to Australia so that she could take up the position of Director of Early Childhood studies at the State College of Victoria—a pioneering position and the first course of its kind in Australia. In 1980, Freda was appointed Foundation Dean of the De Lissa Institute of Early Childhood and Family Studies; in 1991, as Associate Professor of Childhood Development at the University of South Australia; and, in 1994, as a professor—a position she continues to hold after winning an appeal against mandatory retirement.

Freda paved the way for many older Australians to retain their positions after the age of retirement. She recalls that many eyebrows were raised when she was given an employment contract for the post of professor that would take her up to 71 years of age. This was the first time at the university that a professor was contracted beyond the age of retirement. A tireless advocate for children, she still travels the country voluntarily to provide advice on issues relating to the educational needs of veterans' children. She also travels extensively through Asia and the Pacific, at her own expense, consulting on humanitarian aid organisations. Since the age of 60, Freda has published more than a book a year and continues to publish extensively in international journals.

I thought I would mention Freda as one prime example of how older Australians have much to give. In fact, if compulsory retirement in the Senate was 65, we would possibly have to force the retirement of six senators in this place—I will not name them.

The need for action on age discrimination has been noted for some considerable time, but the legislation has been a long time in coming. In launching the report Age matters: a report on age discrimination in July 2000, Chris Sidoti, as human rights commissioner, commented:

For over 10 years federal governments of both political persuasions have talked about this but done little. The situation now is that the Commonwealth lags far behind every state and territory in protecting people from discrimination based on age ... it's time to catch up.

The government should be congratulated for catching up, for changing the discriminatory practices that existed in legislation that go against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Democrats will indeed support this bill and will continue to support any legislation that reduces discrimination, be it based on gender, sexuality, race, age or religion.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.