Australian Human Rights Commission President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, has joined with colleagues to farewell and celebrate the achievements of Age Discrimination Commissioner the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett.
Commissioner Patterson has raised the profile of key issues facing older Australians which has seen greater community awareness of age discrimination in the workplace; elder abuse in the community; and older women's risk of homelessness.
Commissioner Gauntlett has made an invaluable contribution to the fight against disability discrimination, including his focus on increased access to meaningful employment opportunities for people with disability, increased access to accessible housing for people with disability, greater community awareness of disability rights and disability discrimination, and strengthened the legal and policy frameworks to protect disability rights.
Commissioner Patterson is finishing a seven-year term at the Commission, after being appointed in 2016. Commissioner Gauntlett began his term in 2019. He has been appointed as the Deputy Commissioner to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
They have both made significant contributions to human rights in Australia, in their respective areas of age discrimination and disability discrimination.
The Age Discrimination Commissioner’s work
During her term, Commissioner Patterson has increased community awareness of elder abuse and available supports. She has advocated for implementation of recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2017 report, Elder Abuse: A National Legal Response, and helped to raise awareness of the National Elder Abuse phone line (1800 ELDERHelp – 1800 353 374) through numerous campaigns. The Commissioner has released elder abuse awareness resources in 20 languages. She has also been a leading voice in calling for the harmonisation of Enduring Power of Attorney laws and the development of a National Register.
Commissioner Patterson has advocated for older women at risk of homelessness, releasing a paper on this issue in 2019 and continuing to call for solutions to this multi-faceted problem.
The Commissioner has campaigned against age discrimination in the workplace, launching the Older Workers Resource Hub in 2021. She partnered with the Australian HR Institute on several surveys looking at employers’ attitudes to older workers. The most recent ‘Employing and Retaining Older Workers’ 2023 survey found one in six organisations will not consider hiring people aged 65 and above while only a quarter are open to hiring those aged 65 and above ‘to a large extent’. The Commissioner has engaged with different industries to foster age inclusion in the workforce and has served as Chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Mature Age Employment since 2018. She is also a member of the Council of Elders, which was established by the Australian Government to consult with senior Australians and provide advice about aged care reform and ageing generally.
During her term, Commissioner Patterson has challenged ageist beliefs and promoted positive intergenerational relationships. Her reports ‘What’s age got to do with it’ (2021) and ‘Talking about my generation’ have provided deeper insights into ageism across the adult lifespan. The Commissioner’s latest 2023 ‘Changing Perspectives’ project evaluated the effectiveness of educational intervention in reshaping perceptions about ageing and delivered training to more than 300 aged care and community workers across Australia. The Commissioner has also been a supporter of The Centenarian Portrait Project by Teenagers, a national arts initiative which promotes intergenerational friendships.
The Disability Discrimination Commissioner’s work
One of Commissioner Gauntlett’s key goals has been to increase access to meaningful employment for people with disability. In 2021, Commissioner Gauntlett set up the IncludeAbility Project. The IncludeAbility Project Employer pilots launched in Illawarra, Perth and Darwin working with The Disability Trust, Good Sammy, Woolworths, Kmart and YouthWorx NT (among others) to employ people with disability. The IncludeAbility Employer Network is made up of some of Australia’s largest public and private sector employers with engagement from the highest level of leadership. The Commissioner has produced guidelines on the targeted recruitment of people with disability.
During his term, Commissioner Gauntlett has also advocated for better housing for the 4.4 million people in Australia who have a disability. He advocated for amendments to the National Construction Code, requiring new homes to be built in line with accessibility standards. By 2023, all Australian states and territories except NSW & WA had agreed to adopt the amendments. The Commissioner’s 2022 Accessible Housing Project showed students the benefits of universal design, with students at Monash University creating a prototype unit.
The Commissioner has advocated for the human rights of people with disability at several Royal Commissions. He led the Commission’s engagement with the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (DRC) and engaged heavily with the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. This involvement led to commitments from the Australian government that no person under the age of 65 would live in residential aged care from 2025.
During Covid-19, the Commissioner played a key role in ensuring the rights of people with disability were considered in Australia and around the world – providing advice to the Department of Health, contributing to the government’s management plan, and producing guidelines for the rights of people with disability during Covid-19. The Commissioner has continued to be engaged in the Advisory Committee on the Health Emergency Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) for People with Disability.
Commissioner Gauntlett has also been Chair of Australia’s Disability Strategy’s Advisory Council, chaired the National Disability Data Asset’s Disability Refence Group, the Disability Employment Services Reference Group and advised on transport, education, premises, aviation, migration law, electoral practices and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.