Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett has delivered a statement on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission before the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations in Geneva.
Commissioner Gauntlett said while 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, there are areas of critical importance that continue to reflect human rights concerns confronting people with disability in Australia.
Commissioner Gauntlett addressed several areas of concern, amongst them equal recognition before the law, liberty and security of person, integrity of person, the right to work, and Australia’s National Disability Strategy.
Regarding equal recognition before the law, Commissioner Gauntlett said the Commission was concerned by a lack of progress by the Australian Government in implementing a nationally consistent supported decision-making framework.
“Lack of 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,” he said.
“Australia needs laws and policies that recognise the legal capacity of people with disability on an equal basis with others.”
The Commission 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 people with disability who have not been convicted of a crime, he said.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The Commission welcomed the recent endorsement by Australian states and territories, with the exception of South Australia, of the ‘National Statement of Principles relating to Persons Unfit to Plead or Not Found Guilty By Reason of Cognitive or Mental Health Impairment, he said.
The forced sterilisation of people with disability, particularly of women and girls, without free, prior and informed consent remained an issue of deep concern, Commissioner Gauntlett said.
Commissioner Gauntlett noted that multiple UN human rights bodies have on numerous occasions emphasised Australia’s obligations under the relevant conventions to prohibit the practice of forced sterilisation.
“In 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recommended that Australia abolish the practices of the non-consensual administration of contraceptives to, the performance of abortion on and the sterilisation 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,” he said.
Australia’s low employment participation rates for people with disability was another area of concern, Commissioner Gauntlett said.
Australia is ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries for employment rates for people with disability, and in 2015, 53.4% of people with disability aged between 15 and 64 participated in the labour force, compared to 83.2% of people without disability.
“The Commission is particularly concerned by the low rates of people with disability working in the public service,” he said.
“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.”
Commissioner Gauntlett said an overarching concern for the Commission was that the human rights issues he has raised are in part due to the slow progress by Australian Governments in implementing 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,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
Commissioner Gauntlett addressed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities briefing with civil society at the 22nd Session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Monday, September 9, 2019, at the United Nations in Geneva. Read the speech in full here.