The article by Hedley Thomas in today’s Australian about the Human Rights Commission (the Commission) has somewhat salved the burning that has consumed me for at least a decade. Since it was established in 1986 the Commission has increasingly become a political tool of the left. The Commission has aggrandised almost unchallenged on a negative agenda – an agenda that looked for discrimination in every corner of our lives. Fed by taxpayer funds the Commission has been an agent that has looked to divide rather than unite all Australians. Instead of informing Australians about the natural human rights declared in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it has seeded division in our country by promoting minority group rights at the expense of individual rights. This is counter to the notion of human rights and given that, after all, the smallest minority is the individual.
The Commission has accrued to itself a sense that everything done by its Commissioners should be beyond question, and that everything said by its Commissioners, irrespective of any damage done, is also beyond question and should be simply regarded as being to the greater good promoted by our betters and betters of impeccable moral superiority.
What was done by the Australian Human Rights Commission through the action of one of its Commissions in relation to Myer made me feel ashamed. But it also made me fearful that the goodwill of Australians towards people with disabilities might be compromised and diminished by this unilateral action. It was dumb and uncalled for; furthermore it was done because the Commission believes it acts with a moral superiority, and that any action by the Commission would therefore not be challenged; it was a tactic that smacked of bullying and the Commission through one of its Commissions sought to cower Myer and exact some sort of vindication.
I am the mother of a child with severe intellectual disability, one of a group of very disadvantaged Australians who have been, and continue to be, forgotten by everyone in power and excluded from public policy consideration, perhaps it’s because they are an embarrassment to the feel-good industry because of the very nature of their disability, however, that is a grievance to be ventilated at another time, as is the complete failure of the Australian Human Rights Commission to champion the Rights of the Child, especially children with disabilities and their families.
Back to the matter at hand – I started my own business when I was 21 years old and know how important it is for business to have a good image, loyal clientele and good community support to remain viable and to continue employing Australians. Myer though on a much larger scale than my micro-business relies on those same elements to remain in the business of employment and service delivery. In my view it was unconscionable conduct by the Australian Human Rights Commission in using their statutory position to target a private business without thought for the fact that people’s employment might be affected by its action in this case a petition, that the share-price of Myer might be affected therefore affecting the investments of shareholders including superannuation funds and the like. It was an appalling abuse of power against a private enterprise and certainly outside the boundaries of its statutory duties. That the president of the Commission claims she was powerless to do anything is inexcusable.
The other thing I will point out is that the Commission’s call on Myer to have 10% of its workforce be people with disabilities really was beyond the pale. Where did we see such activism calling on governments in all jurisdictions to have an AHRC-designated percentage of people with disabilities working in government departments? In the recent past, the Rudd government employed over 20,000 additional public servants how many of them were people with disabilities? This matter was raised in the public arena and I would be really interest to know if in say, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, there was much running around trying to find people who might have a prosthetic limb or a limp or hearing aids to show people with disabilities were being employed. (My husband and I have employed people with intellectual disabilities for the last 15 years and we are a small business employing 6 people)
Just by way of example of how ineffective the Commission has been to change things for people with disabilities for more than two and a half decades — Where was the activism of the Commission on this aspirational sop covered by the Australian at the time? – (as an aside the Australian has been a magnificent champion on the NDIS unfortunately its turned out to be an inflexible bureaucratic response rather than the transformational Scheme it could be – but that’s another matter.)
I remember writing to former president of the Commission Catherine Branson QC highlighting the plight of people with disabilities and urging the Commission to take up their cause — her response talked about women in headscarves and burquas.
The Commission is an agency which has in at least the last decade if not longer, ignored the human rights of us all to pursue an agenda that has given select groups rights over individual rights in our society. An urgent review is way past overdue. My concerns are about the rights of all children including children with disabilities who are specially mentioned in Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I am heartened to know Mrs Abbott has the welfare of children in her sights and if Mr Abbott becomes Prime Minister on Saturday I know she will be true to her word and do her very best to ensure the welfare of all Australian children is a priority on the agenda of government.