The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) has been established as the primary national voice to Government that fully represents the interests of all people with disability across Australia.
The mission of AFDO is to champion the rights of people with disability in Australia and help them participate fully in Australian life.
AFDO commends the Australian government for developing an Action Plan which incorporates a range of general initiatives which will benefit people with disability while still dedicating a specific portion of the Plan to the human rights issues which affect them directly.
However, AFDO has some grave concerns about the Action Plan in its current state. The Action Plan appears to be based around current government initiatives, with the achievement of those initiatives the only marker for the success of the Plan. This ignores:
1. That the way in which the programs are implemented may or may not be compliant with human rights based processes and goals. For example, implementation of the National Disability Strategy could be achieved without consultation with people with disability and their organizations, which would be in contravention of several articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), and would breach the spirit of freedom of speech and expression.
2. In some instances, completion of an identified activity is not listed; instead, the program or piece of work is simply listed as ‘ongoing’. Without clear milestones, there is little or no scope for gaining a clear understanding of what has been achieved.
3. That while the Baseline Plan is now much more comprehensive, areas of concern for people with disability which have been articulated in the Study have not always been picked up in the Action Plan.
The Australian Community and Human Rights
AFDO is pleased that some of the initiatives aimed at the broader community will also benefit people with disability. These include:
- Reviewing Australia’s Interpretive Declarations to UN Conventions;
- Improving data collection
- Continuing work on a Disability Inclusive Development strategy;
- Providing support for people with disability and their organizations to participate in international forums;
- Consolidation of anti-discrimination laws, and
- Supporting human rights education.
However, in some instances there needs to be further work.
Interpretive Declarations under the UN CRPD
AFDO strongly believes that the interpretive declarations lodged by the Australian government under the UN CRPD should not be in place, and should be rescinded immediately.
Recommendation: That the interpretive declarations under the UN CRPD be rescinded.
Improving Data Collection
Improved data collection needs to include improved disaggregation of data by gender, ethnicity, disability, age and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status. Data on social trends and human rights should be as readily available and consistent as possible, and must be developed in consultation with people from those demographic groups, not just statistical experts.
Recommendation: That community organizations, including disabled person’s organizations, be consulted about data collection issues which impact upon them. Data collection should include a strong disaggregation focus.
Disability Specific Actions
While many of the Action Plan items link up with issues raised within the Baseline Study, there are some exceptions. It would be helpful to have an indicator which links items between the two documents – a way of noting whether and where something is cited in the Baseline Study. In addition to generally providing clarity, this would improve the accessibility of both documents for people with disability.
The following issues are mentioned within the Baseline Report, but not the Action Plan:
Abuse and Neglect Hotline (and abuse and neglect issues more broadly, beyond violence against women).
Conversely, there are a few issues which are mentioned within the Action Plan which are not raised in the Baseline Study:
Emergency management and disability
National Disability Agreement Service funding
Mental Health Reform package
Recommendation: That the Baseline Study and the National Human Rights Action Plan be cross-referenced to ensure consistent coverage of issues and to reinforce clarity.
Additionally, some of the Actions listed in this section are not compliant with human rights principles. They are:
National Disability Strategy. While initial consultations on the National Disability Strategy were broad and inclusive, the work to date on the Implementation Plan has met with criticism from people with disability and their organizations for both the lack of opportunity for consultation and the content. As the AFDO response to the Draft Implementation Plan noted:
“As a human rights instrument, the UN Convention advocates for a fundamental paradigm shift to ensure an inclusive and universally accessible society for all people with disabilities. However, the draft document ‘Laying the Groundwork’ fails to capture or embed the key principles of this paradigm shift.”1
DSP measures. The changes to the Disability Support Pension are being introduced in spite of strong criticism from people with disability and their organizations. While some – like the ability to work more hours before losing DSP – are worthwhile, others are deeply concerning and may prevent people with disability from achieving their right to access fair income support. These include the measure to introduce new impairment tables, which will see fewer people with disability able to access the financial supports they need to live well and participate in society. Even government commissioned estimates predict a large drop in the number of successful DSP claims under the changes2.
Supported accommodation facilities. As per Article 19 of the UN CRPD, people with disability have the right to live within the community, and to have genuine choice in where they live and with whom. Without clarity about the sorts of supported accommodation models which will be funded under the new scheme, we cannot be sure that this measure will comply with Australia’s human rights obligations.
Harmonising Guardianship Laws: To harmonise guardianship laws is to deny the fact that guardianship as it exists in Australia is not a measure consistent with Articles 12 and 14 of the UN CRPD. These Articles guarantee a person’s liberty and freedom, as well as their equal recognition before the law. They stipulate that systems for supported decision making must be developed and enacted.
For many people with disability, guardianship in all jurisdictions throughout Australia is long-term, provides little choice and is undertaken with minimal checks and balances. Rather than further developing a system which erodes human rights, the Australian government should develop a robust system of legislation to implement a spectrum of supported decision making options for people with disability. This would bring Australia into line with a range of overseas countries, including Sweden, Canada and the UK.
Recommendation: That actions which are not compliant with a human rights framework or with the obligations set out in UN Conventions such as the UN CRPD be removed from the Action Plan.
Implementing Meaningful Measures of the Human Rights of People with Disability
As noted elsewhere in this submission, the National Human Rights Action Plan does not always provide clear measures for evaluating human rights based outcomes. In the disability specific section of the Action Plan, monitoring should be completed against identified relevant articles of the UN CRPD to ensure that the principles of equality, inclusion and accessibility are upheld. Further reference to other UN conventions – such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) should be made as relevant.
