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A decade of fighting disability discrimination, National Disability Advisory Council celebratory dinner for the 10th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act,\nCrowne Plaza Hotel, Canberra ACT.



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Attorney-General The Hon Daryl Williams AM QC

A Decade of Fighting Disability Discrimination National Disability Advisory Council Celebratory Dinner for the 10th Anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act

Crowne Plaza Hotel, Allara Street, Canberra ACT 7.00pm, Thursday, 6 March, 2003

Introduction

It is a pleasure to be with you to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen substantial practical progress in the fight against discrimination on the basis of disability. The rights of people with disabilities have been recognised and they have been enshrined in law. And we have seen a direct improvement in the quality of life for thousands of Australians.

Progress and Achievements

There are more accessible buses on our streets. Efforts are continuing to improve access to wheelchair taxis. There are more buildings that provide dignified, practical access for people with disabilities. Banking industry standards have been developed which have resulted in improved access to services including automatic teller machines.

Major improvements in telecommunications mean that people who are deaf or have hearing impediments will be able to better use new technologies such as mobile phones. There are more people with disabilities in the workplace. And our schools are increasingly catering for diversity in students needs.

These achievements reflect how far we have come in removing the types of discrimination that have significant impact on people with disabilities on a day-to-day basis. But there remain attitudes to be changed, stereotypes to be broken and practical

improvements to be achieved. The job is not yet finished.

Importance of Complaints

The achievements to date have been the product of the Government, the business sector and the general community working together with a common determination to eliminate discrimination. However, many problems have been identified because individuals who have encountered discrimination have had the courage to speak out.

It is not easy for one person to take a stand against discrimination. It is not easy to say 'this is not good enough'. And it is not easy to take on those with authority, power and status.

But it is the Australian way to speak against injustice. The fact is that change does happen when people stand up for their rights. People can improve their own situation - and this can lead to broader outcomes that benefit the entire community.

Making a complaint takes courage. It may even involve going to court. But if all other avenues have been exhausted, people should not be afraid to seek to legally enforce their rights.

The courts are there to help people achieve justice and they are there to enforce anti-discrimination laws. When this is combined with efforts to educate the community about their rights, and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others, it can result in lasting attitudinal changes. And that is a strong foundation for the elimination of

discrimination in all its forms.

National Disability Advisory Council

Despite the advances that have been made, there is still misunderstanding and intolerance in some parts of the community. Preventing practical discrimination is not an easy task. We must identify discrimination, deal with it and address its causes.

The National Disability Advisory Council has a detailed understanding of the needs and issues affecting people with disabilities and it uses this knowledge to good effect. The Government values the advice of the Council.

And I commend the Council for its commitment to working with groups that face additional disadvantages. This includes people with disabilities in rural and remote areas, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, indigenous people with disabilities and women with disabilities.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

I would also like to acknowledge the role that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has played in this area. The Commission has made a valuable contribution to the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act.

The Commission has encouraged compliance, raised awareness and promoted education. It has forged strong relationships with all stakeholders. And it has fought disability discrimination with determination and commitment.

I would particularly like to thank Dr Ozdowski and his Deputy Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, for their excellent work in these areas. Their collaborative, practical approach to the issues has been crucial in achieving results in areas such as banking industry standards, telecommunications and captioning of films and television. In my view, that collaborative approach is a benchmark for achieving change that has real, lasting and practical benefits both for people with disabilities and the community as a whole.

Competition Policy Review of the DDA

Many of you would be aware that the Productivity Commission is currently reviewing the DDA.

It seems that whenever a review of this kind is announced, people immediately assume that governments are planning to reduce funding or cut back on services. Let me assure you that this is not the case. The Government remains as strong and resolute as ever in its commitment to serving people with a disability and protecting them from discrimination.

The simple purpose of the review is to assess whether the DDA is working effectively and meeting its objectives. If there is scope for reform or improvement, this needs to be identified.

As part of its deliberations the Productivity Commission is seeking the input of stakeholders, I urge you to let your views be known.

Future work

There remains much work to be done. HREOC is continuing, in partnership with all stakeholders, its excellent work in promoting accessible electronic commerce. Work is also continuing on the development of disability standards in education, and in relation to access to premises.

In relation to the Disability Standards for Education, I am aware that the Department of Education, Science and Training is working with all stakeholders to resolve outstanding financial issues around the implementation of the Standards. I anticipate that a draft disability standard on access to premises should be released for public consultation in late 2003.

It is my hope that standards in both education and access to premises will change our landscape - both physical and attitudinal, forever. I understand everyone's frustration with the time it takes to develop disability standards. However, it is essential to the successful implementation of any standard that there is as much agreement as possible between all relevant stakeholders before it is tabled. They are certainly not easy and they require an enormous commitment from all sides and I would take the opportunity to note here the assistance the Council has provided in the many years the Standards process has been underway.

Conclusion

The enormous achievements of the last 10 years have made a significant difference to people with disabilities and to the way we see ourselves as a nation.

Despite the progress that has been made, we can not be overly self-congratulatory or complacent. There is more work to be done. There is more to be achieved.

I know that the commitment to achieve this goal exists at community, organisational and governmental levels. And I am sure that by working together, we can succeed and deliver lasting justice and opportunity for all people with a disability.