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Australia allowing human rights violations of people with disability: Disability Royal Commission Report

Australia’s interpretation of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was preventing reform and allowing human rights violations such as “arbitrary and indefinite detention” and “forced treatments and medical interventions” a new research paper has found.

Australia has not made adequate progress in achieving rights for people with disability since the onset of demands within its community 60 years ago, the paper by the University of NSW Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) says.

Instead, a new focus should be pursued, recognising impairment as a “valued part of human diversity and human dignity” and accepting people with disability as “critical to all aspects of life”.

 “When Australia ratified the CRPD, it made interpretative declarations on articles 12 and 17 that set out how Australia interprets these articles. This does not reflect the current interpretation by the CRPD Committee,” the SPRC says in a paper for the Disability Royal Commission released on 21 September 2020.

“This has meant that Australia’s interpretative declarations restrict implementation of the CRPD, prevent reform, and allow for human rights violations including the denial of legal capacity, arbitrary and indefinite detention, and forced treatments and medical interventions” of people with disability.

Author Rosemary Kayess is a member of the UN Committee for the Rights of People with Disability and is an academic with the SPRC.

Ms Kayess and co-author Therese Sands, former Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, say the disability rights movement in Australia has driven important, but incremental, policy and legislative reform for people with disability.

However, “it has not led to the social transformation required” by the UN’s CRPD.

Their report, ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Shining a light on Social Transformation’, was commissioned by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability to describe the international human rights context in which the Royal Commission operates.

The report investigated the early rights movement of people with disability from the 1960s and 1970s through to the present day, which “exposed the power relations inherent to the medical model of disability, and which is commonly referred to as ‘ableism’”.

Ableism is a term frequently used to describe discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.

“The campaign was, and remains, a rejection of the medical model of disability, which sees disability as an individual deficit – a deviation from bodily, cognitive and mental norms that requires a range of medical and expert interventions to diagnose, treat and cure,” Ms Kayess and Ms Sands say.

“Ableism is still entrenched in law, policy and practice frameworks which continue to segregate people with disability from the general population. Evidence shows that segregated and parallel systems enable violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation,” the report said.

Ms Kayess and Ms Sands say, “the CRPD is the roadmap for the social transformation required to end the inequality, discrimination and segregation that are the enablers of the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disability”.

The roadmap forms the foundation to assist the Royal Commission to investigate, make findings and determine recommendations.

“If the focus continues to be on fixing, reforming or maintaining existing systems that are built on ableism, the necessary social transformation required by the CRPD will never be understood or realised.”

Instead, they say “impairment” should be treated as “a personal characteristic that is one aspect of human diversity” as federal, state and territory government move towards a completely inclusive society.

“The social transformation needs to include the recognition that impairment is valued as part of human diversity and human dignity, and therefore people with disability are critical to all aspects of life, leading to a new motto, ‘Nothing Without Us’”, rather than the current motto ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ used within the disability sector.