We are a threatened species: Outgoing disability discrimination commissioner pushes for jobs plan

Mr Innes will be leaving the Human Rights Commission on Friday, almost two months after his position was axed in the federal budget.


Age discrimination commissioner Susan Ryan will take on his responsibilities.

In an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Mr Innes said Australia had the highest rate of people with disabilities living in poverty among OECD countries at 45 per cent.

He said proposed changes to the welfare system and the disability support pension needed to be accompanied with a plan to boost employment.

“There’s no plan to get us off welfare and into work,” he said.

“… We need to make it safer to venture off the [disability support pension] and into work. We need to offer every politician an extra staff member if they employ a person with a disability, as is done in the United States.”

Mr Innes said the government needed to provide funding and consider changes to the taxation system as part of any future plan.

“What we need is a plan and we need acceptance that you have to set targets and work with employers,” he said.

“… If you don’t have numbers and work towards those numbers, it’s just not going to happen.”

Mr Innes also lashed out at the current government, labelling its concept of lifters and leaners as glib.

“It’s such a facile concept and we all move from one role to the other, dozens of times a day,” he said.

“Many in society force people with disabilities to live within that ‘lifter leaner’ rubric and we would be lifters if there were not barriers in society which cause us to be leaners. I have challenged that rubric all my life.”

Mr Innes said he still had passion for the role after almost a decade on the job, but said his departure may be timely.

“What I don’t have is the stomach to advocate for the rights of bigots, so perhaps it’s time for me to move on,” he said.

Threatened species commissioner appointed                              

Mr Innes also commented on the appointment of long-time public servant and passionate conservationist Gregory Andrews as Australia’s threatened species commissioner.

“In the same week that one commissioner is disappearing, another one for threatened species is being created,” Mr Innes said.

“… I could mount an argument fairly effectively that people with a disability are a threatened species. Forty-five per cent of us are in poverty and we’re 30 per cent less employed.”

Mr Andrews will help co-ordinate government programs worth $2 billion, including an ambitious attempt to end native mammal extinctions by 2020.

– with AAP.

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