The Fifth Estate: Disability in Australia

The Fifth Estate: Disability in Australia

‘I have never accepted the concept of “lifters” and “leaners”’, Graeme Innes has said. ‘We all move from one role to the other dozens of times a day.’

Innes made this remark during a blistering National Press Club speech in 2014, as the outgoing federal disability discrimination commissioner. The notion of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’ entered the Australian political lexicon via former Treasurer Joe Hockey, but it’s an old concept, and one that Innes has fought against for much of his life.

Born blind, Innes was determined from an early age to pursue a fulfilling and demanding career. His new book, Finding a Waydescribes his early life as well as the highs and lows of that career – as a lawyer, mediator, company director and commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, working on issues relating to race, disability and same-sex discrimination.

In conversation with Sally Warhaft, Innes reflects on his personal and professional achievements and discusses the state of disability policy in Australia today. What’s the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme? And is our society getting better at understanding the potential, as well as the needs, of people with disabilities?

Note: this video includes Auslan interpreters.


Portrait of Graeme Innes

Graeme Innes

Graeme Innes is a lawyer, mediator and company director. He has been a human rights practitioner for more than 30 years.

Graeme was a Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission for almost nine years, responsible for issues relating to disability, race and human rights. In this role he led work on issues including the ratification by Australia of a UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, the Same Sex Same Entitlements inquiry, and three inspections of Australia's immigration detention centres.

He is currently the chair of the Attitude Australia Foundation, a startup aimed at using media to change attitudes towards Australians with disabilities. His memoir, Finding A Way, was published in 2016 by UQP.

Portrait of Sally Warhaft

Sally Warhaft

Sally Warhaft is a Melbourne broadcaster, anthropologist and writer. She is the host of The Fifth Estate, the Wheeler Centre’s live series focusing on journalism, politics, media, and international relations, and The Leap Year, a Wheeler Centre podcast about Australians' lives in the fog of the Covid-19 pandemic. She is a former editor of the Monthly magazine and the author of the bestselling book Well May We Say: The Speeches that Made Australia.

Sally is a regular host and commentator on ABC radio and has a PhD in anthropology. She did her fieldwork in Mumbai, India, living by the seashore with the local fishing community.

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