We all know change is inevitable. But actually making the change happen? That’s up to us. How to Change a Life hears from people who have made life-changing decisions, and asks them - what happened next? Presented by CQUniversity Podcasts, you'll hear from global industry leaders, and passionate locals transforming lives around them. And CQUniversity’s experts explore the science of changing our lives, with hacks to bring our brains, our bodies, and even our communities along for the ride. How to Change a Life is hosted by Mary Bolling from CQUni Communications. Music by CQUni alumnus Tristan Barton. Subscribe to How to Change a Life on your podcast app, and follow CQUniversity on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for more life-changing stories.
Tuesday Feb 28, 2023
TRANSCRIPT: Chancellor Graeme Innes AM for Zero Discrimination Day 2023
Tuesday Feb 28, 2023
Tuesday Feb 28, 2023
TRANSCRIPT of Chancellor Graeme Innes AM for Zero Discrimination Day, released Wednesday 1 March 2023:
CHANCELLOR GRAEME INNES AM:
I just see those assumptions as not fair. Not only does that diminish the people in that disadvantaged group, but we as a society as a whole lose out, because we're not getting the benefits of the contributions that people with disabilities, people from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds, women, GLBTIQ people, can make to the community, if we didn’t make those assumptions.
People could not understand how a person who was blind could operate as a lawyer, and obviously, you know, that constitutes discrimination.
And as well as that, I'm part of a rainbow family. So for all of those reasons I think Zero Discrimination Day is very important.
HOST, MARY BOLLING:
Graeme Innes has witnessed discrimination up close.
He’s also spent his career, and a whole lot of his life, trying to dismantle it.
To mark Zero Discrimination Day, CQUniversity’s How to Change a Life podcast is hearing from one of Australia’s human rights trailblazers.
I’m Mary Bolling from CQU Communications, and I’m speaking today with new CQUniversity Chancellor, and former Australian Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes AM.
In the spirit of reconciliation, CQUniversity recognises this episode was recorded and produced on the Traditional Lands of the Darumbal People in Rockhampton, and the Wurrudjeri people of the Kulin nation in Melbourne.
We pay respects to Elders past and present, and their life-changing connection to country and culture.
GI: Well hello, my name's Graeme Innes, I'm Chancellor of Central Queensland University, and I was invested in that role in December last year. But prior to that and ongoing, I'm a human rights lawyer, a human rights advocate and I was a commissioner at the, at the Australian Human Rights Commission for about a decade.
One of the things that I did while I was at the Commission was led the same-sex same entitlements inquiry, which recommended to government the change to almost 100 laws which discriminated against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, so this is an issue in which I'm very much invested, and an issue close to my heart. And as well as that, I'm part of a rainbow family, so I, you know, I have many friends in that group of people, so for all of those reasons I think that Zero Discrimination Day is very important.
MB: Thank you for all that good work! Firstly Graeme, as you've said you've spent really, not just those achievements, but your career and your lifetime, fighting discrimination. I'd love to take you back to the start of that journey, and I’m wondering if you made, if you can remember a time when you made a decision that discrimination wasn't just going to be something that you would experience and suffer, but something you'd actually stand up to, and work to end?
GI: Well I got through most of my life and through university with very little experience of personal experience of discrimination. So I mean, I knew what discrimination was, I I did a law degree so I understand those processes, but I hadn't really experienced it myself as a person with a disability. Or not in a way that it resonated with me.
I'd had situations where, you know, I felt unhappy maybe about treatment, but I didn't really consciously see it as discrimination. So the first time I ran into the wall of discrimination was after I finished university, when I wanted to get a job as a lawyer. And in my first year after university I went to 30 interviews applying for legal jobs, and I didn't get any of those jobs.
Now this was in a time when legal jobs were, you know, hard to get but not that hard to get! And I didn't have an amazingly good qualification it was a solid qualification. But it was clear to me from those interviews that I didn't get the jobs because people could not understand how a person who was blind could operate as a lawyer, and obviously, you know, that constitutes discrimination.
And so in the end I sat the public service exam in New South Wales and took a job, as a clerical assistant which was the bottom level of the New South Wales public service. And I used to joke at that time, you know, that I was the only clerical assistant in the New South Wales public service with a law degree! And so I learned that what people who have disabilities, and what people from other disadvantaged groups experience, is that we just have to prove ourselves over and over and over again, to advance in our careers, and that bar is not placed on other people. So that's to me was a very real demonstration of discrimination.
