Australian Network on Disability meeting
30 November 2010 Sydney
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land.
I'm sure I'm not the only one here that's excited that we're six days into a 44 day period in which there will be 25 days of ashes test cricket. I'm a happy man.
So I cannot miss this opportunity to briefly give my annual scorecard on some of the good, and not so good, disability events of the year.
There are some who have hit a six, some who have been out for a duck, some who played onto their own wicket, and some for whom we are awaiting a decision from the third umpire.
Let's start with the hits for six.
The Federal Government's tabling of the Premises Standards under the DDA is a significant and welcome development. The Standards are triggered on 1 May 2011, and herald the most significant improvements in public building access ever seen in Australia. They require far greater levels of access to the new and refurbished buildings we all use for our work, cultural, social and recreational activities.
This year has seen the development of a unique partnership between representatives from the disability and ageing sectors, housing developers, building professionals and industry associations under the banner of the National Dialogue on Universal Housing.
This Dialogue was convened by Bill Shorten and Therese Rein, and resulted in the launch, in July this year, of a voluntary agreement and strategic plan to incorporate a number of universal housing design features into all new housing by 2020. The next two or three years will have to be closely monitored to ensure this voluntary agreement delivers real change.
The Federal Government, with the support of the opposition parties, took an important step towards ensuring more equitable access to the election process by amending the Electoral Act, which will ensure the 300 000 Australians who are blind or have low vision finally have a secret ballot in Federal Elections. It may surprise you, but I voted in secret for the first time in my life at the last election. As a committed participant in our democratic process, it's great to vote without someone else completing my ballot paper.
After many years of little progress, this year saw the development of an agreement by the major cinema chains to introduce a national program of cinema access. It will greatly improve availability of captioning and audio description throughout Australia.
These chains currently only provide captioning in 12 cinemas around Australia. This agreement will see an additional 121 cinema complexes with the capacity to show captions, and provide audio description, in at least one of their screens.
While there are reportedly some technical issues still to be resolved, I look forward to significant developments early next year.
National Disability Strategy
The National Disability Strategy was due to be adopted by COAG earlier this year, before a spanner was put in the works by a little thing called the election. While it is still to get COAG endorsement, it warrants mention as a big hit in 2010.
In a nutshell, the NDS provides a framework for ensuring the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is incorporated in policies and programs at all levels of government. The NDS isn't limited to addressing matters relating to disability-specific services and programs. It aims to drive improved access to mainstream services used by people with disability throughout their lives.
Access to information through the web is something most of us take for granted, but for many people with disability access is limited or denied by website design. New international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were finalized in 2010, and the Australian Government moved quickly to adopt them. Adoption includes improved training for agency staff, and a rigorous reporting component to improve the transparency of accessibility in online communication. This commitment only affects Commonwealth departments and agencies, but I hope State and Territory governments will follow this lead.
Convention treaty body
This year saw the re-election of Professor Ron McCallum AO to the UN treaty body for the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Professor McCallum has made a very positive contribution to the committee during the first two years, including his role as its Chair in the last twelve months. It is very pleasing, and a great honour to Australia, that he will now serve a further four year term.
In May, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee tabled its report about hearing health. The report, Hear Us: Inquiry into Hearing Health in Australia focused on the prevalence of hearing loss in Australia, and the issues faced by those with a hearing impairment.
The report addressed access and services, educational opportunities, and lack of support in the criminal justice system.
One of the most concerning issues was a continuing crisis in Indigenous ear and hearing health. It is remarkable that in 2010 Indigenous people experience ear disease, and hearing loss, up to ten times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians.
Height adjustable beds
Finally, a big hit through the covers, or should I say under the covers. Earlier this year, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners released its new GP Standards. They include a requirement that all GP practices must have a height adjustable examination bed. While this may seem a minor development, it will improve health outcomes for people with disability many of whom, because of mobility difficulties, are unable to get onto fixed height beds, for examinations and screening procedures.
And now for the bad news...
The scoreboard would not be complete without recognizing a few ducks, played onto their own wicket, or referred upstairs to the third umpire.
For the second year in a row, the airline industry features. After last years continuing sad saga of treatment of passengers with disability, I hoped this year would end on a good note, following agreement with airports and airlines that they develop Access Facilitation Plans, to explain their services and procedures for passengers with disability.
With a few notable exceptions, industry has not delivered on their agreement. I continue to receive reports of inadequate and confusing treatment of passengers. I am sending this one upstairs to the third umpire, and asking government to regulate in this area.
Despite a number of commitments, and some growth in services for people with mental illness, people with mental health problems face significant barriers to accessing appropriate, and timely, services and exercising their rights. I hope the adoption of the NDS, and implementation of the Fourth National Mental Health Plan, will allow us to identify some real progress in this area. A case of government, at all levels, playing on to their own wickets.
While there has been a steady growth in captioning on TV, there are continuing failures on the part of industry to deliver captions, or deliver quality captions. A notable example this year was the failure of Channel 9 to caption the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. Out for a duck Channel 9. Richie Benaud would be very disappointed.
Transport Standards review
Accessible Transport Standards were introduced in 2002. They mapped out the technical requirements for compliance, and set out timelines for achieving compliance.
While some areas of transport report good progress, my office regularly hears of inadequate progress in areas such as long distance coaches, taxis, and bus stops.
The Transport Standards included a requirement that they be reviewed after 5 years, to monitor compliance and identify areas where changes might be necessary. That review has still not been released, even though we have just celebrated the eighth year of their adoption. Definitely government playing onto its own wicket!
All in a word
Finally, the issue of language and attitude towards the rights and dignity of people with disability never fails to get me riled. It's not a matter of ‘political correctness’. it's a matter of respect, and sensitivity to the way in which the use of language and presentation of views in the political arena assist, or detract from, our goal of an inclusive community.
My Shane Warne awards for gaffs this year go to NSW Minister Paul Lynch, who said "you'd have to be blind, deaf, dumb and stupid not to understand climate change"; and Tony Abbott for comments before the election suggesting that cinema captioning was not an important enough issue for Parliamentary consideration. If cricket had a sin-bin they'd be there.
So, those are my thoughts for 2010. Have a great international day on Friday, and thanks for the chance to speak with you tonight.