Skip to main content

Commissioners' statements - Annual Report 2011-2012: Australian Human Rights Commission

Commissioners’ statements

Mick Gooda
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Justice Commissioner

As Social Justice Commissioner, I’ve outlined an agenda of hope to
overcome racism and build respect in the Australian community.

Looking back over the last 12 months, I can genuinely say that we’ve
moved closer to these objectives. But we must move closer still in our efforts
to see this agenda of hope realised.

I went out on a limb in my 2011 Social Justice and Native Title Reports by
raising the difficult issue of lateral violence. I’ve spent considerable
time and effort since explaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples, governments and civil society more generally, what lateral violence is
and how it impacts on Indigenous communities. Now, we’re talking openly
about the damage we do by name calling, bullying and harassing each other. And
we’re finally looking for strategies to minimise the harm it causes.

I’ve also focussed much energy on reinforcing with Government the
importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples participating in the
development of programs and decisions which impact on us. In particular, this
was the driving force behind our work with the Government to ensure that the
Stronger Futures legislation in the Northern Territory was compliant with the
Racial Discrimination Act.

Our comprehensive submission on the legislation, along with our extensive
lobbying of both sides of government, argued strongly for the legislation to
include as many protections as possible against race-based discrimination.

Stronger Futures will remain a key area of focus for me in the year ahead as
I monitor concerns that emerge as the legislation begins to take effect and
measures are implemented.

As a member of the Expert Panel on constitutional recognition of Indigenous
peoples throughout 2011,
I continued to advocate for the need for
Constitutional Reform. Since delivering our report to the Prime Minister in
January 2012, I, along with thousands of others, am now having constructive
conversations about how we progress towards a successful referendum that will
hopefully lead to a majority of people in a majority of states agreeing with
this need for recognition.

But, despite these inroads, some gaping holes still remain in understanding
how we can most effectively use the ready-made roadmap we have in the United
Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Formally supported by
Australia in 2009, governments have not yet given full effect to the Declaration
and, in failing to do so, are arguably paying lip service to the rights of
Indigenous people to determine our own futures by participating in decisions
that affect us.

Other significant work continued throughout the year – and will
continue into the future – including lobbying for improvements to the
Native Title Act, promoting justice reinvestment as an alternative to
incarceration, protecting and maintaining Indigenous languages, and continuing
efforts to Close the Gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

Mick Gooda
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Justice Commissioner

Graeme Innes AM
Disability and Race Discrimination Commissioner

For most of the year in review, I enjoyed the experience of having
responsibility for one area of rights at the Commission, as Dr Helen Szoke was
appointed as Race Discrimination Commissioner in September. This provided an
opportunity to meet with representatives of disability peak organisations
throughout Australia, to review progress so far through my term, and to plan for
the future.

One of the clear messages from disability organisations related to the
different impact of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), since its
commencement in March 1993, on people with different disabilities. It was clear
that we still have much work to do. However, it was also clear that progress for
people with physical and sensory disability had been much greater than for those
with intellectual, cognitive and psychiatric disability. I therefore determined
to concentrate more on those second groups.

During this year, the key issue in the disability sector was the National
Disability Insurance Scheme. My involvement in the campaign for the
establishment of the scheme – in conjunction with the broad disability
sector and its many supporters – played some part in reinforcing the
commitment of the government to the commencement of the scheme. The large
financial commitment in the budget late in the year was pleasing confirmation of
the efforts of all.

Another pleasing development was the passage of legislation moving the regime
for captioning to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and setting
levels for captioning for free to air and pay television. This is the
culmination of work over many years by the Commission, in conjunction with the
deafness sector.

During the year, my policy team and I worked to investigate issues impacting
on people with communication disability in their access to the justice system.
Many Australians with disability – particularly our First People’s
– do not receive equal and appropriate access. Investigations, in
conjunction with my colleague, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social
Justice Commissioner, led to our determination to do more work in the current
financial year.

Forced sterilisation of women and girls with disability also continues to be
a concern. Surveys conducted during the year confirm that this practice
continues to be formally authorised. However, more worrying is the anecdotal
information that it occurs much more often informally. Law change, as well as
community education, need to be combined to prevent this serious breach of
international law.

I referred earlier to the commencement of the DDA. We will celebrate twenty
years of operation on 1 March 2013. The Commission will mark the occasion with
the launch of our Twenty Years: Twenty Stories project, currently under way.
This project will use film to tell twenty stories of how the DDA has changed the
lives of Australians with disability. It will recognise and celebrate
achievement, and set us on a path for progress in the future.

