Read, watch or listen to the AHRCentre's Annual Lecture on Disability Rights

The 2015 Australian Human Rights Centre Annual Lecture Disability Rights – A Global Agenda for the 21st Century provided an invaluable and dynamic contribution to the disability rights discourse in Australia and internationally, sharing penetrating insights into how far the agenda has progressed and its future challenges. The lecture was held in conjunction with a photo exhibition by Paula Bronstein, an internationally acclaimed photojournalist who has covered humanitarian issues and conflict for over 30 years. Graciously, she donated a series of photographs she shot in 2012 entitled Living with chains, reporting the circumstances of different disabled people in Bali.

The Annual Lecture brought together in conversation three people who represent some of the key national and international voices articulating the disability rights agenda and each were involved in developing the international legal framework for disability rights. Graeme Innes AM, former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, human rights lawyer and disability advocate and Professor Gerard Quinn, former member of the Irish Human Rights Commission and Vice President of the European Committee on Social Rights were the two panellists and the moderator was Rosemary Kayess, Visiting Fellow at UNSW Law, co-director of the disability and human rights project and human rights lawyer.

The event canvassed the kaleidoscope of challenges facing disability law in Australia and internationally. Discussions focused on current tensions between the existing legal frameworks under rights instruments like the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Convention) and the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA) and the practical challenges of implementation and societal education, to address more engrained issues such as social stigma and cultural attitude towards disability.

Both panellists underscored the importance of the positive contributions made in the past few decades by domestic and international legal frameworks aimed at redressing systemic and institutional rights violations against disabled members of the community. However, in recognising the contributions of the Convention, DDA and National Disability Insurance Scheme (albeit in nascent form) Professor Quinn and Mr Innes warned against the ‘temptation of elegance’; the tendency to treat these instruments and norms as self-fulfilling, leaving the real work of transformative change to social attitudes unfinished or illusive.

Recalling Justice Kirby’s dissent in X v Commonwealth that ‘the field of anti-discrimination law is littered with the wounded’ the panellists lamented that despite the positive trajectory of disability rights movement more work is required to over-come arguably the largest hurdle to equality; community attitudes to persons with disabilities, particularly in employment, lack of education about disability and issues facing the unseen populations of homeless with intellectual disability and age discrimination.

As Mr Innes optimistically remarked ‘there are still some standing amongst the wounded’. The lecture provided valuable insight into the effectiveness of existing disability discrimination regimes and the challenges of the 21 century, which those regimes are now being deployed to address.


With thanks to Simon Gibbs, AHRCentre intern semester one, 2015 for writing this article.


The AHRCentre Annual Lecture 2015 was held on 4 June 2015.


To access the video recording of the lecture with thanks to Auslan signers and the Deaf Society of NSW, click here. 

To listen to a podcast of the lecture, click here.

To read a description of the photographic exhibition in a Word document , click here.

 Ron McCallum speaking  Graeme Innes AM with students   Auslan signers talking with attendee   Justine Nolan with the Quinn family   Gerard Quinnwith Ron McCallum and Andrew Byrnes   photo from the lecture