Graeme Gordon Innes AM (born 9 August 1955) is a lawyer, mediator and company director, university chancellor and was Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner[1] from December 2005 to July 2014.

Graeme Innes
Innes at the launch of his book Finding A Way in 2016
Born (1955-08-09) 9 August 1955 (age 68)
Sydney, Australia
Alma materUniversity of Sydney
Known forBeing Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner from 2005 to 2014

As a human rights advocate for the past 30 years he has played a role in many human rights and disability initiatives, including the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[2]

In 2013, Innes won a case against RailCorp,[3] which was found to have discriminated against blind and visually impaired passengers. Innes was admitted as a Member of the Order of Australia in 1995[4] in recognition of his human rights work and his contribution to the rights of people with disability in Australia.

Early life and education edit

Innes was born in Sydney, Australia. The son of Alwyn and Dorothy Innes, he has an older sister and younger brother. Alwyn Innes had been a councillor on Ashfield Municipal Council.[5] Due to congenital issues, Innes was born totally blind. His parents were shocked by the news of his disability but endeavoured to treat him in the same way as his siblings. Innes believes this approach benefitted him in life.

At age four, Innes and his family moved to a residence in the grounds of the Masonic Hospital (now the Sydney Private Hospital[6]) in Ashfield, when Innes' father Alwyn was appointed its CEO. Innes grew up there.

Innes attended the North Rocks School for Blind Children, run by the New South Wales Department of Education on a site owned by the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.[7] He was made school captain in 1971 in early recognition of his leadership capacities. He was thereafter one of the first blind children integrated into the mainstream school system, attending Ashfield Boys High School for Years 11 and 12 in 1972–73. He was a prefect at this school, and a member of the 1972 debating team that won many competitions. He then undertook law studies at the University of Sydney, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1978, and gained the foundation for his later specialisation in social justice and human rights law.

Career edit

Early career edit

After completing practical legal training at the College of Law in 1978, Innes applied for about 30 jobs, but many employers did not understand how a blind person could work as a lawyer. He gained a position as a clerical assistant with the NSW Public Service, and two years later became a legal officer at the Department of Consumer Affairs. He became a conciliator in 1983, first at the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and then at the WA Equal Opportunity Commission.

Innes worked for Qantas (1993–1995), initially managing its Disability Services Project, and then fulfilling the role of the company's Equal Employment Opportunity Officer. He then moved to Westpac, where he was Manager of Disability Projects (1995–1997).

He was a Hearing Commissioner with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1994–2001). In this role, he heard the cases of Finney v Hills Grammar School,[8] and Purvis v NSW Department of Education,[9] which resulted in the landmark decisions that the schools in question had discriminated against a child on the basis of their disability (either refusing enrolment, or excluding the child) in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Innes then became the Deputy Disability Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission from 1999 to 2005. As a tribunal member, he maintained a high resolution rate of complaints using conciliation for tribunals including the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal (1996–2005); the NSW Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (1996–2005); and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal.

Throughout his early career, Innes held leadership positions in disability advocacy organisations. He was the first Chair of Disabled Peoples International (Australia) which became People with Disability Australia[10] (1983–1987), and Chair of Royal Blind Society (1995–2004) and was the first Chair of Australia's national blindness agency, Vision Australia[11] (2004–2005). He was the Chair of the Commonwealth Disability Advisory Council of Australia[12] 1989–1993, which achieved passage by government of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1992, and which developed a plan to improve transport accessibility (which later became the Accessible Transport Standards[13]). He was also Deputy Chair of the Australian Disability Consultative Council This council was replaced by the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council, which has is now replaced with Disability and Carers Industry Advisory Council[14] 1995–1996, and Chair of World Blind Union (Asia Pacific Region) 2002–2005. He has been a board member of the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre;[15] Life Without Barriers;,[16] Livable Housing Australia[17] and is a board member of disability employment service, Joblife Employment.[18]

Later career edit

Innes was appointed Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner in December 2005. During that time, he also served as Australia's Human Rights Commissioner (2005–2009) and as Race Discrimination Commissioner (2009–2011). As Commissioner, Innes contributed to human rights reform initiatives. He participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[19] and its ratification by Australia. He also played an instrumental role in the Same Sex: Same Entitlements[20] enquiry, which resulted in the removal of discrimination across Australian federal law.

