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Discrimination Commissioner Calls for Jobs Plan

Wednesday, 2nd July 2014 at 4:15 pm
Staff Reporter
Outgoing Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes says Australia must listen to employers and meet their needs, and make it safer for people with disability to venture off the Disability Support Pension and into work.

Wednesday, 2nd July 2014
at 4:15 pm
Staff Reporter



Discrimination Commissioner Calls for Jobs Plan
Wednesday, 2nd July 2014 at 4:15 pm

Outgoing Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes says Australia must listen to employers and meet their needs, and make it safer for people with disability to venture off the Disability Support Pension and into work.

Innes delivered an impassioned speech at the National Press Club in Canberra on the eve of his departure from the role of full-time Human Rights Disability Discrimination Commissioner after almost nine years in the role.

“As I leave this role, I urge government, the community and the disability sector to commit to more jobs, more equal justice, and a community attitude which celebrates and enhances the contribution of people with disabilities,” he said.

Innes, who is blind, said some people demonise people with disabilities – or Disability Support Pension recipients – as slackers, shirkers and rorters.  

“I utterly reject that,”  he told the audience.

“We need a jobs plan.  We need to listen to employers, and meet their needs.  We need to make it safer to venture off the DSP and into work.

“We need to offer every politician an extra staff member if they employ a person with a disability – as is done in the US.  We need to give willing employers some KPIs and some funding, and 12 months to see if they can meet their planned targets.

“Because, apart from the benefits these actions would bring to people with disabilities, if only one-third of that disability-jobs gap moved off welfare and into work, the NDIS would run at a profit within a decade.

“Many private employers are willing to commit to these processes. But they need to learn from their peers, and be resourced to get on with it, not be surrounded by government red tape.  

“I have never accepted the concept of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’… It's such a facile concept.  And we all move from one role to the other dozens of times a day.

“I prefer a more positive, and less judgemental society, where everyone's contribution is accepted and valued.  

“But many in society force people with disabilities to live within that leaner-lifter rubric.  And we would be lifters, if there were not barriers in society which force us to be ‘leaners’.  I have challenged it all my life…

“And the various services contracted to find jobs for people with disabilities are not giving us value for money.”

Commissioner Graeme Innes with Auslan Interpreter
Outgoing Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes with Auslan Interpreter at the National Press Club in Canberra.

Innes said another indirect consequence of the NDIS, as well as providing more choice and control, was the uniting and strengthening of the disability sector.  

“Once divided and somewhat ineffective, the NDIS campaign has shown the benefits of a united stand… to ensure that the NDIS delivers real change,” he said.

“The sector can do this, but it will need to ensure that more young leaders are nurtured, that technology, the internet and social media are harnessed, and that the faster political and media cycle are used to our advantage.”

He warned that sector participation would also be critical because the role played by the Human Rights Commission was being diminished.  

“This is not because I am leaving, but because the resourcing for the Commission has been on a downward slide in real terms since the mid-‘90s, and the capacity to produce continued positive results through the passion and commitment of Commissioners and staff is not sustainable.  

“The downgrading of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner's position, about which my views are well known, will mean that there is only one person in the policy section with significant disability expertise, and she is moving to another role.  

“This reduction in the disability area reflects Commission-wide experience.  Another voice to advocate for our move from ‘leaners’ to ‘lifters’ has been diminished.”

The Federal Government has announced that former Hawke Government Minister and current Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has been appointed as acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis said the appointment would ensure that the Commission’s important work to protect the rights of people with disability continues

“This appointment is in keeping with the common practice of appointing Commissioners to dual portfolios,” he said.

Innes told the National Press Club that the quality of life for Australians with disabilities will continue to improve, and one day  there will be another full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner with lived experience of disability.  

“In the mean time I'll follow the dictum of that great human rights advocate Dr Seuss ‘don't cry that it's over.  Smile that it happened.’"

In a parting shot against the Abbott Government, Innes took aim at the plans to change the race hate laws.

“I still have the passion and the stomach to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.  And I will continue to do so in other roles.  What I don't have is the stomach to advocate for the rights of bigots.”

Innes said that as part of his post-Commission activities he would be chairing the board of the newly-established Attitude Foundation, following the New Zealand example of using television and film to change attitudes about people with disabilities.  

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