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Natalie Clark
AHRC enquiry into discrimination against older Australians and Australians with a disability

The Australian Human Rights Commission national inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians and Australians with a disability

The Australian Human Rights Commission is about to carry out an inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians and Australians with a disability. The inquiry, Willing to Work: A National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australian and Australians with Disability will be led by the Age and Disability Commissioner, Susan Ryan, at the request of the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, with a report scheduled by July, 2016.

We agree with the aims of the Inquiry to maximise human potential to the benefit of us all and hope this aim includes the recognition of people living with disability as valuable and equal members of our communities. We do, however, have two significant concerns. 

The first is driven by a profound sense of "Groundhog Day". How many more inquiries are we going to have about the disgraceful discrimination against people with disability in the workplace? Enough talk – Australia is at the bottom of OECD rankings of disability employment, and that's simply not acceptable. More trees have lost their lives in vain documenting discrimination against people with disability than just about any other social issue.

And the same messages are repeated over and over again:

  • employment participation of people with disability in Australia is woefully inadequate and costing the nation billions of dollars in unnecessary disability support pensions and lost economic opportunity
  • people with disability can and want to work and are far more capable of doing so than most people believe
  • some employers are actively discriminating against people with disability in the workforce and they need to be pulled in line using every tool available including the Disability Discrimination Act
  • many employers are willing to employ people with disability but it needs to be made as easy to do so as it is for any other employee
  • we need to take a "whole of life" approach that creates a smooth pathway from the beginning to the end of every day for every person with disability. How? Giving some teeth to the National Disability Strategy would be a great start.

Report after report has delivered the same messages for decades. Co-founder of The Able Movement, Mark Bagshaw, has been involved in developing some of these reports, including the Employer Demand Action Plan produced for then Employment Minister Kevin Andrews in 2005 and more recently a report on the Disability Employment Service for Physical Disability Australia. Talk to Australian disability employment champion, Suzanne Colbert, at the Australian Network on Disability and you will tap an almost limitless font of knowledge on the subject. A great starting point for the current inquiry would be to gather up all these previous inquiries and just implement the recommendations they've been making for decades!

We are also concerned the Inquiry is focusing on employment discrimination against both older Australians and Australians living with a disability and fear the intrinsic needs of these groups could be compromised. The Commissioner has responded to these concerns since the announcement of the Inquiry 

In an article in The Mandarin, the Commissioner agreed the two are very different areas and "plans to manage the inquiry in two streams for that reason".  In the disability stream, she’ll be seeking a commitment to achieve “a much better result” and described recent statistics as alarming that showed Commonwealth public servants with disabilities report feeling bullied and harassed at far higher rates than their colleagues, inadequate provision of assistive technology and a decline in overall workforce participation. The Commissioner also acknowledged the figures for people living with disability were not improving. 

 The Terms of Reference for the inquiry include:

  • the obstacles faced by older persons and persons with disabilities in actively participating in the workforce; "
  • discrimination against older persons and persons with disabilities as a systemic problem; and,
  • economic and social costs, and the costs to productivity, that result from discrimination against older persons and persons with disabilities in employment.

Along with these, the Commission will also examine the Australian Government's "commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights of older Australians and Australians with a disability". More information about the Inquiry can be found here.

Additionally, the Commission will regard the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and its progress reports to the Council of Australian Governments, and the Australian Law Reform Commission Access All Ages—Older Workers and Commonwealth Laws Report, March 2013 for the Inquiry.

We will nominate to be involved in the consultation process and bring you updates about this very important work. Join our Employment and Security community for updates and to add your comments about this development.

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