I have been a mite frustrated of late. You see I am living in a very rich country. This country I live in has resources that are the envy of most of the world. It is rich in a way that most countries can only dream of. But this country I live in is mean. It is mean beyond comprehension. It won’t let gay people get married. One of its politicians compared gay marriage to having sex with the family pet. Australia’s politicians, who supposedly represent us, voted against Gay marriage even though polls were showing that most of Australia is for it. But worst of all it treats people with a disability as absolute rubbish. So much that they treat people with a disability worse than 27 other comparable countries in the OECD. Cop this Peeps – Australia ranks LAST!

It really is unforgivable that many people who have severe disabilities can only have two showers a week. It is unforgivable that they are virtually prisoners in their own home because this rich country won’t make a society that is accessible for them. It is unforgivable that people who are deaf are being denied opportunities to enjoy such simple pleasures as going to the movies. And why?  All because Australia’s mega rich cinema industry, among the richest in the world, does not want to pay for decent access. It is just mean beyond comprehension. (Please do not insult our intelligence by suggesting that CaptiView is access.)

And you know in Australia it is almost legal to treat people with a disability like crap. We have a law that purports to prevent discrimination but does anything but that. It’s a law that says you can’t discriminate but you actually can if you can show that you have reason to. Consequently Australian organisations and business, whenever they are held to account for discrimination, simply cry poor. “It’s too expensive”, they will say, “It is Unjustifiable Hardship.”

Hardship?  My arse! Recently Al McEwin, who is deaf and a lawyer, spoke about Unjustifiable Hardship in Australia’s disability discrimination law. McEwin, who was speaking as part of a panel discussing accessible cinema, explained that Unjustifiable Hardship can be broken into two components. The first is the word UNJUST.  McEwin explained that this word means, “Lacking in justice or fairness”. The second part of the word is Hardship which means,“ a condition that is difficult to endure, suffering, deprivation and oppression.”

McEwin rightly pointed out that our mega rich cinemas certainly were not going to suffer any unfairness or endure any deprivation. McEwin pointed out that Hoyts alone had revenue of $927 million last year and that $2 million laid out to provide access wasn’t going to make any particular dent in that. In fact, arguably, that $2 million will be returned at profit by giving proper access to 2-3 million Australians who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

I mean Graeme Innes, our Disability Commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission, recently tried using the DDA to make the huge Rail Corp company provide audio announcements on trains and at train stations. The blind need such audio announcements so that they know what platform to go on and when to get on and off their train. Innes insists that Rail Corp have an obligation to provide full audio announcements under the DDA. Given that Innes is a lawyer and also blind you would think he would know what he is talking about.

Innes made a complaint about Rail Corp to the AHRC. I am not sure if Rail Corp actually submitted to conciliation as usually is the case when a complaint is made but the case ended up in court for ruling by a judge. The judge wouldn’t rule and instead sent Innes and Rail Corp away to try and resolve the issue themselves. All Innes wanted was audio announcements so that the blind in Sydney don’t end up in Melbourne when they are aiming for Redfern. Rail Corp said adapting its services for audio announcements would cost close to $1 billion. Perhaps it is just me, but this seems implausible.  What protection or support did the DDA offer Innes? Well in this case, as is often the case, absolutely none.

What sort of law is it that allows people to keep breaking it until the victim decides to complain? Then when they complain they have this cock a hoop system that tries to resolve issues by conciliation. If conciliation fails, and it often does, it ends up in court at great expense. Then of course the poor judge is expected to make a ruling on some vague chook scratching of a law that is supposed to explain what is reasonable. Then of course the offender is allowed to continue discriminating because they claim Unjustifiable Hardship, which is the only part of the law that anyone seems to understand.

A good law says wiki – answers .com is one which is:

1) Clear
2) Possible to follow
3) Enforceable
4) Consistent with the country’s constitutional right

The DDA certainly is not clear. It’s certainly not possible to follow it because most of it is not even explained properly. It is certainly not enforceable because no one can really say what is and is not discrimination under the DDA because there are so many shades of reasonable. It’s a law that champions ‘reasonable’ but one mans reasonable is another’s unfair. It certainly doesn’t support Australia’s constitution which is supposed to be built on the principle of a fair go.  To misquote Bumble from Oliver Twist, “The DDA is a Ass, A idiot.”

Because Australia’s disability discrimination law is so pathetic, so easy to manipulate and almost impossible to enforce Australia’s disabled are left in the dark ages. It perhaps would be a little bit more acceptable if Australia was poor and unable to provide but it is not. It is a mega rich country. But let’s not blame the law, as weak as it is, it really just comes down to common decency. Australia should provide because it can!

When Greece and Mexico, hardly economic giants, are performing better than Australia in terms of outcomes for people with a disability there really has to be something wrong. Surely we can do better than this. We don’t need a law; all we need is a heart.