Acting locally against disability discrimination

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM,
Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner
Presentation of Certificate of Recognition
Barossa Council
29 October 2001
Sev Ozdowski

Ladies and gentlemen

Allow me to commence by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet.

It is a pleasure to be able to be here to present a certificate of appreciation which, in a small way, commemorates Barossa Council's commitment to equality and access for people with disabilities through its development of a Disability Action Plan under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The take up of the voluntary Disability Action Plan concept by local government bodies around Australia has been one of the success stories of the Disability Discrimination Act. Over seventy local governments around Australia have prepared Disability Action Plans and provided them to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. There are more Disability Action Plans on our register from local government than from all State and Commonwealth government departments and agencies combined.

That is still far from including every local government. Here in South Australia for example, for every local government area which has lodged an Action Plan, there are still three which have not. I am here today to praise those who have shown commitment to the rights of people with disabilities, rather than to "name the guilty" or criticise those who have not put on the record the same evidence of commitment. However, a State by State list of local government bodies which have provided a Disability Action Plan is included in the action plan register on our web site, and if you wish you can compare that list with the full list of councils for your State.

One of the striking things about the record of Disability Action Plans which have been lodged by local government so far, though, is how far it really has been voluntary and achieved by local efforts - rather than needing to be the result of bureaucratic or legislative direction from above, or legal pressure, as has been the case with some other Action Plans we have received.

Local government at its best has the advantage of closeness to the community, and can perhaps see from closer up the real diversity of the Australian people. That diversity of course has many dimensions, including gender and age, ethnicity and culture and religion, and of course disability, which itself comprises a vast diversity of needs and experiences. To quote a speech delivered by my predecessor, the late Elizabeth Hastings: "A community which includes people with a disability is not some experiment of over-bold social engineers; it is the real community we have now, waiting to be acknowledged."

Perhaps this reality is a little easier to perceive at the local level. However that may be, I commend the effort and commitment which has gone into development and implementation of Action Plans by local government around Australia and here in the Barossa. That effort and commitment extends across the elected Council, its professional staff, the members of the Disability Access Review Committee, and the wider group of community members and organisations which were involved in developing the Action Plan.

The Commission has always emphasised how important wide consultation and participation is for the development of an effective Action Plan and I am glad to see that Barossa Council was very aware of this issue. I also wish to commend your Action Plan for its recognition of the breadth of roles which local government has in creating accessible and inclusive communities:

  • in ensuring accessibility of its own services and facilities;
  • in playing a local leadership role in increasing awareness and acceptance of the needs of residents and visitors with disabilities;
  • in its role in regulating building and development; and
  • as provider or facilitator of particular services targeted to people with disabilities to enhance or enable social participation.

It is not my role here to put a final stamp of approval on the Action Plan or its implementation. As recognised by Council when it lodged its plans (both its initial plan and now the revised plan also provided to the Commission), an effective action plan must remain dynamic. One reason for this is that new issues and challenges will keep emerging and need to be addressed - to take just one example, the challenges and potential which the digital age presents to local government library services in providing information access for people with disabilities.

I do very much want though to congratulate all those involved in the achievement of adopting and lodging Barossa Council's Disability Action Plan. I look forward to receiving further news as it is implemented and further developed into the future. Thank you.