Innes also contributed to the development of the National Disability Strategy and the Disability (Access to Premises – buildings) Standards 2010,[21] as well as to the establishment of Livable Housing Australia.[17] In his role as Human Rights Commissioner, he undertook three annual inspections of Australia's Immigration Detention facilities.

As a human rights advocate, in his personal capacity as well as professionally, Innes has achieved a number of reforms for people with disability. In 2013 acting in a personal capacity, he won a case in the Federal Magistrates Court against RailCorp[22] (which delivers train services in NSW). The magistrate found RailCorp had discriminated against blind and visually impaired passengers by refusing to commit to a program of improving station announcements on Sydney trains so that passengers would know where to get off. Innes won the case and $10,000 damages, after RailCorp spent more than $400,000 on its unsuccessful defence. Also in 2013, Innes initiated an online petition calling on department store Myer to increase its employment of people with disability to 10 per cent of its workforce. This action was in response to a negative statement by Myer's CEO about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Innes' petition gained 35,000 signatures within a few days.

Innes has been an active advocate for the implementation of cinema captioning and audio descriptions in Australia.

He is known for his speeches,[23] and his erudite opinion pieces[24] published in mainstream Australian media. He embraces communications technologies and platforms, and is a regular user of Twitter[25] for timely media commentary.

In December 2022, Innes was installed as the chancellor of Central Queensland University.[26] He is the first university chancellor in Australia to identify as having a disability.[27]

Notable achievements edit

Honours edit

Innes was made a Member of the Order of Australia 1995[31] for service to the community, particularly as an adviser on disability anti-discrimination policy. He was also shortlisted for Australian of the Year in 2004.


Other awards

  • Outstanding Supporter Award, 2008 – Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby
  • Outstanding Service Award, 1976–2005 – Vision Australia
  • David Blyth Award, 1999 – Blind Citizens Australia
  • Civic Medallion, 1992 – City of Perth, Western Australia

Personal life edit

Innes is married to Maureen Shelley. He has an adult son and daughter. He enjoys cricket and sailing.

References edit

  1. ^ "President & Commissioners | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". 30 March 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  3. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (29 March 2013). "Disability case costs RailCorp $420,000". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, NSW: Fairfax Media Sydney. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  4. ^ "It's an Honour – Honours – Search Australian Honours". 26 January 1995. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  6. ^ "The Sydney Private Hospital". 1 November 2000. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  7. ^ "RIDBC". RIDBC. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  8. ^ "Scott and Bernadette Finney on behalf of Scarlett Finney v The Hills Grammar School | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  9. ^ "Alex Purvis on behalf of Daniel Hoggan v The State of New South Wales (Department of Education) | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  10. ^ "People with Disability Australia (PWDA)". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Vision Australia". Vision Australia. 20 March 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  12. ^ Time to Talk Canberra (6 May 2014). "Disability Advisory Council – Community Services". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  13. ^ "Disability standards for accessible public transport | Attorney-General's Department". 15 November 2012. Archived from the original on 26 April 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  14. ^ "Disability and Carers Industry Advisory Council | Australian Government Department of Social Services". 2 June 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  15. ^ "Contact « NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  16. ^ "Life Without Barriers – Home". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) | Homes for Living". ANUHD. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  18. ^ "Joblife Employment | Our Board". Joblife. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  19. ^ a b "Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". 9 August 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  20. ^ "Same Sex: Same Entitlements | Australian Human Rights Commission". January 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  21. ^ "Disability standards for premises | Attorney-General's Department". 15 November 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  22. ^ Innes v Rail Corporation NSW (No 2) [2013] FMCA 36 (1 February 2013), Federal Magistrates' Court (Australia).
  23. ^ "Speeches | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  24. ^ "Opinion pieces | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  25. ^ "Graeme Innes (@Graemeinnes) op Twitter". 4 June 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  26. ^ Pearce, Matthew (9 December 2022). "New Chancellor takes up challenge". CQ Today. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  27. ^ Culliver, Paul (7 December 2022). "Meet the first Australian Chancellor to identify as having a disability". ABC Capricornia. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  28. ^ "Disability Rights: Legislation index | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  29. ^ "Disability Rights: Second Reading. House of Reps | Australian Human Rights Commission". 26 May 1992. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  30. ^ "Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". 30 March 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  31. ^ "Mr Graeme Gordon INNES". It's An Honour. 26 January 1995. Retrieved 28 October 2020.

External links edit