Additional Comments by Senator Greig on behalf of the Australian Democrats
Democrats fully support the principle of the Disability Discrimination
Amendment (Education Standards) Bill 2004, and are keen to see the Bill and its
associated Standards introduced in a timely and efficient manner.
the Standards have been in development since 1995 and that a range of
government and non-government education, training and disability sector
stakeholders have been engaged in that process.
Democrats further recognise that given repeated delays and the continuing
uncertainty created by the lack of comprehensive Disability Standards for
Education, there is a degree of urgency amongst stakeholders, particularly
those within the disability sector, to ensure the Standards’ immediate
this urgency, the Democrats have remaining concerns about certain elements of
Bill, particularly in relation to the extension of unjustifiable hardship
provisions within the Act and the provision of adequate transitional funding
for professional development.
As a matter of
principle, the Australian Democrats are concerned about any reduction in the
capacity of the Disability Discrimination Act to protect people with a disability
from discrimination, or any watering down of their rights under the Act.
evidence from disability advocates including the Australian Federation of
Disability Organisations (AFDO), Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), People
with Disability Australia (PWD) and the Australian Learning Disability
Association (ALDA) that is consistent with these concerns.
While we note the
evidence that an extension of unjustifiable hardship provisions is consistent
with recommendations made by the Productivity Commission’s Review of the
Disability Discrimination Act, we wish to highlight that this recommendation
was subject to the inclusion of a reasonable adjustment safeguard within the
We share concerns
that the Bill extends the defence of unjustifiable hardship, thereby removing
rights of people with disabilities and extending greater rights to education
providers, without providing the balancing check of an express obligation on
education providers to make reasonable adjustments to the point of unjustifiable hardship.
Democrats concur with evidence questioning the adequacy of reasonable
adjustment provisions being solely included within the Standards rather than in
the Act itself.
from this omission are further compounded by the Standards’ failure to create
any direct link between reasonable adjustment and unjustifiable hardship.
Finally while we
note the inclusion of reference to the concept of reasonable adjustment in the
amending Bill, there is no corresponding inclusion of a definition.
Democrats note support for the Draft Standards from State and Territory
Education Departments at the July 2003 MCEETYA meeting being conditional on a
Commonwealth commitment to providing new, non-recurrent funding for all
professional development costs and the sharing of unforeseen costs arising from
the Standards and further, that these costs were regarded by independent
consultants engaged by the DEST as legitimately attributable to the Standards’
We acknowledge suggestion
that the Standards do not create additional obligations upon education
providers, but would argue that if the Standards are properly implemented we
would expect a greater investment would be needed in both training and
provision of services - particularly for
those with learning disabilities who currently fall outside the definition used
to determine additional Commonwealth funding.
Democrats further note evidence provided to this Inquiry by the Australian
Learning Disability Association regarding poor overall knowledge about the
Disability Discrimination Act, as well as evidence to the previous Inquiry into
Education of Students with a Disability regarding funding and training
deficiencies, that have left many teachers ill-equipped to properly respond to
the needs of students with diverse learning needs.
On this basis,
the Democrats support both one-off funding to support the introduction of the
Standards and ongoing funding that is based on a proper assessment of the shortfall
in funding to meet those standards.
These funds should not be diverted from an already under resourced
Australian Democrats support the views of the Committee in light of the
overwhelming community desire that the standards be introduced as a matter of
On the balance of
this support and the concerns outlined above, the Australian Democrats will not
oppose the introduction or passage of the Bill, but make the following
That the Bill be
amended to include a definition of reasonable adjustment;
That the Bill be
amended to place an express requirement upon education providers to ensure all
reasonable adjustments to the point of unjustifiable hardship are made in the
provision of education service to students with a disability; and
government provide immediate additional funding, as identified in the
Regulation Impact Statement, for professional development and for additional
services that will support the introduction of the Disability Standards for
Senator Brian Greig