MB: Wow you said you were able to joke about it Graeme but it does sound, and it must have been incredibly frustrating. And to know that it's not just you, it's being experienced by other people with disabilities and that's that's a big percentage of Australian society! Was there a moment you realised you could stand up to discrimination on behalf of other people? And not just what you were facing as well?
GI: Well one of the things that I learned very early in my life was the value of support from my family support from my peer groups. And from my early 20s I became a member of advocacy organisations. The one that I was very much involved with, there were two really, was Blind Citizens Australia, and People with Disabilities Australia.
And because they were, I learned so much from other people in those organizations who had experienced similar discrimination to myself, and were prepared to share their lessons, their learning, what they had learned with me. And that provided me with a great deal of support and encouragement. And so I suppose I, among many other people with disabilities in those organisations, recognised that by grouping together in the same way as, you know, trade unions or other interest groups, we could work as a group to challenge the discrimination we experienced, and gain support from each other.
And I think that was really for me the dawning of advocacy activities, which in part played a big part in the career that I've had.
MB: It’s the collective action, I guess, you're describing - I've heard you say Graeme that you've seen kind of ‘green shoots’ of progress from there, against and addressing discrimination against people with disabilities, but then also against other minorities as well. Is there examples of where you've seen the best progress achieved? And what made the difference to drive the biggest successes?
GI: Well when I joined the Human Rights Commission, I was first appointed as Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner, and one of the things that we do at the… we did at the Commission was to conduct inquiries into areas of discrimination.
And so the first proposal that was put before me, by the policy team at the Human Rights Commission, was the same-sex same entitlements inquiry. Because we had done research in the area of people with diverse sexual orientations, and we discovered that there were at least 100 laws in Australia which discriminated against people, simply because of who they loved.
And it just, for me, when this proposal was presented to me, was a no-brainer this was a clear area where the Human Rights Commission could make a difference to a whole lot of people in Australia if we could persuade governments to change those laws.
And the way that we did that was that we conducted a national inquiry, this is back in 2006-2007, and we went round the country gathering stories from people in the GLBTIQ community, and from members of families of people who were in that community, of how they were impacted by these laws. How they, the tax benefits that were available to other couples weren't available to them, the child care support that was available to other couples wasn't available to them, the difference in social security benefits that were available to other couples weren't available to them. And the laws went on and on there was a hundred of them as I said, and so we gathered these stories, and shared them with the broader community through the media. And then put our recommendations to government, and that was, that was under the Rudd-Gillard government, and we were able to persuade that government to change those laws, so that people weren't discriminated against in all of those ways.
And for me that was a real opportunity to address what was a blatant form of discrimination that existed in our law, and to use the position that I held as Commissioner to work with the GLTBIQ community, to challenge those laws and have them overturned.
MB: It must have been an incredible project to work on, and I think it's so interesting you kind of highlight it was that storytelling that was actually really central to changing minds, and shifting eventually law! Is that something you've, through that process, kind of seen can have a bigger role in addressing discrimination more broadly?
GI: I think storytelling is a very powerful way to convey a message. And you know First Nations Australians have known this for 60,000 to 80,000 years, you know, their whole culture and knowledge has been passed down through the telling of stories. And we learn when we are kids the value of telling stories! And I know that, you know, I've given speeches 10, 15 and 20 years ago, and people come up to me and say ‘I saw you speak at a function, I don't remember where the function was, but you told the story about dot dot dot.’ ,
And so I understand the power of storytelling and how it can create change and you are right Mary, that is exactly what we did. We gathered those stories and we told those stories to reinforce the message that these laws discriminated, simply because of who they loved, who people loved. And that resonated with the Australian community and so it gained the support of government to change those laws.
But storytelling has a big impact and when I joined Central Queensland University, one of the things that I said at my investiture was that I'm a storyteller. There's, I realise the value of stories and the power that they have in gaining support and changing people's minds, and thinking.
And so that's something that I hope to carry through in my time as Chancellor, sharing that capacity. And hoping that it helps me and the Council of the University to guide the strategic direction of CQU.