The areas of current concern are:
Reporting without clarity about human rights outcomes
While gathering qualitative and quantitative information can always give some insight as to whether human rights issues are progressing, it is most effective if the reports are compelled to specifically address human rights concerns. For example, the National Disability Strategy reports to COAG will give good insight about what improvements have been made in the lives of people with disability because of the Strategy and other social changes, but it may or may not indicate whether the NDS has been developed in a consultative fashion, and whether people with disability had their rights met in the implementation of measures.
National Disability Strategy implementation, where the measures are about delivery of reports to COAG. Many articles of the CRPD would be relevant to monitoring and evaluating the human rights outcomes of the NDS.
National Disability Insurance Scheme. Again, there is no clarity about whether the COAG reporting processes will include human rights outcomes.
Recommendation: That all COAG reporting processes should incorporate a human rights lens, including reporting against any relevant international Conventions such as the CRPD.
Reporting is restricted to whether or not a project is completed
Simply undertaking work does not make it compliant with human rights goals and objectives. Items which report only a timeframe for completion should have their targets redeveloped more appropriately.
Accessible Communities: There have been many instances of work undertaken to make the built environment more accessible with mixed or negative results – see ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ from the Australian Human Rights Commission for examples. People with disability and their organizations should be asked to provide feedback during, and at the completion of, projects to ensure that they make the environment as accessible as possible.
National Disability Research Agenda. The development of the agenda – which will be completed only a few months after the Action Plan is finalized – needs to be undertaken in a consultative, rights driven framework. It also needs to be seen as only the first step; whether the agenda leads to research which promotes human rights and conforms with the requirements of the UN CRPD is also important.
Targets which define what will happen but not how.
Livable Housing Design Initiative has aspirational targets. In addition to the fact that aspiration alone does not tackle the issue of inaccessible housing, even reaching the agreed deadline may not meet the human rights of people with disability. If the initiative sets out agreed targets but they are voluntary and self regulated, they will only have limited success in promoting change. If the guidelines are developed without the meaningful input of people wih disability, then the end result may also be limited in terms of human rights outcomes.
National Disability Agreement Performance Framework. Again, if people with disability are not consulted about the new performance standards, then simply reporting on their completion will not prove useful.
Supported Accommodation Initiative. Under Article 19 of the UN CRPD, people with disability should live in the community and have the freedom to choose where they live. Slotting people with disability into clustered accommodation – whether it is a forty bed institution or a property with six individual units specifically dedicated to people with disability – does not comply with the UN CRPD. If supported accommodation only promotes such models, then the human rights of people with disability are automatically not met. Without reporting on the type of housing and support offered, it is hard to assess whether this measure will meet the rights of people with disability.
Recommendation: That the CRPD form the basis for reporting on any disability specific measures undertaken by Australian governments, and that feedback from people with disability and their organizations be a compulsory part of such reporting.
The existence of a project is considered enough to meet human rights obligations
Employment initiatives for people with disability. The performance indicator is simply ‘ongoing’ work on or funding for the relevant programs. Under Article 27 of the UN CRPD, governments are required to promote inclusive, accessible workplaces and equal remuneration. People with disability also need to have access to career development and job retention programs. Monitoring for these outcomes could be achieved through measuring the employment rates of people with disability, their average weekly wages, and their tendency to hold white collar management positions compared to others.
Emergency Management. While this item mentions monitoring the initiative, it does not talk about when or how this will be done, and how consistency with the UN CRPD will be ensured.
Schools Disability Advisory Committee. Simply establishing a committee does not mean it has meaningful participation from people with disability and their representative organizations; very often, committees about disability issues will contain one or two people with disability and a large number of representatives from service providers, government or other relevant organizations.
Violence against girls and women. The performance indicator for this action does not make it clear that there will be any outcome from government discussions about consistent laws and practices in this area. Furthermore, providing ‘consistency’ does not equal providing a legal system which prevents the violation of the rights of women and girls with disability to retain autonomy over their bodies. Where sterilization is not necessary to prevent serious threat to one’s health or life, it should be illegal. The Action Plan should make it clear that this is the goal of any government discussions to implement a nationally consistent legal framework.
Legal Capacity. Again, there is no clear outcome beyond the continuation of legal support for people with disability. Clearer outcomes could include, for instance, monitoring the number of disability discrimination complaints at the federal and state levels, and within Commissions and Courts. Monitoring the number of people with disability who encounter the justice system – as witnesses, jurors, lawyers, complainants, defendants and prisoners – would also give some indication of the barriers faced by people with disability accessing the justice system.
Mental Health Reform Package. While AFDO strongly agrees that increases and reforms to service provision for people with psychosocial disability are necessary to improve their human rights, it is not the only work that needs to be done, and seems to rely on the problematic assumption that ‘fixing’ medical systems will solve all problems for people with a particular disability type. Other social changes – such as better access to housing, education and employment opportunities – are just as important for people with psychosocial disability as they are for anyone else to realize their human rights.
Again, there is no information about how the reforms expected under the package will improve the human rights of people with psychosocial disability. Measures could include:
The consultation mechanisms undertaken with people with psychosocial disability over the life of the Reform;
Whether the use of restrictive practices and substituted decision making changes over the timeframe given;
Whether people with psychosocial disability experience greater community inclusion and participation (through housing, employment and voluntary work, for instance).
Recommendation: That all actions included in the Action Plan should be matched against the relevant articles in international Conventions signed or ratified by Australia. Any project or outcome which is too vague to be justified against international conventions should not be a part of the Action Plan.
1 Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, 2012, AFDO Feedback, National Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020, Laying the Groundwork 2011 – 2014 available online at: http://www.afdo.org.au/node/395
2 Taylor Fry, 2011, Analysis and Testing of the Draft Impairment Tables, available online at: http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/disability/payments/Pages/dsp_impairment_taylor_fry_report.aspx