Meg: As well as investigating complaints, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) plays an important role in raising awareness in Australia of human rights. How do you intend to do that as a new Commissioner?
Ben: I hope to change societal attitudes toward people with disability in Australia over the long-term. An aspect of the societal values that needs to be changed is an appreciation of human rights. But, perhaps more importantly, there is a need to emphasise the benefits of diversity and inclusion.
As Disability Discrimination Commissioner, my role is to raise awareness of human rights by giving speeches and presentations; using social media platforms; attending conferences and meetings; participating in government and non-government taskforces; meeting with government representatives, disabled persons organisations and people with disability and representing the Australian Human Rights Commission in domestic and international forums.
An appreciation of human rights ensures all Australians are included in society and treated with dignity and respect both now and in the future. However, as Australia does not have a Human Rights Act, many of the underlying principles are found in other laws like anti-discrimination laws.
A critical aspect of my role as Disability Discrimination Commissioner is to listen to the concerns of people with disability who may have difficulty articulating why they are having challenges with certain issues.
As Commissioner, I intend to consult broadly and try and work collaboratively. On occasion, I will need to be forthright and outspoken but the most important outcome is we have good disability policy going forward. Raising community awareness through social media (especially among young people) is a critical aspect of the role.
Meg: Unfortunately, disability discrimination complaints make up the largest category of complaints before the AHRC. Why do you think that is the case?
Ben: People with disability can be especially vulnerable to discrimination and they often complain to the AHRC as a last resort. Many disputes arise because of a lack of awareness and poor communication. Hopefully, by normalising disability and improving community awareness, conversations about disability and an individual’s needs become more constructive and easier.
There is also a need for systemic change in areas such as premises, transport, education and employment to ensure there is not a reliance upon individual complaints and that repeated instances of discrimination are eradicated.