Graeme Innes, AM
Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Race
Discrimination Commissioner

Elizabeth
Broderick
Sex Discrimination Commissioner

I approach the coming year on the cusp of releasing our report into the
Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force. This will bring phase two of
our Review
to a close – the phase one report into the Treatment of
Women in the Australian Defence Force Academy having been released in
November.

Throughout this process, I have been heartened to observe the deep commitment
to service of men and women of the ADF, as well as the senior leaders who have
demonstrated a strong commitment to reforming those aspects of their culture
that negatively impact on women.

Our review was one of six initiated by the government after the so called
‘Skype’ incident. Though we found that ADFA is a vastly evolved
institution from that last examined in the 1990s, we also found significant
issues in relation to sexual harassment, equity and diversity, its complaints
processes, staff turnover and supervision. Our recommendations required a shift
from managing and accommodating women to an attitude of full inclusion, where
women are recognised as an essential and vital part of the future capability of
the ADF.

Generally, I have observed a willingness on the part of the ADF to embrace
change and, in relation to the second phase of the Review, a commitment to
engage with us so that we can fulfil our Terms of Reference.

The reality is that these issues, though they can take place in an arena
fraught with heightened risk, are issues that can and do occur in all
workplaces.

From May 2011 to June 2012, Andrea Durbach – an Associate Professor and
Director of the Australian Human Rights Centre in the UNSW Faculty of Law
– fulfilled the role of Deputy Sex Discrimination Commissioner. I thank
her for her work on the study tour of the visiting UN Special Rapporteur on
Violence Against Women and in advocating for the inclusion of domestic and
family violence as a ground under federal anti-discrimination legislation.
Additionally, in February at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New
York, we advocated for the rights of women experiencing violence in rural,
regional and remote areas.

Our work this year has also included the release of a research paper on
bystander approaches to sexual harassment in the workplace, which was released
earlier in June and has, I am pleased to report, been well received.

In November, our Male Champions of Change group released their first research
paper, concerning best practice in elevating the representation of women at
decision making level, a step that augurs well for their future advocacy and
action to promote women’s leadership.

Our work has also continued in relation to the issue of women’s
economic security. To this end, we have embarked on research into mechanisms for
valuing unpaid caring work to reduce the inequality in women’s workforce
participation and retirement savings.

Elizabeth Broderick
Sex Discrimination Commissioner

Susan
Ryan
Age Discrimination Commissioner

As I approach the conclusion of my first year in the role of Age
Discrimination Commissioner, I am pleased to report improved recognition and
growing national awareness of the prevalence of age discrimination and the
severe economic and social problems it causes.

I am able to point to positive responses from government, business, sector
groups and the media.

The weight of evidence led to my focus on improving opportunities for older
people to continue in paid employment, on the basis of their capacity and wish
to do so. In this regard, I will host a strategy forum on older workers and
business growth in September.

My paper Working past our 60s: reforming laws and policies for the older
worker set out current age-discriminatory measures in workers compensation,
income insurance, professional licencing rules and superannuation. It generated
extensive interest and has prompted reform. As a member of the Treasurer’s
Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing, I will continue the work on these barriers,
housing and health.

I was appointed as a part time commissioner to the Australian Law Reform
Commission for its inquiry into legal barriers at the Commonwealth level to
older people participating in the workforce. The ALRC will report with
recommendations for reform in April 2013.

I gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into cyber safety for older
people, and have started discussions with providers of Internet training for
older people, including secondary schools and local councils, and federal MPs.
Later this year, I will release a new publication to assist older people to
protect their rights in financial dealings, including practical options for
avoiding cyber fraud.

The Age Positive website and Facebook page attracts wonderful stories of
older people making positive contributions in the community.

The last federal Budget provided funding over four years for the age
stereotypes research project. It will produce new research into age stereotypes
across all media, a media roundtable and a community education campaign.

Responding to the government’s new aged care blueprint Living Longer,
Living Better, I published a paper setting out the human rights approach to aged
care, Respect and Choice. It is aimed at influencing practice, particularly the
training of care workers and professionals. As a member of the
government’s Aged Care Implementation Council I will continue to advocate
for a human rights approach in all services.

My upcoming trip with Commissioner Gooda to the Northern Territory will
assist my understanding of needs and services for older Indigenous people.

In consultation with Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of
Australia, I have planned meetings to explore issues for older people in
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities.

Over the next year I hope to meet the continuing challenge of persuading the
general public as well decision makers that age discrimination is an enormous
waste of human capital and a source of great injustice to individuals.

Susan Ryan
Age Discrimination Commissioner