Wanted: disability commissioner, under big freedom umbrella


Graeme Innes
Graeme Innes

A job advertisement published by the federal Attorney-General invites more questions than answers, reigniting the debate about the need for a dedicated disability discrimination commissioner.

Quietly on Friday George Brandis advertised for a new disability discrimination commissioner — a job that had been reduced to secondary duties while the government forced a “freedom commissioner” on the Australian Human Right Commission.

The roles of age discrimination commissioner and human rights commissioner were also advertised.

The “FC” was properly the human rights commissioner, a position and title that is almost universally recognised as a redundant anachronism of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act. As the AHRC has picked up increasing duties from other government agencies, its commissioner roles have expanded to include sex, race, indigenous social justice, age and disability.

Tim Wilson resigned as human rights commissioner last month, and will stand for election to the House of Representatives as a candidate for the Liberal Party. The last human rights commissioner was Graeme Innes (pictured), who during his tenure had responsibility for refugees, prisoners, children and LGBTI people. Those groups are now distributed across the other commissioners.

Susan Ryan is still the age discrimination commissioner, but her term will end in July. She also picked up the duties of disability discrimination commissioner in 2014.

The types of complaints that the AHRC have changed significantly since the roles were created. Now it receives more complaints about disability issues than any other type of discrimination. In the last annual report the breakdown of complaints by act were:

  • Disability Discrimination Act: 31%
  • Racial Discrimination Act: 24%
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act: 20%
  • Sex Discrimination Act: 19%
  • Age Discrimination Act: 6%

AHRC president Professor Gillian Triggs will be on the selection panel for the roles. Triggs was unavailable for comment as she is overseas.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General acknowledged the ads, but could not elaborate on the future of the division of the roles:

“The Attorney-General is seeking expressions of interest for the positions of Age Discrimination Commissioner; Disability Discrimination Commissioner; and Human Rights Commissioner.

“Appointments are expected to commence in July 2016 and will be determined in the context of this recruitment process and the current fiscal environment.

“No decisions have been made regarding the division of roles between Commissioners.”

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