MB: It sounds really exciting and especially, you know, you've seen a lot of really positive change in your time and through your work Graeme. On the flipside, a lot hasn't changed when it comes to inclusion, and that's people with disability inclusion, and more broadly. And probably a lot of people with disabilities still face that same unfair judgment that you faced when you were applying for jobs back at the start of your career.
What are the most frustrating to you, discriminatory practices you're still seeing? And what is stopping the shift that we need to see?
GI: I think overall what stops the shift that we need to see in all of these areas, whether it's disadvantage as a result of being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australian, or disadvantages as a result of being a gay or lesbian Australian, or a member of the queer community, or disadvantaged as a result of being a person with a disability. I think the shift we need to see is changing the attitudes of people towards that disadvantaged community.
You know it's almost in our DNA to make negative assumptions about a community which is not our community, about a community that's different. You know we did it for decades, hundreds of years perhaps, about women, and we treated women less favorably than than men and then it expanded to other groups. It’s known in the trade as ‘othering’, you know, we put people in another situation, they're not like us, and because they're not like us we, the sort of default assumption is that we have a negative and limiting approach towards them. And that's the thing I think that's at the root of all discrimination or inappropriate treatment of disadvantaged communities. And what we have to do is turn that mindset round and recognise the huge value that diverse communities bring to us, the huge value that people who have made the amazing and really difficult decision to leave their country where they live and come and live in Australia and contribute to our community. I think that it's an awesomely difficult decision to make, and there must be really pressing circumstances to make that decision. But hundreds of thousands of people have done it over the years in Australia.
You know the things that when Australia was colonised by white settlers, the negative assumptions and treatment of the First Australians, who had a working and effective culture here in Australia, but we diminished that culture, we impacted on it in terms of the the health impacts, we impacted on it by taking land which was never ceded to us, so we did all of those things um because of those negative assumptions about that culture. Which was also a strong and thriving culture! But this is different to white culture and you can see that parallel right throughout the various groups of people who experience disadvantage in our society.
And I suppose bottom line for me is that I just see those assumptions as not fair. It’s not taking an approach where we deal with the individual, where we welcome the contribution that the individual can make, and where we cherish the benefits of a diverse or different society. Not only does that diminish the people in that disadvantaged group, but we as a society as a whole lose out because we're not getting the benefits of the contributions that people with disabilities, people from from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds, women, GLBTIQ people can make to the community, if we didn't make those assumptions. So for me that's what discrimination is all about and for me that's the importance of diversity.
And you know one of the reasons I came to CQU was because that values that set which has been a thread through all of my life, is really close to the value set of Central Queensland University.
One of our five values is that we are inclusive, and the whole purpose of this University is to support people who experience disadvantage, for the reasons I've set out, or because they come from regional and remote areas, and don't have the same opportunities to gain an education, which can be the pathway out of that disadvantage.
That's my value set to a T, so when I had the opportunity to have to take this job, leading the University, it just ticked all the boxes for me and that's why I'm so excited to be here now.
MB: That is amazing and encouraging to hear Graeme, thank you! And you've described in there, you know a lot of sectors of society that aren't getting a fair go. You've also said that the ‘othering’, you know, maybe it's innate, but we've got to find a way past that. So who has the responsibility for that? And who would you like to see in Australian society doing a bit more heavy lifting on ending ‘othering’ and giving people a fair go?
GI: All of us! We all have the responsibility, because that's the only way we'll change it.
Eleanor Roosevelt said that, you know, some people assume that as a as a small person in society, as a person who's not well known in society, that they can't make a difference. But in fact individuals are the only people who can make a difference, and so we all have that responsibility. We all have the responsibility to recognise, as members of the community, how much better our community can be if we remove those sorts of assumptions or that othering that I've talked about. And just work with people to enable people to make the best contribution that they can to, you know, to give their best selves to whatever it is: working, learning or general society!
So that's a responsibility of all of us, and interestingly Mary, sometimes it means that we have to give away a little bit, to carry out that responsibility. That we have to give away that assumption that, oh well, you know women won't be able to be as effective as trades people as men were, because you know, some way that they may be perceived. Or that First Nations people won't or can't have the same opportunities, because they won't be able to deliver in the community in the same way that white people. Or that people with disabilities won't be able to do jobs, and I talked about my own experience, because of their disability.
