Page 4248 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 21 September 2011

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By contrast, this bill proposes an exception that lacks definition and is arbitrary and untargeted. It would effectively permit service or access providers to indiscriminately refuse goods, services or facility access to children or young people during school hours if it is reasonably believed the child or young person is a school student.

Sanctioning a form of age-based discrimination of school-aged children and young people could not feasibly be regarded as a proportionate response or the least restrictive means of redressing the issue of school truancy. This is simply an attempt to legitimise a form of age-based discrimination through changes to the very legislative instrument which is designed to prohibit such forms of discrimination. It is poor policy—a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived social problem which is misdirected both in its execution and in its objective.

There are a number of compelling reasons why the government cannot support this bill. Firstly, if enacted, the exception would undermine the policy objective of the Discrimination Act 1991. A formative objective of this act is to prohibit discrimination based on particular attributes, including age. A statutory exception which makes it lawful to refuse to provide goods, services or access to facilities to children and young people would squarely undermine this policy objective. It would effectively allow a protected attribute to be a relevant factor to refuse the provision of goods or services which would otherwise be lawful to be provided to a child or young person.

This amendment would open the door to further unwarranted statutory qualifications being placed on the important right not to be discriminated against based on a person’s age. Secondly, the proposed exception is inconsistent with government policy related to children and young people. For example, one of the guiding principles of the ACT’s children’s plan is for Canberra to become a child-friendly city, a city which is liveable, inclusive and accessible and where children are provided the opportunities needed to participate fully in family, community and social life. Permitting shop owners to refuse service to children and young people, even if motivated by a desire to combat truancy, is not in line with this plan. Allied to this the government has legal obligations to protect the right to equality and special protection of children under the Human Rights Act.

Not all children who are absent from school during school hours are absent without leave. Children may need to be absent from school for a range of reasons such as a visit to a medical or healthcare practitioner. Are we to punish these students as well by denying them lawful access to goods and services? These obligations to protect children’s rights would be clearly compromised if the exception Mr Seselja proposed was introduced.

Thirdly, the exception is promoted as an anti-truancy initiative, yet it fails to cohesively address the motives for truancy. Truancy is not a simple problem and it will not be solved by simplistic solutions. Truancy is the result of multiple negative and cumulative influences originating from the individual, the family, the school and the community. It is a broader social issue which requires comprehensive social policy responses. There is no sound evidence that the proposed legislative measure

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