Carl Williams was bashed to death in gaol recently. This alleged cold blooded mass murderer met the fate that he is accused of dishing out to so many. Of course his life is glorified in Australia. He is the subject of countless newspaper articles, books and even a TV series called Underbelly. Just before his death newspapers alleged that his daughter’s private school fees were being covered by tax-payers as part of his plea bargain. Apparently by cooperating with the police, a few financial incentives were negotiated. He allegedly asked for them to clear his fathers tax debt too, but was refused. His trial cost the Victorian tax-payer millions upon millions of dollars. And now he is dead – Money well spent??
Last year in Brisbane, a man accused of killing three people complained because legal aide wanted to change his lawyers. He was yet to be proven guilty and the Government had seen fit to fund his legal representation. This is a good thing because he may well be not guilty and has the right for fair representation. The accused wanted the same lawyers that commenced his defense on the case because they were familiar with everything that had occurred during his trial. Fair enough. The accused has legal fees that are expected to cost the tax payer in the vincity of $2 million. This is not including other court costs and the costs of the prosecution lawyer. Guilty or not guilty the tax-payer is forking out. Everyone has the right for fair representation don’t they? That’s justice – Right?
Somewhere today, in Australia, a person with a disability has been discriminated against. They can’t get access to a building, education or every day things that the general populace take for granted like the movies. Many of them get to a point where they have to try and use the Disability Discrimination Act to protest against their discrimination. Discrimination is against the law – Right? It’s a bad thing. Murderers are brought to trial and sent to gaol if they are found guilty. They know that killing is wrong and so they must cop the consequences. It’s the same for breaking discrimination laws – Right? Its wrong with consequences – Right?
Not quite. You see, disability discrimination is essentially only against the law if the person with a disability complains about it. Discrimination can occur legally in Australia until someone sees fit to complain. Individuals must complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission who will then try to resolve the issue. If someone is found dead – the police kick into action. A thorough investigation happens. No stone is left unturned to find the cause of death. If foul play is suspected the police do all they can to find the murderer and bring that person to trial. What of discrimination?
Like murder, disability discrimination is against the law. Everyone knows it is happening. But who investigates it. If blatant discrimination occurs like what has happened with the Cinema Industry in regard to cinema access who holds the Cinema Industry to account? Does someone investigate it and say, “That’s wrong, We are asking you to stand trial and prove your innocence.” Do police go in and issue a warrant to investigate alleged discrimination? Do they force the Cinemas to comply with the law? The answer to these questions is – NO! First someone must complain the Australian Human Rights Commission mediate. And then what?
Well the Australian Human Rights Commission tries to get the person making the complaint and the organisation that is alleged to have committed the discrimination to agree on a fair outcome. If the two parties cannot agree on an outcome then the Australian Human Rights Commission basically says, “Sorry – cant help you – if you want to resolve this you now have to go to court.”
This I know because I recently made a complaint to the AHRC about Austar pay TV for poor and inconsistent provision of captioning. The process, over six months, was this – I complained and the AHRC clarified my complaint to make sure they had understood it – AHRC then took my complaint to Austar who then were asked to respond – Austar responded that they were “hurt” that I had made a complaint cos they are doing all they can to provide captioning, that captioning is expensive and that it hurts their hip-pocket (you are allowed a mocking giggle here) – AHRC contacted me and asked if I accepted Austars response and asked if I would withdraw my complaint – I responded no – AHRC responded that there was no hope of resolving the complaint and that I had to go to court if I wanted justice.
OK! Court it is. Like the accused murderer I would hope that there would be something that could help me pay my legal fees and have the matter dealt with in court with the full force of the law – not so! I have to pay! Little old me has to somehow compete with mega-rich Austar in the courts. Austar will be happy and able to fork out millions on a lawyer but less happy and apparently unable to forkout similar capital on captioning – go figure. I have to put my house on the line if I am to have any hope of having Austar held accountable. I can ask the courts to consider my financial situation. The courts may agree to cap court costs. The courts recently did this for a discrimination case. They capped costs to $25 000. Cheap! Mere pocket money for the average person – RIGHT?
So what am I to do? Risk my livlihood and house so that I can watch pay TV with captions? Or simply say stuff it – its not worth it? What happens if the courts find Austar not guilty? – OOOPS, gotta sell my house cos I wanted to watch a bit more TV with captioning. Sorry kids, pack up, we are off to the Salvos. I hear the food is not bad, certainly better than my cooking. It’s all worth it – the law will protect me – RIGHT?
This is what people with a disability are confronted with in Australia. A law that will only protect them if they can pay. If they can’t – well bugger that we will just have to let the discrimination keep happening. Do you remember Gail Smith? The mother of a Deaf daughter who took the Queensland Education Department to court for not providing Auslan for her daughter. She at first lost, appealed and then won. This led to the Queensland Education Department forking out $30 million to introduce Auslan to schools. It took god knows how many years to get to that point. I asked her recently how much it cost her financially – she said she did not know and that I would have to ask her lawyer – “Roughly”, I asked “How much do you think it was?” – “I don’t know…”, she said, “A lot.” Thats not including the emotional cost as well. The law protects us – RIGHT?
Well it does, if we can afford to pay for it. If we want to put everything we own on the line in the hope that the courts will agree with us then, yep, it’s a great law. Frigging fantastic law! What’s that I hear you say? SARCASTIC – me? Meanwhile murder trials are costing us millions of dollars. A dead mass murderer is having his child’s private school fees paid for at our expense for agreeing to cooperate with the police. Hell, they even considered wiping his fathers tax debt. Me – I just want to watch more TV and understand it – whose gonna help me? No one! No worries! I will just put my house on the line.
That’s fair – RIGHT??