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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviews report of Australia

Committee on the Rights of Persons
  with Disabilities 

13 September 2019

Committee Experts Express Concerns about Slow Progress in the Implementation of the Convention

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its review of the combined second and third periodic report of Australia on how it implements the letter and spirit of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The slow implementation of the provisions of the Convention, the Committee’s concluding observations from Australia’s 2013 review, and the National Disability Strategy 2010-2010 were raised by Committee Experts, among other issues. 

One Committee Expert noted that the issues the Committee raised in the 2013 review were the same ones that civil society organizations brought to the Committee’s attention six years later and the same ones that the Committee was raising in the dialogue today. 

The Australian delegation, led by Andrew Walter, First Assistant Secretary, Integrity and Security Division at the Australian Attorney-General’s Department, highlighted the significant progress in the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities over the last five years, including in the area of gender-based violence, protection of children, the decision to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and small but important improvements in the criminal justice system. 

The establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme was, without doubt, the single most important investment that Australia had ever made in support of persons with disabilities, Mr. Walter stressed.

In five years’ time, when Australia would come again before this Committee, the National Disability Insurance Scheme 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 disability strategy would be in place, Mr. Walter said.

In the dialogue, Committee Experts regretted the continued denial of decision-making capacity to persons with disabilities, which, they said, affected all other areas of life and led to the ongoing practices of forced institutionalization of various types, involuntary medical treatments including forced sterilization and surgery, and the denial of the right to vote.

Various laws at the commonwealth, state and territorial levels had not yet been fully harmonized with the Convention, while the absence of comprehensive human rights legislation to protect the rights across all citizen groups regardless of their difference meant that there were no effective solutions to intersectional and multiple forms of discrimination.

As the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Walter introduced Australia’s report, saying that in the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, all nine Australian governments had committed to a unified, national approach to improving the lives of persons with disabilities.  The Disability Ministers had endorsed the framework to reduce the use of restrictive practices in Australia’s disability service sectors and key disability legislation concerning disability inclusion, justice and mental health had been introduced by states and territories.  The National Disability Insurance Scheme supported a better life for hundreds of thousands of Australians with significant or permanent disability since 2013 and was fundamentally changing the way disability services were delivered, he said.

Ben Gauntlett, Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, highlighted the absence of comprehensive human rights protections in the country and the intersectional discrimination against different groups of persons with disabilities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, and those from rural and remote areas.  Progress in implementing a supported decision-making framework was slow and Australia needed laws and policies that recognized the legal capacity of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.

Concluding the review of Australia, Robert Martin, Committee Co-Rapporteur, applauded Australia on the many positive steps and drew attention to the practices and measures which were not in line with the rights of persons with disabilities, including, the ongoing exclusion of persons with disabilities from court procedures and their indefinite detention, the great number of persons with disabilities who were forced to live in institutions due to the lack of accessible and affordable housing, and the lack of a national employment plan for persons with disabilities.

Mr. Walter thanked the Committee Experts for their very thoughtful and sometimes challenging questions and said that the engagement of civil society organizations had made this process all the much richer.

Mr. Gauntlett said, in closing remarks, that because of the lack of monitoring mechanisms for the implementation of the National Disability Strategy, it was difficult to assess how the almost 50 billion Australian dollars spent annually on disability contributed to Australia’s compliance with the Convention.

The delegation of Australia was composed of the representatives of the Attorney-General’s Department, Department of Social Services, Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, National Indigenous Australians Agency and the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 20 September to publicly close its twenty-second session.

Report

The Committee has before it the combined second and third periodic report of Australia (CRPD/C/AUS/2-3).

Presentation of the Report

ANDREW WALTER, First Assistant Secretary, Integrity and Security Division, Australia’s Attorney-General’s Department, introducing the report, said that since the last review in 2013, Australia had accomplished much to support persons with disabilities enjoy their rights and participate as equal citizens.  Mr. Walter acknowledged the essential role that strong disability rights advocates played in the realization of human rights.
In the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, all nine Australian governments had committed to a unified, national approach to improving the lives of persons with disabilities.  The Disability Ministers had endorsed the framework to reduce the use of restrictive practices in Australia’s disability service sectors, and key disability legislation concerning disability inclusion, justice and mental health had been introduced by states and territories. 

