The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has begun public hearings into shocking human rights breaches against people with disability in Australia.
The UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CPRD) has in recent weeks cast a similar spotlight on failures in law, policy and governance that enable many of those breaches and cause such harm to people with disability in Australia through not properly implementing the CPRD.
A delegation of seven Australians with disability gave evidence to the UN Committee from the Civil Society Shadow Report Disability Rights Now 2019, which was endorsed by more than 80 organisations from around the country.
It highlights multiple issues around rights, including particular issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, who are 14 times more likely to be imprisoned than the rest of the population.
Frances Quan Farrant, Senior Research and Policy Officer at People with Disability Australia, reports on the outcomes below. You can follow her on Twitter at @FrancesPWDA.
Frances Quan Farrant writes:
In recent weeks members of Australian civil society travelled to Geneva to present their concerns to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarding Australia’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD).
The delegation consisted of people with disability, their supporters and representative organisations.
It has been six years since the last review of Australia’s performance, and our lack of progress in the meantime has been strongly noted by the Committee, which raised many concerns about Australia’s implementation of the CRPD and requested the Australian Government delegation respond to several serious questions. These included:
Why was Australia insisting on maintaining its interpretative declaration on Articles 12, 17 and 18?”
This point was also raised by Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Ben Gauntlett, who said interpretive declarations were an aberrant understanding of the CRPD in terms of law.
Article 12: Access to justice
The interpretive declaration on Article 12 prohibits people with disability from fully accessing justice and to be citizens with a right to equal recognition before the law.
Notably the Committee raised serious concerns with Australia’s lack of recognition of deaf jurors, and for the lack of any capacity within current disability discrimination legislation to bring about representative cases.
Currently only an individual may bring forward a case under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. This limits the capacity of systemic advocacy to bring about real change to systems that impact on the daily lives of people with disability.
Article 17: medical interventions
The interpretative declaration of Article 17 deprives the right of people with disability to physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others.
This is particularly pertinent regarding the ongoing sterilisation of women and girls with disability, forced abortions, forced contraception and other medically unnecessary interventions on people with disability.
In very many cases, such interventions are done in Australia without full and informed consent. The Committee took note of this and questioned the government delegation repeatedly on this matter.
Article 18: refugees and migrants
Australia’s interpretive declaration on Article 18 means that people with disability in offshore detention, refugees and asylum seekers are unable to access services and supports as needed. It also means that immigrants with disability are currently not necessarily able to attain permanent residency or citizenship on the basis of their disability.
The Committee reiterated to the Australian Government delegation most strongly that disability is not a disease and that they had very serious concerns with Australia’s insistence on using language and terms that confined disability to the medical model and did not recognise nor seemingly understand, the social model of disability as outlined in the CRPD.
Here are some of the key concerns about Australia’s implementation of the CRPD that were highlighted by the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, Geneva, September 2019:
- Australia must make progress to remove its interpretative declaration on Articles, 12. 17 and 18 – this is essential to ensure justice for people with disability in Australia.
- Australia must address the current limitations in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, to ensure anti-discrimination laws are strengthened, enable representative claims, enable complaints about disability hate crimes and to ensure people with disability can make complaints about denial of reasonable accommodation.
- Serious delays in the third implementation plan of the National Disability Strategy (NDS) must be addressed, including the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework.
- NDIS assessment criteria relies heavily on the medical model of disability, in contravention of the CRPD, and does not adequately cover older personas with disability, people from CALD backgrounds or Aboriginal and Torres Islander people with disability.
- National advocacy programs are not adequately or sustainably funded for people with disability.
It called on Australia to:
- Enact national uniform and enforceable legislation prohibiting sterilisation and medically unnecessary interventions on people with disability.
- Develop a national action plan for inclusive education and a national disability jobs strategy.
- Develop a formal mechanism, including a monitoring and evaluation framework, for the implementation of the CRPD which involves the meaningful engagement of people with disability and their representative organisations.