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Disability Commissioner Future Uncertain

14 July 2015 at 12:38 pm
Xavier Smerdon
The Abbott Government has refused to reveal its intentions over the future of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner role, more than 12 months after the full time position was abolished.

Xavier Smerdon | 14 July 2015 at 12:38 pm


Disability Commissioner Future Uncertain
14 July 2015 at 12:38 pm

The Abbott Government has refused to reveal its intentions over the future of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner role, more than 12 months after the full time position was abolished.

On July 12 last year Aged Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, was given the additional position of acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner after Graeme Innes finished his term.

Innes told Pro Bono Australia News that the Government’s decision to split Ryan’s responsibilities between Aged Discrimination Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner was actively increasing levels of disadvantage for people with disability.

“There’s no doubt that the disadvantage experienced by people with disability has increased,” Innes said.

“I hear everyday from people I’m linked to in the network of circumstances where a full time Commissioner with lived experience of disability could be advocating to reduce that disadvantage.

“It’s been a year of reduced representation and a reduced voice and that’s a significant problem for the disability sector because there are a whole range of problems which require advocacy, both from the sector itself which has experienced some defunding in the last 12 months, and from the voice of a full time Disability Discrimination Commissioner with lived experience of disability.”

A spokesperson for the Attorney General, George Brandis, who is responsible for appointing portfolio holders at the Human Rights Commission, said that the Government would reveal the future of the position “in due course”.

The spokesperson said it was not unusual for Commissioners to hold more than one portfolio.

“There have been many dual commission arrangements in place under previous Governments. Nearly every Disability Discrimination Commissioner has had a dual commission since the position was created under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992,” the spokesperson said.

“Indeed, Mr Innes held a dual commission for six out of the nine years he was in that position.  The Commission continues to provide a strong voice for the disability community under the arrangements for Commissioner Ryan’s dual appointment.”

The spokesperson also said Ryan was currently leading Willing to Work, a national inquiry into employment discrimination against Australians with disability and older Australians.

But Innes, who has previously questioned the need for that inquiry, said he found it “insulting” that the Government was appointing a Wind Farm Commissioner while people with disability were being denied a full time representative.

“I do find it insulting as a person with a disability that the Government would appoint a wind farm commissioner,” he said.

“On the day that my term of office ended, or the day after, the Government appointed a Threatened Species Commissioner. So the Government hasn’t been loathe to appoint these independent statutory officers, except in the area of disability and it’s probably where the greatest need lies.

“The sector needs now more than ever a full time person with the lived experience of disability. 45 per cent of us live in on are in near poverty, we’re employed at a rate 30 per cent less than the general population, we are significantly overrepresented in the prison population and the pass rate for higher skills certificates is at about 25 per cent for people with disability while for the general population it is 50 per cent.

“We are a heavily disadvantaged sector in the community and if that doesn’t change then there needs to be a full time Disability Discrimination Commissioner to represent those issues.”

Greens Spokesperson on Ageing and Disability, Senator Rachel Siewert, told Pro Bono Australia News that she was willing to bring a motion to the Senate calling on the Government to reveal the future of the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

“It’s simply outrageous that the position hasn’t been clarified to date if it still remains unresolved when the Senate sits again (on August 10), yes I will certainly bring a motion forward and I think it would get Senate support,” Senator Siewert said.

“The fact is there should be a full time person in the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner and it’s extremely disappointing that the Government hasn’t made any announcement about what is the future of that position, whether it’s going to be full time, part time or whether in fact they may even fail to continue with that position at all. The fact is until they clarify what is going on, the sector is I think right to be nervous.”

Both Senator Siewert and Graeme Innes made it clear that they were not criticising Susan Ryan’s capabilities but argued that people with disability needed a full time Discrimination Commissioner.

Senator Brandis’ spokesperson said that on 5 September 2014 Ryan’s role as acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner was changed to make her the Commissioner for a term of one year, effectively making her role full time.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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