Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Annual Report 2000-2001
Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner,
Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM
In his work to
date Dr Ozdowski has given emphasis to:
- Increased communications
through face to face consultation with disability community and industry
bodies and enhanced print material to complement the Commissions
well established email and web based communications in the disability
public awareness of the achievements being made (and the further achievements
which are possible) by the community, industry, government and the
Commission using the Disability Discrimination Act to improve access,
opportunity and participation for Australians with disabilities
- Seeking more
effective means for increasing equality of opportunity for people
with disabilities in employment and education - to complement the
substantial progress being made in accessibility in areas such as
buildings, public transport, and communications issues such as captioning
and web accessibility
- Giving additional
attention to Indigenous people with disabilities, in particular children,
and to disability issues and related discrimination affecting older
Deputy Disability Discrimination
Mr Graeme Innes
AM continued to serve on a part time basis throughout 2000-01 as Deputy
Disability Discrimination Commissioner. In this role he assists with
the handling of public enquiries, exemption applications and the development
of standards under the Disability Discrimination Act.
Education and Promotion/Compliance
Dr Ozdowski and
staff have increased the Commissions program of consultation with
disability organisations and relevant industry bodies to ensure that
these organisations are aware of possibilities for constructive use
of the legislation and to discuss suggestions for further Commission
continues to help increase efficiency and effectiveness of the Commissions
disability rights work. Public use of the disability rights area of
the Commissions web site continues to increase rapidly with over
1000 page hits per day being received on the Commissions disability
rights web pages.
Research and policy
Access to electronic commerce
Following its report
in June 2000 on access to electronic commerce and other new service
and information technology by people with disabilities and older Australians,
the Commission has been assisting government and industry bodies to
develop initiatives in this area, including through an Accessible E-commerce
Forum sponsored by the Commission and the Australian Bankers Association.
A major response to the report was the presentation to the Commission
of an industry action plan by the Australian Bankers Association in
April 2001. This plan provides for development of industry accessibility
standards on automatic teller machines, EFTPOS and voice response services
and for implementation of best practice accessibility in internet banking.
report recommended that governments should be more active in providing
superseded computer equipment for use by people with disabilities and
older people. At a ceremony hosted by Dr Ozdowski in May 2001 the Attorney-General
provided a lead by donating 50 computers to disability and representatives
of older persons organisations.
Public transport: Accessible
A public inquiry
on aspects of wheelchair accessible taxi services was approved by the
Commission on 2 May with a closing date for submissions of 3 July 2001.
A report to the
Commission on developments since the release of the 1997 report on The
Sterilisation of Girls and Young Women in Australia was made publicly
available in April 2001. The report was commissioned as a joint project
between the Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Sex Discrimination
Commissioner. A number of follow up actions are being discussed with
relevant parties including the Attorney-General and the Minister for
Public inquiries into complaints
In 1999 the then
acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner began applying public
inquiry processes to the investigation of complaints in appropriate
cases, including use of the internet for distribution of notices of
inquiry and receiving and publishing submissions. This approach has
been applied where the subject matter :
- requires consideration
of interests of, and information from, persons or organisations beyond
the immediate parties to a complaint for the purpose of identifying
appropriate options for resolution of the matter by the parties or
decisions by the Commission;
- involves inquiry
into issues of public or social policy rather than principally concerning
allegations regarding individual behaviour; and
- can be investigated
openly without unreasonable disclosure of personal information or
breach of other duties of confidentiality.
this approach in appropriate cases also has potential benefits in promotion
of awareness of and compliance with the legislation.
The President decided
on assuming responsibility for complaint handling in April 2000 to continue
this approach on a trial basis. Results in the limited number of matters
where this approach has been applied to date have been encouraging.
The captioned movies
initiative arising from a public complaint undertaken by the Commission
into complaints in this area was launched at a reception on 9 April
2001 by Dr Ozdowski with industry and community representatives. Positive
press and television publicity was received.
sent a message of support in which he said: This agreement to
show captioned movies followed a complaint under the Disability Discrimination
Act lodged by a man who was deaf and who could not enjoy movies with
his family. The Commission, recognising that the complaint raised broad
policy issues, dealt with the complaint as a public inquiry, allowing
input from other areas of the movie industry and the disability field.
