Corinne cardboard box

What a disgraceful excuse for a Christian is Abbott. This week sees the re-introduction of a bill into Parliament that, if passed, will mean that 10,000 workers with an intellectual disability will never receive full compensation for the work they did over a ten year period.

Some of these workers earned just 99 cents an hour. Yep, you read that right. We were paying people with an intellectual disability 99 cents an hour for a decade while the rest of us received far, far more than that.

Under the Fair Work Act, it’s possible to pay people with a disability less than the minimum wage. However, you can’t use the Fair Work Act as an excuse to rip people off. That’s essentially what happened to people working in Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs). The ADEs had used a government scheme called BSWAT to assess its employees’ wage levels. That scheme decided that some workers with an intellectual disability were worth only 9% of what able-bodied workers were worth. Others were worth a little more and earned $3-$4 an hour. Lucky them.

Maurice Blackburn launched a class action on behalf of the workers and, after a drawn out process, the case landed in the High Court. The High Court held up the decision of the Federal Court: the government’s BSWAT assessment was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act and the workers were owed substantially more than what they had been paid. The High Court ordered the government to compensate them.

That should have been the end of it. If the government had any respect for the High Court, it would have simply done what it had been ordered to do. Not this government though. It introduced a bill last year saying it would only pay the workers half of what they were owed. (I guess you have to fund billions of dollars in petrol subsidies for mining magnates somehow.) After a concerted campaign by disability advocates, the motion was lost.

Not to be deterred, the government re-introduced the bill this week and the tactics they have employed to get the bill passed this time are an absolute disgrace.

Josh Bornstein
Josh Bornstein

This time around, the gutter tactics have reached a new low. According to Bornstein, the government has persuaded the ADEs to tell families of the workers with disabilities that some of them will be sacked unless the bill is passed and they drop their legal action. It’s an astonishing lie. The ADEs are not the ones shouldering the expense of the back pay, it’s the government who will be doing that. No-one has to be sacked.Josh Bornstein, a lawyer for Maurice Blackburn, has been representing the workers throughout their fight. The government played dirty right from the start. Last year, it convinced Clive Palmer that the workers would only receive half of what they were owed anyway because Maurice Blackburn was going to suck up the other half in legal fees. It was a complete lie. Maurice Blackburn are representing the workers on a pro bono basis and won’t collect any fees.

Horrifyingly, the strategy is working. Families of vulnerable workers are so scared their kids will lose their jobs that they’re ringing senators and begging them to support the bill. Bornstein suspects this tactic has already worked on both Senators Madigan and Xenophon.

It’s the same approach the Abbott Government has used in the past. First they threatened to leave little kids in detention unless their asylum seeker laws were passed. Then they threatened to sack 1700 scientists if their education bill wasn’t agreed to. Now they’re threatening to sack people with an intellectual disability if the Senate doesn’t consent to paying them only half of what the High Court says they are owed.

Once again, we’re depending on the cross bench to show the moral backbone the cabal of “Christian” men running our country are so clearly lacking. Let’s hope they’ll do the right thing, and let’s hope Xenophon and Madigan will change their minds.

GetUp has launched a tool that will give you the phone number of your cross bench senators.

The bill could be passed today. Give them a call before it’s too late.

You may want to get involved here.


Corinne Grant*Corinne Grant is a stand-up comedian, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster and has performed both nationally and internationally. In addition to her years on Rove Live and The Glasshouse, she has appeared on everything from Spicks and Specks to Dancing With The Stars to Good News Week. She has co-hosted successful national radio shows, performed countless solo live shows and appeared everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Kalgoorlie Arts Centre. Corinne’s first book, Lessons In Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder (Allen and Unwin) was released in September 2010 and went into reprint just months after its release. You can follow her on Twitter @corinne_grant.

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