The National Disability Strategy continued to guide and influence policy and investments that enhanced the lives of persons with disabilities, such as the development of a national disability information gateway to assist people to access services in their community; and funding for disability innovation grants to generate new ideas and adaptations that challenged the status quo and delivered equal opportunities and access for persons with disabilities.  Australia was now developing a new strategy beyond 2020 which would be the prime mechanism to guide the implementation of the obligations under the Convention and improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme supported a better life for hundreds of thousands of Australians with significant or permanent disability since 2013, said Mr. Walter.  It was fundamentally changing the way that disability services were delivered and, more importantly, experienced, by those who used them.  As of 30 June 2019, the scheme supported about 300,000 persons with disabilities and would be fully available across Australia by 1 July 2020. 

Australia rejected violence against and abuse of persons with disabilities and in April 2019 it had announced a Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Persons with Disability.  The funding of 527.9 million Australian dollars, the largest allocated to a royal commission to date, reflected the seriousness of the issues to be considered.  Australia knew from experience that the Royal Commission could lead to significant change, as shown by the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse, whose recommendations were resulting in significant improvements in child protection and safety across the country.

A key priority for all Australian governments was making improvements to the way that persons with disabilities accessed facilities and services within communities, Mr. Walter continued.  State and territory governments had rolled out innovative products and upgrades to their public transport systems to assist people using those services.  New beacon systems in seven of Melbourne’s busiest train station helped passengers with low vision and blindness to navigate the train network.  Public Transport Victoria conducted “Try before you ride” days where dedicated trains, busses, coaches and taxis were made available to persons with disabilities to allow them to practice use in a low-pressure environment.

While much had been achieved to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoyed their rights on an equal basis with others, there was more work to be done, especially in meeting the challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons with disabilities, recognized Mr. Walter.  Compared with the rest of the population, they faced higher levels of disadvantage across all measures of quality of life and progress had been slow when it came to those living with disabilities.  In 2017, the Government had released the Australian Government Plan to Improve Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People with Disability, the first of its kind. 

Statement by the Australian Human Rights Commission

BEN GAUNTLETT, Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, in his address to the Committee, drew attention to the human rights concerns that confronted persons with disabilities in Australia.  The Commissioner highlighted the absence of comprehensive human rights protections in the country and the intersectional discrimination against different groups of persons with disabilities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, and those from rural and remote areas.

Progress in implementing a supported decision-making framework was slow and Australia needed laws and policies that recognized the legal capacity of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.  The Commission continued to be concerned by the lack of action in repealing legislation that could lead to the indefinite detention of unconvicted persons with disabilities, as well as that the sterilization of persons with disabilities continued to take place without free, prior and informed consent.

Australia continued to inappropriately rely on institutional living arrangements for persons with disabilities and thousands of young persons with disabilities were forced to reside in old age institutions.  The education system was segregated; schools turned away students because of their disability and the rate of segregation was growing.  Australia had one of the lowest employment participation rates for persons with disabilities compared to other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – it ranked 21 out of 29.  The participation of persons with disabilities in the public sector was particularly low, only 3.7 per cent. 

Questions from the Experts

MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Australia, welcomed the progress made in Australia since its previous review in 2013, including the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the implementation of the National Development Strategy.  At the same time, some of the concerns – which the Committee had already raised in its previous concluding observations remained.  The Rapporteur highlighted some of the cross-cutting issues that concerned the Committee and Australian persons with disabilities.

The interpretative declaration of articles 12, 17 and 18 of the Convention enabled the ongoing practice of guardianship, substituted decision-making, institutionalization of various forms, and involuntary medical treatment, including forced sterilization or surgery.

