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UN Review on the Rights of Persons with Disability in Australia

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The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Committee) last week concluded its review of Australia on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  

Issues raised

Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Ben Gauntlett as well as civil society representatives participated in the review.  Some of the issues raised that impact people with disability in Australia, include: 

  • the absence of comprehensive human rights protections
  • that sterilisation of persons with disabilities continues to take place without free and informed consent
  • the slow progress in implementing a supported decision-making framework
  • that thousands of young persons with disabilities are forced to live in aged care institutions
  • the indefinite detention of unconvicted persons with disabilities
  • women with disability are not included very well in the work the government does to protect all women
  • there are no programs that focus on promoting the rights of children with disability
  • the education system is segregated; schools turn away students because of their disability and the rate of segregation is growing
  • not enough funding for Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs) and other organisations that represent people with disability

Australian Government response

The Australian Government reported to the Committee that it had made progress in the rights of persons with disabilities over the last five years in the following areas:

  • establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
  • improvements in the criminal justice system
  • protection of children
  • violence against women
  • implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT)
  • establishment of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Persons with Disability
  • Implementing the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach to provide support at the earliest stage possible for children with autism

The Australian Government also highlighted that when Australia is reviewed again in five years time, the NDIS would be well established, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Persons with Disability would have reported and its recommendations would be implemented, and the new National Disability Strategy would be in place.

However, the Australian Government recognised that while much had been achieved to ensure that persons with disabilities in Australia enjoyed their rights on an equal basis with others, there was still more work to be done, especially in meeting the challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons with disability.  Compared with the rest of the population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability face higher levels of disadvantage across all areas of quality of life, and progress has been very slow when it came to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons with disabilities living with disabilities.

UN Committee response

The UN Committee applauded Australia on the many positive steps it had taken. However, it raised concerns on the slow implementation of the CRPD and the National Disability Strategy (NDS). 

The Committee was particularly concerned that issues raised back in the 2013 review are still ongoing, and civil society organisations are still raising these issues six years later, in 2019.

The Committee highlighted the following practices and measures which are not in line with the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

  • the ongoing exclusion of persons with disabilities from court procedures
  • the large number of persons with disabilities forced to live in institutions due to the lack of accessible and affordable housing
  • the ongoing practice of guardianship and substituted decision-making which has led to the ongoing practices of forced institutionalisation, involuntary medical treatments including forced sterilisation and surgery, and the denial of the right to vote
  • youth with disabilities, particularly those from Indigenous communities are overrepresented in prison
  • the fact that many persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities are institutionalised, including children 
  • that migrant and refugee children with disabilities are being detained in in-state and offshore facilities

The Committee also expressed concern on the following matters that impact people with disabilities in Australia:

  • that the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) does not allow for complaints by representatives of persons with disabilities, especially through their representative organisations
  • reports that parents with disabilities are 10 times more likely to have a child removed from their care, not because of evidence of neglect or abuse but because of the disability of the parents
  • the uncertainty of Australia’s long-term commitment to international disability inclusive development through its international assistance programs

On the employment of persons with disabilities, the Committee suggested Australia should develop a national employment strategy that would implement recommendations from the 2016 “Willing to Work” Report. 

 In its concluding remarks, the Committee stressed that signing up to the CRPD was meaningless unless it was properly implemented and unless it improved the lives of persons with disabilities.