Good afternoon. To begin, I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present, and the Elders from other communities who may be here today.
I make particular mention of Indigenous Peoples with Disability who may be with us today, and to Elders of the past with disability. It is important that today, at this time of acknowledgement we take note of Indigenous people
with disability. This acknowledgement is important because of the particular barriers that Indigenous Peoples with Disability experience, and the particular issues that confront them.
Indigenous people are significantly affected by disability, compared with the non-Indigenous population.
In 2012 to 2013, across all age groups, the reported disability prevalence was higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians. Hence today we pay particular attention to them.
But today we celebrate the achievements of all people with disability, indigenous and non-indigenous.
Today we take the opportunity to highlight the particular issues and barriers that people with disability can experience.
When we more clearly recognise all these issues and all these achievements, we will be more able to work effectively alongside people with disability to address the barriers.
Our hope in all of this is to improve the situation of all individuals, families and communities, so that the exercise of full human rights can be achieved by all.
Today is a day that the international community sets aside for this recognition and celebration. For too long, many people with disability have been without a voice and denied basic human rights.
So the opportunity presented by today to raise our voices, raise awareness and increase understanding about disability is very valuable.
I commend you all for attending today and joining us, and I’m pleased to be here with you.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a day when, at the international level, we can put a spotlight on disability issues.
The United Nations, back in 1992, proclaimed this day to promote understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. Each year, the United Nations determines a theme. This year’s theme for International Day is “Inclusion Matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities”.
Finding a role and a place in society is important for all of us. Finding our way, establishing our individual identities, passing through school and perhaps university or further education;
getting our first job and establishing a career, these are important milestones for all of us. Establishing strong relationships and building a family are others. These are important milestones for people with disability, as with all of us.
Because of the various barriers that still exist in our communities and workplaces however, the achievement of these milestones can be much more challenging for people with disability, for some, tragically unattainable.
Today is an opportunity for all of us to recognise we must keep working to reduce and remove the barriers that stop people with disability from getting an education, finding a job, having a family and making the choices the rest of us can take for granted.
As this year’s theme states, “Inclusion matters”.
And this theme fits particularly well with the initial work I undertook in the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner last year.
After being appointed Disability Discrimination Commissioner following on from my colleague Graeme Innes, I convened a National Forum to inform the work I would need to undertake.
I also conducted a national survey, to look at the issues at the forefront for people with disability.
I have learnt a lot since taking up the Disability Discrimination Commissioner role, and I continue to use this knowledge to advocate change and reforms when opportunities arise.
My experiences of this past year have reinforced my understanding of the importance of raising awareness of disability and increasing the understanding about the barriers faces by people with disability.
Last year’s survey raised a wide range of disability rights issues.
The Forum following on from the survey explored these further, with a particular focus on employment.
Employment was highly prioritised by both the survey respondents and the forum participants, and had been highlighted by Graeme Innes as he concluded his term, in his brilliant and powerful final address as Commissioner to the national press club.
For those of you interested, the full survey results and report about the Forum can be found on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.
You will note that “Participation and Inclusion in Society” was identified as the top human rights issue facing people with disability in Australia today. So I find this year’s theme for International Day particularly fitting.
In the time that I have with you today I can only give you a snapshot of the issues I’ve dealt with through my work at the Commission. As there are many lawyers among us today, you may be aware that much of my work at the Commission focuses on addressing the discrimination issues.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 provides individuals with the opportunity to bring complaints where any discrimination covered by the Act has been experienced.
Complaints under this Act to the Commission are easily the highest number of complaints we get each year. Of complaints under the DDA, the highest number are concerned with the provision of goods and services, followed by employment discrimination. This data reflects the results of my national survey last year where “Work and employment”, along with “access to services” were ranked as the top issues of concern.
The encouraging news is that many, up to half of those complaints, are resolved satisfactorily through our Conciliation process.
In addition to this complaints-related work, we also support policy developments and educate the government, businesses and the community on disability rights.
The largest area of work that I’m engaged with currently is Willing to Work, the National Inquiry into Discrimination Against older Australians and Australians with Disability. This is the national inquiry that the Attorney General George Brandis asked me to conduct from the beginning of this year.
I am about half way through.
UP to this point, we have undertaken 114 consultations around the nation, and met with 1,081 individuals.
We have also accepted submissions from the public, and as of yesterday had received 192. The submission process formally closes tomorrow, so if anyone among you hasn’t put in a submission I strongly encourage you to do so.
Our report to government, due 1 July 2016, will reflect the vast and moving array of stories and experiences, as well as the local and international research that has come before us. Based on the massive input, we will craft recommendations for action for government, business and the community.
Through the findings of our report the Commission looks forward to being able to support the positive disability policy reform underway in Australia at the moment.
In addition to the Inquiry, our team has been engaged in a variety of other relevant activities.
We are in regular contact with the National Disability Insurance Agency, to support the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. With the work associated with the NDIS, disability reform has never been so prominent in Australia and it’s important that these changes are firmly grounded in human rights.
We have made submissions to various parliamentary processes including inquiries into the abuse of people with disability in institutional settings, educational attainment of students with disability, changes to social services legislation, to the telecommunications and broadcasting legislation, and to the current inquiry into employment opportunities in the small business sector.
I have been able to take some positive steps towards policy change relating to the provision of accessible Information and communication technology by the Australian Public Service.
Accessible information and communication technology, or as it is referred to, “ICT”, is an important pre-requisite for many people with disability to be able to participate in employment. ICT refers to things such as computers, telephones, computer software and other telecommunications products and services.
Accessible ICT can enable consumers and members of the public to engage with various businesses, government departments and transact on an equal basis as others.
With so much more of our daily activities becoming digitised and our online presence increasing, we must ensure that people with disability don’t encounter barriers to engaging online .Only by providing this access can we move successfully towards an inclusive Australian society.
We also know that providing accessible ICT wherever it is needed makes good business sense. Corporate leaders such as Westpac, ANZ and Telstra are now showing us that by a commitment to diversity that is to reflecting the diverse makeup of our population, our workforce and the customer base businesses can flourish and profit.
On this international day of persons with disabilities, Australia, along with our friends from Pacific Island nations, get the chance to celebrate before the rest of the world. We get a chance to lead the festivities and recognition on this important day.
This is quite fitting really, considering the leadership Australia has shown in many aspects of promoting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of people with disability.
One individual who has made extraordinary contributions to these advancements not only in Australia, but across the entire world needs no introduction today.
But I will make a few introductory comments about him, and hope my words do him justice.
This eminent Australian, an older Australian may I add, has had an esteemed career in the law. This includes being the first totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship in any field at any university in Australia or New Zealand.
In 2002 he commenced his five year term as Dean of the Faculty of Law at Sydney University. In 2008 he was nominated by the Australian Government to the international arena as Australia’s candidate for the inaugural United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In 2009 he was unanimously elected as one of 12 members of the Committee. In 2010, he was elected as Chair of the Committee for a four year team, which concluded at the end of 2014.
Currently, as a judicial member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, this outstanding individual continues to provide leadership and raise awareness of disability rights issues. Speaking today about his work on the CRPD Committee, and in particular the individual complaints processes of the CRPD and other treaty bodies, ladies and gentlemen it is my great honour to introduce, Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum.