Guest Blogs

Sue Hendy

24 January 2012

COTA’s focus is on national policy issues from the perspective of older people as citizens and consumers and seeks to promote, improve and protect the circumstances and wellbeing of older people in Australia. We take a rights based approach that seeks to maximise the social, economic and political participation of older Australians and promote positive views of ageing, rejecting ageism and challenging negative stereotypes. Due to age Discrimination, many older people are vulnerable and there needs to be stronger measures to ensure their rights are protected. 
 
It is generally agreed that ageism and age discrimination are widespread in Australia, despite the fact that we have a range of Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation designed to eliminate discrimination. Direct or overt age restrictions limit the participation of older people in some activities and bolster negative stereotypes and social exclusion. The reality of direct discrimination fuels negative stereotypes that underlie age discrimination due to a systemic failure of governments and the community generally to promote perceptions of positive ageing attitudes.

COTA welcomes the appointment of the Hon Susan Ryan AO as the first full-time Age Discrimination Commissioner as an important step towards seriously addressing this problem. The Commissioner’s blog outlines her approach to the issues of age discrimination, particularly with regard to workforce participation and we strongly support this.

The Age Discrimination Act has been regarded by many as the weakest of the anti-discrimination Acts, with the most exemptions and until recently the most stringent requirements for proving discrimination.

We see the consolidation of all the anti-discrimination legislation into one Act as the next important step towards combating ageism and discrimination as it should strengthen age discrimination protections by bringing them into line with the stronger protections against other forms of discrimination.

There are currently a significant number of exemptions under the Aged Discrimination Act and COTA believes there should be fewer exemptions under the consolidated Act with more stringent test for public interest for such exemptions.

COTA supports keeping a strong individual complaints’ mechanism in the legislation as we consider it critical that people who feel they have been discriminated against can take personal action to have that discrimination addressed. The process needs to be made easier and more support made available to potential complainants to encourage more complaints.

However we would like to see the consolidated Act have greater provision for the Australian Human Rights Commission to take a more systemic view of discrimination and to take a more proactive stance in dealing with it. We believe the Age Discrimination Commissioner should have discretion to initiate reviews similarly to the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.

Anti discrimination legislation is only one part of the solution. Although it may reduce the incidence of overt age discrimination it can never on its own eliminate ageism.

Ageism is deeply embedded in Australian society and there will need to be positive action to change community attitudes. Such action needs to include community campaigns through the media and community organisations addressing the issues of discrimination and actively promoting more positive images of older people. Such campaigns have been run for other areas where stigmatisation has been an issue, e.g. campaigns in Australia and other countries aimed at getting more community understanding of people with mental health problems.

COTA is actively promoting the development of a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older People. We see this as critical to protecting the human rights of older people which at the moment tend to fall off the human rights agenda in this country.

Sue Hendy is the CEO of COTA Victoria, Director National Ageing research Institute, Director International Federation on Ageing and 
International Ambassador COTA Australia. 

COTA is a federation of the eight State and Territory Councils on the Ageing (COTA) in NSW, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, ACT and the Northern Territory and COTA Australia which undertakes the national policy function on behalf of the federation. 

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There are a number of federal anti-discrimination laws in Australia and the Australian Government has committed to consolidating these laws into a single Act – a process which many hope will also address gaps in the law and strengthen existing protections. This website is to encourage and facilitate discussions about the consolidation process and help inform and engage the community and organisations with an interest in equality and anti-discrimination laws.

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