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Equality and equity the heart of the matter

In just over a week Australia will go to a referendum about The Voice. My views on this are very obvious. I am aware that I am full of mixed emotions at this time: some hope, some fear, some sadness, some confusion – probably like a lot of you.

One of the things that has surprised me recently is just how few people have actually read the question that is being put to the Australian people. Very few – very, very few. In my last blog ‘Simple, oh so simple’ I outlined the actual question and attempted to break it open. The polling is telling us that about 40% of Australians are strongly Yes but that the biggest group are the undecided. They will swing the day. We all know that Australians in general are good people and that if given a good reason to support something they will. Can I please encourage as many of you as possible to repost my last blog. If each of my 1000 ‘friends’ reposted it to their friends we could get to a lot of people.

Now, I know, that some of my friends are voting no. I respect that. What confuses me is that just as I have discovered that very few people have actually read the question – not one friend who is indicating they are voting no have given one good, real, authentic reason for doing so. Normally when there is a debate you hear a good argument from the other side that stops you in your tracks and gets you thinking. That is yet to happen to me in this debate.

Equality and Equity: One argument put to me is that it will be divisive, giving one group a ‘special seat at the decision making table’ while others don’t have this. Well firstly, there are many lobby groups with their lobbyists in Canberra who are constantly in the ears of politicians attempting to influence them. But more importantly it comes down to equality and equity. If there is one thing I know something about it is teaching.

When I stand in front of a class in one way every student is equal. In terms of their innate dignity and worth as a human being they are all equal. But as I look out I will see Paul who is dyslexic, there is Karen who is slightly visually impaired, there is Abdul for whom English is his third language, there is Simone who is slightly hearing impaired, there is Henry who is a genius and is way ahead of the class and possibly even the teacher and there is Mary who missed half of the previous year became of a significant illness. So, as a teacher, I seek equity.

So, I may seat Karen towards the front of the class with slightly bigger text, have specially prepared materials for Paul, I will use visuals with Simone where I can, give Henry extension material and ensure Abdul gets teacher aide support where available and Mary an extra catch up tutorial.

One of the most exciting things that has happened to me in the last three years has been working with UnOther. UnOther is an initiative that seeks to see beyond the labels that divide us to the person and story beyond. The Other could be the homeless person, the person with a different sexual orientation to yourself, the refugee, the asylum seeker, the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the Hillsong devotee or simply the Collingwood supporter. Each has an innate dignity, a story, a nobility and worth and in spending time with them beyond the label and sharing story they become our brother and our sister in humanity. Simple but profound.

As part of UnOther I have got to know some of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. Two of these are Tristram Peters and Tracey Jackson. Both Tracey and Tristram have Muscular Dystrophy and spend most of their lives in a motorised wheelchair. Tristram is one of Australia’s leading Powerchair Football players and will represent Australia at the World Cup in Sydney in October. Tracey is dangerous with a capital D having won international medals in her love affair with 10 m Air rifle target shooting.

Tracey and Tristram have taught me so much but one of the most liberating lessons has been the difference between equality and equity. They have introduced me to the Social Model of disability which suggests that people like themselves are not disabled by their physical disability as much as by society’s attitudes, physical blocks and structures. When society sees people like Tristram and Tracey as a problem, in need of a cure, to be pitied or fixed we are truly disabling them (and ourselves). But when we change our mind and heart sets and see Tracey and Tristram for who they are, extraordinarily talented people with great passion and a great sense of humour who get up each day and do their best to be their best selves – just as we all do – then we liberate them and ourselves.

The Social Model of Disability suggests that we are not all equal. A child born in a poverty and disease stricken refugee camp is not equal to a child born into a mansion dwelling family overlooking Sydney harbour. Sure, they both have ears but that may be where the equality ends. Sure, the refugee child may end up playing in a Football World Cup after climbing several Mt Everests of pain, struggle, blocks and hurdles but their path, through no fault of their own, will be infinitely more difficult. So equality is where we treat people exactly the same despite the many presenting innate differences.

Equity on the other hand, recognises our shared dignity and oneness as brothers and sisters in the human family, but also recognises that we have different needs. Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Imagine Tristram and myself standing outside a multi-storied building. We both have a job interview on the 24th floor. The prospective employer gives us both five minutes to be in the place for the interview. Damien bounds up the 8 stairs, pulls open the door into the foyer, runs over to the lift, presses ‘floor 24’ and walks confidently down the corridor to the interview room arriving with two minutes to spare. Tristram has reversed his motorised wheelchair and is looking for a ramp to the foyer (if there is one). Hopefully it will be an automatic door into the foyer. If not he has to navigate ‘push’ or ‘pull’ from his wheelchair. If he can get inside he then has to be able to fit into the lift with his large motorised wheelchair, reach the required button (if it is not too high) and then reverse on to level 24 upon arrival. He arrives two minutes late for the job interview and misses out.

Damien and Tristram are ‘equal’ but there is no equity there. In the final days leading up to the Voice referendum the distinction between equality and equity is very important. One of the arguments put forward by the ‘no’ campaign is that such a voice at a advisory table will take away our equality leading to division. Do sugarcane farmers from Proserpine have a ‘voice to parliament’? Do taxi drivers in Sydney? Do commercial fishermen working out of Port Lincoln? No they don’t, therefore if they can’t why should Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people! Such an argument totally disregards equity. Yes, we are all equal under the law. Yes, we are all equal in the eyes of God with an innate dignity and worth. But our particular needs, to achieve the same outcome are different.

Yes, we do divide when we place members of the disability community to one side and say, “They can’t get to level 24 for the job interview in five minutes, therefore they are not worthy of the job!” The divisiveness is NOT in the person’s ability to do or not do the job but rather a mindset that says ‘one size fits all!’ One size does not fit all: nor should it. I want to employ someone for a job and have shortlisted two people. I discover one has a significant physical disability which has nothing to do with their ability or not to do the job. I simply communicate with both applicants as to their needs to be in the interview room in time. One I give a map or directions to. The other I simply ensure there is a ramp, the doors to the foyer are automatic or there is someone present to assist, the lift is wide enough as is the entrance to the interview room. I ensure there is a disabled bathroom close by. None of this is rocket science – simply common sense. By doing this, I am not sowing disunity but simply ensuring I get the best person for the job!

So the Voice referendum is not about divisiveness, about pitting one Australian against another. It is simply recognising that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island brothers and sisters have particular needs (just as people in the disability community do) and these particular needs will gain better voice if they are articulated directly at a table seeking advice. Nothing about us without us!

Fact: Indigenous Australians have far higher rates of teenage suicide than any other community within Australian society. Fact: Indigenous Australians have far higher rates of domestic violence, unemployment, renal failure and incarceration and lower rates of secondary school and University attendance than any other community within Australian society. The answers to these challenges lay within the Indigenous community itself supported by their fellow Australians. A seat and a voice at a table that MAY make representation to the Parliament in matters that directly concern them.

Please repost this to those who are undecided or seek to use division as an argument to vote ‘no’.

1 thought on “Equality and equity the heart of the matter”

  1. Another wonderful article, Damien, and clearly presented. Hopefully many will read it and think about the real content and facts. May we be open-minded, reflective and unbiased, while still following our beliefs about this important decision in our Australian lives and future

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