Various laws at the commonwealth, state and territorial levels had not yet been fully harmonized with the Convention, while the absence of comprehensive human rights legislation to protect the rights across all citizen groups regardless of their difference meant that there were no effective solutions to intersectional and multiple forms of discrimination.  The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 did not allow for complaints by representatives of persons with disabilities, especially through their representative organizations, and it failed to address intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination.

The National Disability Strategy, supposedly meant to serve as a policy framework to implement the Convention, did not apply across sectors and levels of governance and did not contain clear measures to allow for the full participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in its implementation and monitoring.

ROBERT MARTIN, Committee Vice-Chair and Co-Rapporteur for Australia, remarked on the very slow rate of implementation of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and asked about measures taken to render it actionable, accountable and effective.  He expressed concern about the prevailing medical model of disability assessment which could lead to Aboriginal children with disabilities being taken away from their families and to forced institutionalization.  He asked what Australia was doing to implement a human rights-based model of disability. 

There was a lack of specific policies and programmes that focused on promoting the rights of children with disabilities, a group that was afforded minimal attention in the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020.  Access to diagnostic mechanisms and early intervention for children with autism were difficult.

DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, raised concern that corporal punishment was not prohibited in homes, in alternative and day care settings, schools and penal institutions, in violation of the fundamental rights of all children to be protected from violence.  Youth with disabilities, particularly those from indigenous communities, were overrepresented in prison.

Compared with others in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Australia’s record in the areas of employment and education raised doubt about the effectiveness of the measures taken, since the trend of inclusion in the labour market seemed to be in decline while in education, there was a backward slide, another Expert said.  What mechanism and funding had been put in place for the implementation of the National Disability Strategy? 

The State party was very slow in applying the principles of the Convention and in responding to the demands of civil society organizations that advocated strongly for the rights of persons with disabilities, another Expert commented.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 was Australia’s overarching policy framework for disability reform, and the key mechanism for driving more inclusive policy and programme design across all levels of government.  It contained the International Court of Justice key priority areas: incisive and accessible communities; rights protection, justice and legislation; economic security; learning and skills; early children education and care; and health and well-being.  The strategy was not only about providing services to persons with disabilities but also about challenging mainstream services to do better for persons with disabilities, stressed the delegate.  It reflected the findings from significant consultations with persons with disabilities, their families and carers, representative organizations, industry experts and employers. 

The strategy was being implemented through implementation plans, the first of which covered the period 2011 to 2014.  The first progress report also included the views of persons with disabilities and highlighted the areas of improvements they wanted to see.  The second implementation plan 2015-2018 was focused on driving action and prioritized improving employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and strengthening opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  The third and final implementation plan 2019-2020 Measuring Progress was being prepared; it would include 45 million Australian dollars for the national disability information gateway and would introduce a target of seven per cent employment for persons with disabilities.

The new disability strategy would need to develop new models that would take into account the changes in the landscape, namely the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the reform of aged care institutions, the new integrated care support services, and the reform of disability employment programmes.  The consultations with persons with disabilities on this new model were ongoing.

There was a range of initiatives to raise awareness in the society about the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, their capabilities and contributions to society, and which were grounded in a human rights-based approach.  A number of awareness raising activities were being conducted within the framework of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, particularly during the second implementation plan.  The third implementation plan 2019-2020 would include a 10.5 million Australian dollar grant for innovative initiatives to build inclusive communities and raise public awareness about the diversity of persons with disabilities.

At the moment, Australia would not enact a broad-based human rights act, the delegation said, and explained that the implementation of the many aspects of the Convention fell under states and territories, many of which already had broad human rights acts, while in other jurisdictions similar legislation was under development.

With regard to the interpretative declarations on articles 12, 17 and 18 of the Convention, the delegation explained that those did not modify or exclude its legal effects.  Australia strongly supported the right of persons with disabilities to legal capacity but in some cases, persons with cognitive or decision-making disabilities might need support in exercising this capacity.  Substituted decision-making was, therefore, only used as a last resort.  Australia also recognized the right of persons with disabilities to their physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others.  Compulsory assistance or treatment might be used only when necessary and as a last resort and it was subject to safeguards.

