Myer disability debate reignited

Myer’s stance on disability is back in the spotlight, after the retailer’s chairman challenged an online campaign against it amid the launch of DisabilityCare.

The comments from Myer chairman, Paul McClintock, have reignited focus on the department store following controversial comments from its CEO, Bernie Brookes, in May.

McClintock said on Sunday that an online campaign against Myer launched by the nation’s disability commissioner, Graeme Innes, was inappropriate given his government position.

Innes led a signatory protest against Myer on the petition website, Change.Org, after Brookes criticised the federal government’s disability reform as something that would hit retail sales.

Brookes was lambasted for saying the Medicare levy increase attached to the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will directly effect Myer’s customer base.

He said the proposed tax slug, estimated to be more than $300 a year extra for the “average” Australian, is “something [Myer’s customers] would have spent with us”.

The backlash from Myer’s customers was swift. In a sign of the times, numerous customers took to its Facebook page within the hour with vocal complaints.

“It is with sadness that I have resolved not to shop at any Myer store again, until the CEO resigns and Myer management openly apologise for the comments,” said one post.

The petition launched by Innes on May 2 – the day after Brookes’ comments – gathered more than 21,000 signatories in its first 24 hours, and has since reached almost 40,000.

“I appreciate Mr Brookes has issued an apology, but I’d like to see Myer to commit to an employment target of 10 per cent of people with disability by the end of 2015,” reads the petition.

McClintock on Sunday criticised the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (HRC) handling of its top commissioner’s petition, and says the Attorney-General should review its conduct.

He says the HRC promised to put out a statement distancing itself from Innes’ personal position on Myer’s comments, and that it’s inappropriate for him to lead a social media campaign.

“Only after launching the petition did [Innes] call the company to seek a meeting with the CEO to follow up the petition, not to check the facts,” said McClintock, adding that he was “astonished”.

Simon Breheny from the Institute of Public Affairs told the ABC the petition wasn’t appropriate, and that if Innes “wants to run political campaigns…he can get a job with an organisation like GetUp”.

But Gillian Triggs, president of the HRC, is standing behind Inne’s actions and says McClintock’s comments, which come as Disability Care is launched the week, were badly timed.

Triggs said it had “attempted to work with Myer” to introduce new measures, namely a 10 per cent disabled worker quota, to turn the bad will against the retailer into something positive.

“The notion of, broadly speaking, a target of 10 per cent of disabled people within a workforce is a very common workplace strategy,” she says.

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