I applaud this innovative use of the legislation to achieve positive
partnerships working towards systemic change.
A committee has been established which will be responsible for overseeing
the implementation of the proposal developed by industry and an initial
program for showing open captioned films in a number of cinemas throughout
Australia is already available. Commission staff will continue to provide
advice to the committee and a review of developments will be undertaken
in April 2002.
Closed captioning: broadcast
In 1999 the then
acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner commenced a public inquiry
into complaints regarding limited provision of captioning for deaf and
hearing impaired viewers on broadcast television. Submissions in this
process were made publicly available through the internet for the information
of interested parties and to assist the Department of Information Technology,
Communications and the Arts in preparation of captioning standards under
the Broadcasting Services Act, which commenced from 1 January 2001 and
require captioning of news, current affairs and prime time broadcasting.
The Commission is continuing discussions with industry and consumer
representatives with a view to setting an agreed timetable for further
expansion of captioning.
digital mobile phones can be so severe that some people who use hearing
aids are unable to use them and can therefore be denied access to mobile
phone services. In September 1999 the Commission, in consultation with
relevant parties, announced a public inquiry into the issue, prompted
by a representative complaint made under the Disability Discrimination
Act on behalf of people who use hearing aids or cochlear implants.
This inquiry was
successfully concluded on 6 April 2001 with the announcement by each
of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone of schemes to provide remedies.
advisory notes are available on a number of issues under the Disability
Discrimination Act through the Commissions internet site and on
request. The Commission has indicated it will take these guidelines
and notes into account in complaint handling and in decisions on exemption
- Advisory Note
on public transport;
- Insurance and
- Advisory Notes
on Access to Premises; and
- World Wide Web
Access (updated May 1999 to take into account the latest recommendation
from the World Wide Web Consortium).
also maintains Frequently Asked Questions materials on a number of areas
covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. These materials draw on
responses to individual enquiries as well as the Commissions complaint
handling experience, participation in policy processes and relevant
court and tribunal decisions. In particular, extensive Frequently Asked
Questions materials are available regarding employment.
Under section 55
of the Disability Discrimination Act the Commission has power to grant
temporary exemption from provisions of the Act which make discrimination
unlawful. The Commissions policy on exemption applications is
obtainable on the Commissions Internet site or on request.
views the temporary exemption mechanism as an important mechanism for
managing the process of transition over time from discriminatory and
inaccessible systems and environments to inclusive, accessible non-discriminatory
systems and environments. Exemption processes are open to public participation,
through online publication of the Commissions notice of inquiry
and details or text of applications and also publication of submissions
from interested parties.
No new applications
for exemption were received in the period 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001.
The following decisions were made on applications previously received:
Regional Airlines Association
The Regional Airlines
Association of Australia (RAAA) applied in 1999 for an exemption for
five years regarding access to small aircraft by persons using wheelchairs
and similar mobility aids. After taking submissions in response to a
notice of inquiry, the Commission decided in August 2000 to refuse this
application on the basis that the application and the process of public
discussion had not identified appropriate conditions such that an exemption
would advance the objects of the legislation.
One of the members
of the RAAA, Kendell Airlines, submitted its own application in April
2000 for an exemption regarding access to small aircraft by persons
using wheelchairs and similar mobility aids. This application was supported
by material additional to that in the RAAA application, including an
action plan. An exemption was granted in August 2000 for a period of
five years regarding
- lack of access
to aircraft seats for people requiring wheelchair access, where this
is prevented by limited aisle width
- lack of access
to aircraft or seats for passengers requiring lifting, where this
cannot be performed consistently with the requirements of applicable
occupational health and safety laws due to space constraints of the
for a passenger to be accompanied by an assistant for passengers unable
to understand instructions or to exit unassisted in an emergency.
(available on the Commissions web site or in other forms by request)
is subject to a number of conditions agreed to by Kendell in response
to issues raised in public submissions and intended to promote improved
access over time for people with disabilities using regional air services.