Corporal punishment was not accepted as a social norm, while physical assault on a child was prohibited by criminal legislation in all states and territories.  Reasonable chastisement or lawful correction remained an available defence in charges of assault by a parent against a child, but this provision had not been found to be a loophole; abusive parents in Australia were not able to escape prosecution.

A large number of indigenous persons were identified as having some form of disability at a much younger age than non-indigenous persons, which also explained why young indigenous persons with disabilities were over-represented in prisons.  There were many reasons that could explain this, said the delegate who cited, inter alia, culture, lack of rehabilitation service, foetal alcohol syndrome, and mental health issues related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Australia recognized that women with disabilities were at a heightened risk of gender-based violence than other women and that abuse could be more severe and last for longer periods of time.  Women with disabilities were almost twice as likely to have experienced partner violence.  Australians had the right to feel safe in their homes, at work, and in their communities.  Outcome 2 of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 aimed to promote access to justice and bring an end to violence and abuse for persons with disabilities.

In addition, on 5 Aril 2019 the Royal Commission had been announced; it would cover all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of persons with disabilities.  The national plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010-2022 brought together the important work being undertaken by states and territories, community organizations, and individuals.  It recognized that policy solutions to address family, domestic and sexual violence must take into account diverse backgrounds and needs of women and their children.

The Women Safety Package and its 100 million Australian dollars budget had been introduced in 2015 to take action against family and domestic violence.  The project aimed, inter alia, to distribute 20,000 smart phones to women victims of violence; of the 16,000 phones distributed to June 2018, eight per cent had been provided to women with disabilities.  A mobile phone app had been developed that used interactive techniques to guide women with disabilities through scenarios to help them recognize abuse and violence, learn about their rights, and take action toward establishing a safe environment for themselves and their children. 

The National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 represented a long-term national approach to improve the safety of all children, including those with disabilities.  It recognized disability as a risk factor of abuse and neglect and aimed, inter alia, to improve permanency and stability of home care and improve coordination of early intervention and prevention system.  The annual budget was 2.6 million Australian dollars per year.

A variety of definitions of disability were being used in laws and policies, the delegation said.  However, it was important to stress that the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the Disability Discrimination Act were based on the social model of disability, while laws and programmes specifically recognized that attitudes, practices and structures could be disabling and could prevent people from enjoying economic and social inclusion and equality.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert asked about the system in place to protect intersex children from sex alignment surgeries.

The Committee regretted the fact that many persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities were institutionalized, including children.  Why were young persons with disabilities being institutionalized in old people care homes and what plans were there to put an end to the practice of institutionalization?

They also raised concern about the continued practice of forced sterilization, contraception and abortion, and the lack of complaint mechanisms in institutions.  They urged Australia to review laws and policy that allowed substituted decision-making, even if it was a measure of last resort.  What happened once the legal capacity was taken away, was there a review or appeal process?  What was being done to put in place supported decision-making?

The delegation was asked to explain how persons with disabilities could access justice and the measures in the pipeline to improve the conditions in the field of justice and the law enforcement system, particularly in rural and remote areas.  Would the national Government consider the adoption of national guidelines for mental health courts for all jurisdictions that would be consistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? 

The delegation was asked about reasonable accommodations and fundamental safeguards if a person with intellectual disabilities was accused of a crime, and what happened if that person was found guilty and detained.  What was being done to ensure that the justice system and laws were aligned with the Convention and the human rights-based approach?

An Expert remarked that the issues the Committee had raised in Australia’s review in 2013 were the same ones that civil society organizations brought to the attention of the Committee six years later, and the same ones that the Committee was raising in the dialogue today.  What were the reasons for the failure to address most of the issues raised in 2013 that informed the concluding observations, the Expert asked?  The Expert also asked what assurances Australia would give the Committee that this time around it would endeavour to accord serious attention to the outcomes of this dialogue.

MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Australia, asked the delegation to inform on the reports that migrant and refugee children with disabilities were being detained in in-state and offshore facilities and to explain whether a policy was in place to prevent such activities from occurring ever again.  How were the rights of such children protected?

ROBERT MARTIN, Committee Vice-Chair and Co-Rapporteur for Australia, asked how Australia ensured the compliance of its mental health legislation with the Convention and its human rights and standards.  This legislation allowed for the deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability, in facilities or in community centres, by imposing an involuntary community treatment order.  Could the delegation comment on the transfer of refugees and asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and other regional processing centres?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to the comment by a Committee Expert that not much had changed since 2013 in terms of disability rights in Australia, the delegation reaffirmed that the last five years had seen significant progress in the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities.  It was evident in protection from gender-based violence, protection of children, in the decision to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and small but important improvements in the criminal justice system.  The establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme was, without doubt, the single most important investment that Australia had ever made in support of persons with disabilities, stressed a delegate.

Much had been achieved, even if there was still much to do.  In five years’ time, when Australia would come again before this Committee, the National Disability Insurance Scheme 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, while the new disability strategy would be in place. 

As far as access of children with autism to early diagnosis and intervention was concerned, the delegation said that in 2013, the early childhood early intervention approach had been implemented.  It assisted children under the age of seven who were showing signs of developmental delay and/or disability to access support in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which was reliant on functional assessment rather than a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.  Early intervention and support aimed to reduce the impact of a child’s impairments on their functional capacity by providing support at the earliest stage possible.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism had led to the development of the national guidelines for the assessment and the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in Australia, which the Government had launched in October 2018.  The Government had also committed to its nation-wide implementation.

The legal anti-discrimination framework protected Australians with disability from discrimination in accessing and obtaining employment and job-related training, while the Fair Work Act 2009 prohibited employers from taking adverse actions against an employee on the grounds of protected attributes, which included physical and mental disability and age.

In 2015, 1.1 million Australian women of working age had a disability; of those 220,000 were employed full time, 251,000 were employed part-time and 51,000 were unemployed.  The reforms for disability employment services had been introduced in July 2018; they included funding changes which provided better incentives for providers of disability employment services and which had resulted in an increase in the employment rate of women with disabilities one year later.

Turning to persons with disabilities in residential institutions and the deinstitutionalization process, a delegate said that there was no national framework or plan for the closure of residential institutions.  However, most states and territories had relocated the majority of persons with disabilities from residential institutions into community-based living in the 1980s and 1990s.  The transition of people under 64 living in residential institutions into an alternative accommodation was a priority for the Australian Government.  Since 2013, Queensland for example had spent over 10 million Australian dollars to assist 180 persons with disabilities with transition to community-based living.

In March 2019 the Australian Government had announced the younger people in residential aged care action plan to take concrete action to reduce the number of younger persons with disabilities living in aged care institutions.  It would support persons with disabilities under the age of 45 who already lived in aged care institutions to access more age appropriate housing and supportive living options by 2022 if they so desired.  And it would halve the number of people under the age of 45 entering aged care institutions. 

Most Australian jurisdictions had guardianship tribunals to decide on a range of matters for people with impaired capacity to make independent decisions, including on health matters.  The test applied was whether the procedure was in the person’s best interest.  In South Australia, it was only the civil administrative tribunal which could consent on behalf of a person with disabilities to a medical procedure; consent to sterilization was given only if the court was satisfied that such a procedure was therapeutically necessary.  According to the annual sterilization data report, for the period from July 2017 to June 2018, three cases of sterilization across Australia had been reported, none of which concerned children under the age of 18. 

