MR GRAEME INNES AM
I am honoured to be asked to provide a reference for Graeme Innes as a nominee for recognition as Australian of the Year.
It has been an extraordinary privilege to know Graeme and share in his work towards achieving a fair go for all members of Australian society and in particular for people with disabilities.
As the Australian population ages, more and more of us will have cause to be thankful for his work in helping to change the community we live in.
I have been fortunate to have close contact with Graeme Innes since 1991 when he made a major contribution to national disability discrimination legislation being developed and passed. From the first I have been inspired by his commitment to people with disabilities being included as equal citizens in Australian society; his legal skills and strategic judgment in pursuit of that goal; and his gift for bringing people together with different perspectives from business, government and the community.
In a most Australian manner he combines innovative thinking, forward vision and passion for the fair go with a lack of affectation either about his disability (having been blind from birth) or his abilities and achievements.
As a member of State and Federal anti-discrimination tribunals he has combined legal expertise and impartial respect for the rights of individuals appearing before him with a deep awareness of the purpose of the law in promoting a better society.
Some of his decisions – such as that in Scarlett Finney’s case - have achieved prominence in the media and increased public awareness of access and equity issues for people with disabilities. Some have pushed the boundaries of the law and its processes – such as in Meuwissen v Hilton Hotels where he pioneered in Australian discrimination law the approach of opening up the inquiry for input from the public, rather than only from the parties to the case, to find possible solutions.
He has represented Australia with distinction several times in international negotiations on recognition of the human rights of people with disabilities.
Other examples of his work include major contributions to negotiation of national standards for equitable access to buildings and to education, and the agreement this year by television broadcasters to increase captioning for deaf and hearing impaired Australians. The public inquiry and forum and negotiation processes which led to this outcome were led by Graeme and again showed his ability to use his many skills for the public good.
Also perhaps typically Australian, and essential to mention in referring to Graeme Innes, is his love of family (as husband, father, son and brother); home (not least as renovator, fearless with mini-jackhammer in hand); sport (as sailor and as cricket player and spectator); and the odd well deserved glass after a day of working to make a better place of this our Australia.
Director, Disability Rights Policy, HREOC
9 June 2006