Applications awaiting decision
Cattle Camp Motel
regarding accessibility of proposed demountable units at a rural Queensland
motel, affected by flood height requirements remains on hold pending
a response by the applicant to a number of issues raised in submissions.
Review of decisions
Persons whose interests
are affected by a decision on an exemption application may seek to have
the Commissions decision reviewed by the Administrative Appeals
Melbourne trams exemption
for review of the Commissions decision made in March 1999 regarding
physical access to Melbourne trams was made by a number of parties but
was withdrawn in April 2001. In this context it is relevant to note
that, consistent with the timetable set in the Commissions exemption
decision, accessible trams are expected to begin to enter service in
Melbourne in September 2001 and that considerable preparatory work on
infrastructure has been performed.
Olympic Roads and Transport
In June 2000 the
Commission granted an exemption, on application from the Olympic Roads
and Transport Authority (ORTA), to protect bus operators and other parties
concerned from liability which might otherwise arise from the temporary
transfer of accessible buses from other services to Olympic and Paralympic
related services. The exemption was granted because in the Commissions
view the objects of the DDA are best served if operators who acquire
accessible buses are free to determine on which services to deploy those
buses, rather than this being determined by the Commission or other
After an application
to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for review of this decision the
exemption was varied by consent of the parties to include conditions
to protect existing regular users of accessible vehicles. Nothing in
this process has invalidated the Commissions original reasons
for the decision.
Action Plans under the Disability
As at 30 June 2001,
211 plans were registered with the Commission (increased from 170 as
at June 2000), comprising 24 business enterprises, 20 non-government
organisations, 30 Commonwealth government, 28 State government and 76
local government organisations, and 33 education providers. The register
of Action Plans, and those plans provided electronically to the Commission
(150 of the total), are available through the Commissions internet
site. This assists other organisations interested in developing their
own plans and individuals interested in assessing the effectiveness
and implementation of an organisations Action Plan.
In January 2001
Dr Ozdowski wrote to organisations which had submitted action plans,
asking them to report if possible on implementation and evaluation of
their plans. Revised plans or implementation reports have been submitted
steadily in response through 2001.
Legislative reform and assessment
Discrimination Act provides for Disability Standards to
be made by the Attorney-General in specified areas, which currently
include accommodation, administration of Commonwealth laws and programs,
education, employment and public transport. Contravention of a Disability
Standard is unlawful under the Act.
supports adoption of Disability Standards as offering potential to increase
certainty and clarity of rights and responsibilities for relevant parties
and advance the objects of the Act thereby.
has a function under the Disability Discrimination Act to advise the
Attorney-General regarding the making of standards. To date the Commission
has performed this function by practical participation in standards
development processes rather than by way of formal reporting.
Access to Premises
Like other interested
parties the Commission recognises that the main avenue for progress
in improving accessibility of buildings is the process of revision of
the Building Code of Australia by the Australian Building Codes Board
towards a level suitable for recognition as complying with the Disability
Discrimination Act, including through endorsement as a Disability Standard
under the Act. The Commission continues to assist the Board to this
end through its membership of the Boards Building Access Policy
Committee. Progress in this process has improved during 2000-01 and
it is anticipated that a draft standard, harmonising the requirements
of the DDA and an upgraded Building Code, may be ready for adoption
by June 2002.
A taskforce of
the Ministerial Council on Employment, Education, Training and Youth
Affairs is consulting on draft standards on education. The Commission
is not included in the membership of this taskforce but is providing
advice to participants on request.
reports have detailed extensive co-operative work by the Commission,
business, industry and community groups towards the development of employment
standards but have also noted a lack of consensus for proceeding with
regulatory standards. Dr Ozdowski has commenced discussions with relevant
parties towards identifying means of making better use of the work already
done in this area.
has been assisting the Attorney-Generals Department and the Department
of Transport towards finalising revised draft standards on accessible
public transport for adoption, which is hoped to occur in the Spring
2001 session of Parliament, following Cabinet approval in October 2000.