As far as free and informed consent of children with disabilities to medical procedures and treatments was concerned, the delegation said that, although the age of majority in Australia was 18, the High Court in the Gillick verdict had recognized that a minor was capable of giving an informed consent where they had sufficient understanding and intelligence.  There was no fixed age rule and each child must be taken as they were.  In assessing the Gillick competency, the High Court had been very clear that a disability, including intellectual disability, did not mean that a child did not have decision-making capacity. 

Where a child was found to be competent, the consent rested with them in the ordinary case of events; if a child was not competent, for example in case of a very young child or a child of some mental incapacity, then parents or guardians might give a valid consent on behalf of the child to therapeutic procedures or treatments, while in non-therapeutic cases, the approval by a court might be needed.  Courts in some states and territories had the competence to consent to the sterilization of a child with intellectual impairment, under strict control and in the child’s best interest.

In May 2019, the Victorian government had enacted the most substantial changes to the guardianship laws in more than 30 years through the Guardianship and Administration Act 2019.  It recognized both substituted and more importantly supported decision-making and provided a modern legislative framework that defined decision-making capacity and presumed that a person had that capacity unless there was evidence otherwise.  Recently, Queensland had amended its guardianship legislation to bring it more in line with the Convention.

Australia held that abolishing substituted decision-making in its entirety would not be workable as some individuals, even with extensive support, were unable to make certain decisions.  It would only lead to superficial equality, said the delegate, adding that it was necessary to acknowledge the limitations and the barriers associated with cognitive impairments in order to ensure that critical rights were realized for people with severe cognitive disabilities.

In 2008, all Australian governments had committed to closing the gap in life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within a generation by 2031; this gap was still large: 10.6 years for men and 9.5 years for women.  Some improvements had been seen in reducing mortality from chronic diseases, particularly circulatory diseases, the leading cause of death in 1998.  Each year, 500 million Australian dollars was allocated to fund aboriginal community-controlled health, including to target chronic diseases and high rates of smoking.

Suicide rates among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were double the national average, the delegation said.  The Government had appointed a Special Advisor for suicide prevention to review the policy and practice and to advise on what could be done to strengthen suicide prevention.  Australia was committed to working with indigenous peoples and communities throughout Australia to ensure that appropriate mental health services were available and accessible.

Questions from the Experts

In the final round of questions, the Experts raised concerns about reports that parents with disabilities were 10 times more likely to have a child removed from their care, apparently not because of evidence of neglect or abuse but because of the disability of the parents.

On the employment of persons with disabilities, would Australia develop a national employment strategy that would implement recommendations from the Willing to Work inquiry?  The Committee also expressed concern about the high rate of poverty among persons with disabilities and their inferior standard of living compared to persons without disabilities.

The delegation was asked to respond to concerns that persons with disabilities, especially those with psychosocial and intellectual disability, were automatically excluded from the voting process, and to inform on what was being done to increase the participation of women with disabilities, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, in political and public life.

When would Australia officially recognize Australian sign language as an official language in the legislation?

Many disability services were operated by faith-based organizations, the Experts noted, and asked how the Government ensured that there was no discrimination in the provision of services on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons with disabilities could access the services in full equality with others.

The Melbourne Declaration on education goals for young Australians did not explicitly identify students with disabilities as a priority and did not commit explicitly to inclusive education.  Was Australia still holding to its views on what inclusive education meant?  What was being done to end segregated education?

ROBERT MARTIN, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Australia, asked the delegation to explain how it ensured access to public information for persons with disabilities and how the right to privacy for persons with disabilities in all institutional settings such as group homes was guaranteed.  Persons with intellectual disabilities had poor health outcomes around the world – what was Australia doing to improve this situation, especially for those living in institutions, and how was health and healthcare information made available.

MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Australia, was deeply concerned about the lack of legally binding instruments to enforce accessibility, inclusive education, employment, and the voting rights of persons with disabilities who were deprived of legal capacity.  He also raised concerns about the uncertainty of Australia’s long-term commitment to international disability inclusive development through its international assistance programmes, and regretted the absence of formal mechanisms for long-term, full and effective participation of representative organizations of persons with disabilities, especially in effectively monitoring the implementation of the policy and legal frameworks. 

