Disability Commissioner Resigns From Airline Working Party
12 February 2013 at 11:01 am
Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes has resigned from the Federal Government’s Accessible Airlines Working Group citing a lack of preparedness by both government and airline operators to act on access for people with disability.
In an open letter to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, Innes says his main reason for tendering his resignation is that the group has achieved little of significance since its establishment three or four years ago.
“This is partly due to a lack of preparedness by airlines and airport operators to accept the gaps in the current provision of access, and take any significant action to improve in those areas. It is mainly due to the government’s lack of preparedness to regulate for, or actively encourage improvement in, areas where access is lacking,” he wrote.
“There has been much talking at the group, but little else.”
Innes cited two two areas of particular concern where, he says, despite numerous requests and proposed initiatives, no action has been taken.
“The first area is the "two wheelchair" policy. This is a policy administered by some airlines in Australia, whereby if two people using wheelchairs are booked to travel on a particular flight a third person wishing to travel is refused, and directed to another flight. This policy – found to be discriminatory by the Federal Court – has a negative impact on individuals when more than two people using wheelchairs wish to travel on the same flight. But it also sends a message to the broader disability sector that it is ok to treat people with disability as second class citizens.
“Government could initiate a process to carry out such an assessment. I note – as a point of comparison – that the limit for parents travelling with prams on airlines is twenty,” he said in the resignation letter.
“My second area of concern is the chaotic approval process for people wishing to travel on airlines with their assistance animals. Despite numerous requests from the disability sector, the airlines, and myself, CASA has refused to regulate to clarify this process.
“CASA leaves the decisions with airlines, which causes significant unfairness to both them and people with disability. Limits have been placed by some airlines on the number of assistance animals which can travel on each flight, and people with disability are expected to go through a complex process of approvals before they can travel with their assistance animals. It would be possible for government to regulate in this area, and clarify much of this uncertainty.
“It is disappointing for me to have reached the point where I need to resign in this way. It is my normal approach to work co-operatively with government, industry and the disability sector to achieve reform.
“My record speaks for itself in this regard. However, I am unable to justify continued input to a group which has made little if any progress in these and many other areas.
Graeme Innes has been Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner since December 2005. During that time he has also served as Australia's Human Rights Commissioner for three and a half years and as Race Discrimination Commissioner for two years.
Graeme is a Lawyer, Mediator and Company Director. He has been a Human Rights Practitioner for 30 years in NSW, WA and nationally.