22nd Session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities briefing with civil society, Monday, 9 September 2019
Geneva, Palais des Nations Room XVII
Opening Statement of Australian Human Rights Commission
Dr Ben Gauntlett, Disability Discrimination Commissioner
Thank you, Mr Chairman.
I welcome the opportunity to make this statement on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Australia’s ‘A-status’ national human rights institution.
Australia has made some progress in implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since it last appeared before the Committee in 2013.
However, I wish to draw the Committee’s attention to areas of critical importance that continue to reflect human rights concerns confronting people with disability in Australia.
Equal recognition before the law (art. 12)
First, in regard to equal recognition before the law or article 12 of the Convention, the Commission is concerned by a lack of progress by the Australian Government in implementing a nationally consistent supported decision-making framework. Lack of equal recognition before the law continues to be an issue when voting, accessing financial services, participating in court proceedings, accessing justice, consenting to medical treatment and in guardianship and/or mental health legislation.
Australia needs laws and policies that recognise the legal capacity of people with disability on an equal basis as others.
Liberty and security of person (art. 14)
Second, in terms of liberty and security of the person or article 14 of the Convention, the Commission also continues to be concerned by the Government’s lack of action in repealing legislation and withdrawing policies and practices that can lead to the indefinite detention of unconvicted people with disability.
Under current laws, policies and practices in Australia, people with disability who are deemed ‘unfit to stand trial’ may be detained for indefinite and prolonged periods. In practical terms, this can result in detention for longer periods than if they had been convicted.
A disproportionate number of the people who are indefinitely detained are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
These practices were first raised by the Committee in 2013.
The Commission welcomes the recent endorsement of the National Statement of Principles Relating to Persons Unfit to Plead or Found Not Guilty By Reason of Cognitive or Mental Health Impairment by Australian states and territories in August 2019, with the exception of South Australia. The Commission looks forward to seeing the Government’s plan to implement the National Principles in State and territory legislation, policy and procedures.
Integrity of person (art. 17)
Third, The Commission remains deeply concerned that the forced sterilisation of people with disability, particularly women and girls with disability, continues to take place in Australia without free, prior and informed consent. The Commission is also concerned by the forced administration of contraceptives and abortion procedures.
On numerous occasions, UN human rights bodies including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have emphasised States Parties’ (including specifically Australia’s) obligations under the relevant conventions to prohibit the practice of forced sterilisation.
In 2018, CEDAW recommended that Australia abolish the practices of the non-consensual administration of contraceptives to, the performance of abortion on and the sterilization of women and girls with disabilities, and develop and enforce strict guidelines on the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls with disabilities who are unable to consent.
Right to work (art. 27)
Fourth, in terms of the right to work and Article 27 of the Convention, the Australian Government has stated ‘the best form of welfare is a job’ and that Australia provides ‘a fair go, for those who have a go’. What is a ‘fair go’ is though unfortunately seemingly different for people with disability seeking employment. Australia has one of the lowest employment participation rates for people with disability, compared with other OECD countries (being 21st out of 29 countries). In 2015, 53.4% of people with disability between 15 and 64 years participated in the labour force, compared with 83.2% of people without disability.
The Commission is particularly concerned by the low rates of people with disability working in the public service. In 2018, the proportion of Australian Public Service employees with disability was 3.7%. This represents no movement since 2016 and only a 0.5 percentage point increase since 2013.
Finally, and perhaps as an overarching concern, the human rights issues that I raise today are, in part, due to the slow progress by Australian Governments to implement Australia’s National Disability Strategy 2010-2020. A lack of dedicated resources and robust data collection, efforts to change community attitudes, inclusive education opportunities and accessible housing and transport has hampered its effective implementation and monitoring. It is imperative that Australia develop a strong National Disability Strategy for beyond 2020 with dedicated resourcing, measurable goals and robust monitoring, governance and accountability requirements.
Mr Chairman, I conclude by thanking you and the distinguished members of the Committee for the opportunity to address you today. I look forward to hearing the Committee’s views on how Australia can better implement the Convention.
I will continue to work in partnership with civil society and Governments at all levels, to drive changes in Australia’s legislation, policies and practices that will advance the rights of Australians with disability.