Responses by the Delegation

In response to questions concerning inclusive and segregated education in schools, the delegation reaffirmed the right of Australian parents to choose the education for their children that they deemed most appropriate.  The Government was providing 28.75 billion Australian dollars from 2018 to 2029 to support students with disabilities, schools and school systems, and provide an inclusive learning environment for all.  The funding model was based not on the type of school that a student attended but on the level of support required by a student to engage in the learning process. 

In 2018, over 750,000 students with disabilities received adjustments so that they could access education on the same basis as other students.  The Melbourne Declaration on education goals for young Australians was undergoing an extensive public review, with the participation of the government ministers, teachers and students.

As far as access to health services was concerned, Australia supported the right of persons with disabilities to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of health.  A strong universal health system aimed to achieve the realization of this right; its two foundational elements, the Medicare and the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, were supplemented by policies, standards and regulations for primary care, hospitals and workforce health.  All recognized the need to achieve equal health outcomes across the population.

With regard to access to health for persons with disabilities, Australia commenced in August 2019 the development of a national roadmap to outline initiatives in this area and to develop and implement a comprehensive primary health care system to be delivered through Australia’s 31 primary health networks.

Reaffirming Australia’s commitment to the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes at all levels, including their ability to vote and exercise choice, a delegate said that the Australia Electoral Commission had developed easy English and video guides to enrolling and voting in federal elections.  All the information was also available on the Commission’s website in accessible formats.  During the election, information was available in large print, MP3 and Braille.

The Religious Discrimination Bill had been released for public consultations and it aimed to protect people from discrimination in accessing goods and services based on religious beliefs and activities.  The Sex Discrimination Act provided a similar set of protection for people on the basis of a range of attributes, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.

Australian sign language had been recognized and considered an official language since 1991.

On poverty and an adequate standard of living, Australia believed that work provided independence, purpose, dignity and a sense of achievement for those who were able to work.  For those who could not participate in employment and were unable to support themselves for reasons such as disability, Australia believed that it was important to maintain a safety net.  The safety net included direct payments to individuals such as pensions for people who were unable to support themselves through work, family payments for people with dependent children, and other forms of assistance such as rent or telephone allowance.

Concluding Remarks

ANDREW WALTER, First Assistant Secretary, Integrity and Security Division, Attorney-General’s Department of Australia, in his concluding remarks, thanked the Committee Experts for their very thoughtful and sometimes challenging questions and their interest in the situation of persons with disabilities in Australia.  Similarly, the engagement of civil society organizations had made this process all the richer, he said.

BEN GAUNTLETT, Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, in his concluding remarks, noted that in the dialogue with the Committee, Australia had reported that it spent almost 50 billion Australian dollars annually on disability.  However, given the lack of monitoring mechanisms, it was difficult to assess how the Convention was being complied with, especially given the unknown number of persons with disabilities in indefinite detention, the medical model of migration, increasing segregation in education, and low rates of employment of persons with disabilities. 

Australia should be required to report back to the Committee as a priority on issues such as supported decision-making, indefinite detention of unconvicted persons with disabilities, forced sterilization, and the implementation of the National Disability Strategy.

ROBERT MARTIN, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Australia, concluded by stressing that signing up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was meaningless unless it was properly implemented and unless it improved the lives of persons with disabilities.  The Committee applauded Australia on the many positive steps it had made, but it also drew attention to the practices and measures which were not in line with the rights of persons with disabilities. 

Those included, notably, the ongoing exclusion of persons with disabilities from court procedures and their indefinite detention; discrimination practices and poor life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with disabilities; the great number of persons with disabilities who were forced to live in institutions due to the lack of accessible and affordable housing; and the lack of a national employment plan for persons with disabilities.

JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Vice-Chair, concluded by expressing hope that the very productive dialogue would serve, alongside the Committee’s concluding observations, to facilitate a more comprehensive implementation of the Convention across Australia.

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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