The Guardian • Issue #2004

Politicians treat marginalised peoples as props

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2004

E Lennon

As the two major parties press towards a 21st May election day, their treatment of marginalised peoples worsens.

People with Disability Australia (PWD) are one group run by and for Australians with disabilities calling out the systemic issues that have festered under both the Liberal and Labor parties.

“Only about ten per cent of us have access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) support, so issues related to employment and income are essential to our health, wellbeing and full participation in society,” the organisation’s election document reads.

In this document, PWD draws attention to alarming statistics. One in two Australians with disability are unemployed due to barriers, with some of these built into the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

This act is not the only one that ostracises and hinders Australians with disability from fully participating in society.

On 21st April, sixty-five organisations and experts penned an open letter to both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. In it, they came out against laws stopping some Australians from voting.

“Australia’s laws must recognise and protect the right of people with disability to vote in Australian elections,” the open letter states.

“But archaic and offensive provisions in section 93(8)(a) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 are being used to prevent some Australians from exercising this most fundamental democratic freedom because they can be deemed to be of ‘unsound mind’.

“Between 2008-2012, more than 28,000 people were removed from the electoral roll due to the ‘unsound mind’ provisions.”

From employment to so-called democratic rights, and overall well being, the major parties are ignoring people with disabilities.

“Australia’s current Disability Employment Services program is making little progress in addressing these barriers, and many people with disability remain segregated in Australian Disability Enterprises where they’re paid as little as $1 an hour with no pathway to employment within the mainstream workforce,” People with Disabilities Australia states.

In a very public way, the Liberal Party’s neglect of Australians with disability culminated when Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he and his wife “have been blessed, we’ve got two children that don’t – that haven’t had to go through that.”

This use of the word “blessed” implies that having a child with a disability is the opposite.

Members of parliament hit back at the comment. Those with lived experiences cited this as a typical ignorant remark, detracting from the full lives people with disabilities lead.

Politics in Australia remains the realm of the rich and privileged. Parliamentarians form a political class, detached from the realities many people who live in Australia face.

Politicians may blaze a campaign trail every three years, but at the end of the day and when the election has been called, they return to their homes and lives cordoned off from marginalised peoples.

These same politicians attempt to push through items that harm. If Scott Morrison and other conservative MPs had gotten their way, the Religious Discrimination Bill would have been legislated, allowing for discrimination against queer children and teachers.

LGBTQIA+ community advocacy group Wear It Purple says legislation like this is traumatising to marginalised peoples.

“The bill empowers people of faith to discriminate against us. Specifically, excuses conduct by a religious body that would otherwise be discriminatory as long as it is done in good faith.”

That strengthens the existing exemption that religious schools enjoy under s38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy.

Much like Scott Morrison’s comment on being “blessed” not to have children with disability, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet declared the exclusion of transgender women in sport to be a “matter of fairness and physiology.”

The Daily Telegraph went as far as splashing big bold letters across its front page stating “DOM BACKS WOMEN.” Premier Perrottet’s comments added fuel to the political fire following Liberal candidate for Warringah, Katherine Deves’ inflammatory comments about transgender youths.

Independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich came out against the Premier’s comments and threatened to withdraw support as a key player in the lower house.

“I have built a relationship of respect with the premier and his government where we are very open. He and I have had differing views, but I expect to know where those come from, and I expect that they are based on evidence and consultation, not just ideological opinion,” said Alex Greenwich.

This threat prompted Perrottet to backtrack in favour of staying in the independent member’s good books. Two days after making the comments, the Premier announced his intent to meet with Greenwich and representatives of the trans community.

As of writing this article, the details remain to be seen on what format this meeting will take and who from the trans community will be present. It also remains to be seen whether the Premier will listen to the trans people and advocates he meets. Perrottet is staunchly Catholic and deeply conservative. It’s logical to believe that this meeting will serve as nothing more than a photo opportunity that will quieten the backlash.

Greenwich called out the debate over exclusion as a political weapon.

Alex Greenwich told ABC Radio Sydney that “the trans community, and young trans people in particular, are being used as a political punching bag.”

“I’m asking the Premier to leave young trans kids alone, let them flourish, let them be themselves.”

These revealing moments show the public where politicians truly stand on protecting vulnerable people. To politicians, issues affecting these groups of people arise and grip the media cycle and then are swept back under the rug. They campaign, snooze up to voters and promise to meet with people to hear their lived experiences, but when it comes to the moment they can affect change, they ignore or endorse harmful policies that directly impact these same groups.

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