We have to we have to step aside from that, and recognise that all of those people in those groups, as well as the group we’re in, should have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their capacities and that society will be better off if we allow that to occur.
MB: Okay it sounds like a lot of work ahead for all of us, but very necessary work! And speaking of work ahead, you've said a lot of lovely things about CQU. No organization is perfect though! So since you started as Chancellor in December, what opportunities have you seen Graeme, to improve inclusion and end discriminatory practices that might be happening?
GI: Well you know, apart from the whirlwind that was the first week of my investiture as Chancellor, where I officiated at three or four different graduations in Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Gladstone. You know this week and the weeks leading up to Zero Discrimination Day when this podcast will be heard, are the first time that I've had my opportunity to sit down and put my feet under the desk, and really start to understand CQU.
So I'm at the very start of a journey here Mary, but I am learning things about the university. And of course no organisation is perfect, every organisation strives to do better. Another one of our values is leadership, and it's really key for us to demonstrate that throughout CQU we want to do better at making learning more broadly available, and also at impactful research.
So they're the sorts of things that we need to aspire to, and you know, just to give you an example of one of the things that I've seen since I started here: I was really concerned at the graduations that I went to that a number of them, not all of them, but a number of them were in venues where a person with mobility disabilities would not have been able to walk onto the stage, or move on to the stage. Maybe a person using a wheelchair, and receive their degree. And, you know, our degree ceremonies are a window to the world for our University, and we want to show what our University can do to include everyone.
So since though that graduation week last December, we've started to move down a path where our degree ceremonies will be accessible to everyone, not just the 80 percent of people without a disability. And that's not the only thing we need to do, but it's the it's the first thing we need to do because it is the window to what we are, and it's part of how we show the world what we are we have. Families who come along to those graduations and, to recognise what their, the student in their family has achieved. And we want them to see that CQU includes everyone, so we now want to pathway to change that so that all of our platforms will be accessible to all students.
Now that's just one thing you know there's a whole lot of ways that we can keep improving, and continual improvement is real focus that I have for the organisation, and it comes from all of us. All of us have to contribute to that that process, you know as staff at CQU, bringing our best selves to work. Our students at CQU bringing our best selves to study, to get those sorts of results.
So that's how I'm hoping to lead the organisation as Chancellor for the next few years.
MB: Great to know that work is is underway! And definitely a necessary change. Graeme, finally you've spoken a lot about your values, and the values you share with CQU. And when you addressed all staff for the first time, you told them that values should be ‘infectious’, which I love!
What do you see as the essential ‘infectious’ values that CQ staff and students are going to need to spread to end discrimination?
GI: Well I think we have five values, and they're all a key part of, well, of the DNA of the University. That's what we need them to be, so that every day we're delivering, we're living those values and delivering on those values.
In terms of ending discrimination, which I know is the focus of this particular day, the ‘inclusive’ value is the one that I that I would come back to. Because of all the reasons that I talked about earlier in this in this podcast, if we make sure that we aren't limiting people from different disadvantaged groups, and making assumptions about them, that are usually negative and usually wrong, then we're going to find that as a community, whether it's as a university community or as an Australian community, we have more to put into the community and therefore we'll have a stronger, better, more effective, more diverse community.
MB: That’s CQUniversity Chancellor Graeme Innes, reminding us what we all have to gain by being truly inclusive, and ending discrimination.
To learn more about CQUniversity’s values, and inclusive education, visit cqu.edu.au.
You’ve been listening to How to Change a Life by CQUniversity Podcasts. Theme music is WINGS by CQUniversity alumnus Tristan Barton.
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(FEMALE VOICE) We were sitting there on the log Trevor and I, and we’re sitting around waiting waiting waiting, and I said to Trevor this is really frustrating, we could have done this, and Trevor said to me, how do you think we feel? And that was a lightbulb moment for both of us. Because I’m thinking, yeah mate, you guys have been around here for 60 thousand years, why aren’t your people doing the sampling, why aren’t your people looking after the country?
I’m dealing with investors, auditors, bankers, capital raises probably close to half a billion past 10, 15 years, easy, the financial knowledge that I have was exactly what I learned at CQU.
MB: Til then, stay safe and have a life-changing day!
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