Human rights trailblazer challenges CQU, Australians to make inclusive values “infectious”

01 March 2023

CQUniversity Chancellor Graeme Innes AM has told his colleagues that their inclusiveness must be “infectious” to end unfair discrimination, as he marks his first Zero Discrimination Day in the role.

Australia’s former Human Rights Commissioner (2005-2009), a lawyer who was born blind, and a life-long advocate of rights for people with disabilities, Mr Innes made the challenge in a special podcast episode released on the international day on Wednesday 1 March.

As Australia’s first university chancellor who identifies as a person with a disability, Mr Innes said discrimination would end if individuals stopped making unfair assumptions.

“We must senure that we aren't limiting people from different disadvantaged groups, by making assumptions about them, that are usually negative and usually wrong,” he explained.

“Then we're going to find that, whether it's as a university community or as an Australian community, we have more to put into the community and therefore we'll have a stronger, better, more effective, more diverse community.”

On CQUniversity’s How to Change a Life podcast, Mr Innes explained how discrimination meant he couldn’t get a job in law after graduating with his law degree, “because people could not understand how a person who was blind could operate as a lawyer.”

During his time at the Human Rights Commission, he made big inroads to addressing discrimination, successfully recommending to the Rudd-Gillard government to change almost 100 laws that discriminated against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“And as well as that, I'm part of a rainbow family, (and) I have many friends in that group of people, so for all of those reasons I think that Zero Discrimination Day is very important,” he said.

In the podcast, Mr Innes also highlighted discrimination faced by First Nations people and migrants and asylum seekers, as “not fair” and an ongoing issue for Australia.

“It’s not taking an approach where we deal with the individual, where we welcome the contribution that the individual can make, and where we cherish the benefits of a diverse or different society,” he said.

“Not only does that diminish the people in that disadvantaged group, but we as a society as a whole lose out because we're not getting the benefits of the contributions that people with disabilities, people from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds, women, GLBTIQ people, can make to the community if we didn't make those assumptions.

“So for me, that's what discrimination is all about and that's the importance of diversity.”

The Chancellor said CQUniversity’s value of inclusiveness helped attract him to the role, which he began in December 2022.

In February, he spoke to a meeting of CQU’s 3000 staff, and said he believed the University’s five values – engagement, can-do, openness, leadership and inclusiveness – should be “infectious”.

“The whole purpose of this University is to support people who experience disadvantage, because they come from regional and remote areas, and don't have the same opportunities to gain an education, which can be the pathway out of that disadvantage,” Mr Innes said.

Zero Discrimination Day was founded by United Nations in 2014, to combat discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

It has grown as an awareness day promoting inclusion and compassion, to create a global movement of solidarity to end all forms of discrimination.

Listen to Chancellor Graeme Innes on How to Change a Life on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or at