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Progress made but significant concerns in Australia remain, UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities concludes

Disability Disability Rights
Dr Ben Gauntlett

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, and the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), have been highlighted as progress in meeting Australia’s obligations to people with disability in Australia's recent appearance before the United Nations.

Australia appeared before the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva in mid-September, with the Committee receiving reports and submissions from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Government, and civil society organisations.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett and the Australian Government provided oral submissions to the Committee at hearings on September 12 and 13.

The Committee considered Australia’s progress in meeting its obligations to people with disability under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  

The Royal Commission and the NDIS were identified in the Committee’s concluding observations as positive conduct by the Australian Government in meeting its obligations under the Convention, along with the new Disability Employment Framework and state and territory legislation and policies seeking to promote inclusion of people with disability and protection of their rights.  

However, a number of areas of concern were raised by the Committee, including lack of appropriate housing for people with disability; lack of labour force participation by people with disability; the unlawful or arbitrary detention of people because of disability on mental health of psychiatric grounds; and the lack of recognition of people with disability to make supported decisions.

Other areas of concern were the continuing practice of forced sterilisation of children and adults with disability, particularly women and girls; unnecessary medical intervention on intersex children; and whether Australia’s legal system properly protects and supports people with disability, particularly women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people with complex support needs.

The concluding observations also highlighted the need for robust monitoring, reporting, evaluation, governance and accountability requirements for the National Disability Strategy, where people with disability are involved and consulted.  

“The Committee have struck an appropriate balance between recognising the many good disability policies in Australia with highlighting the critical human rights concerns facing people with disability in Australia,” Dr Gauntlett said.

Dr Gauntlett said ongoing efforts were needed to ensure that the rights articulated in the Convention, which benefit all Australians, were embedded by governments at every level in policies, programs and laws.

The Committee had re-iterated some concerns that were raised in the last periodic review in 2013, he said.

“State and federal governments need to urgently reform laws regarding supported decision-making, preventing involuntary or indefinite detention on the basis of a person’s disability and involuntary medical procedures being performed on people with disability,” Dr Gauntlett said.

“These significant human rights concerns are a gateway to the abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation of people with disability who often have complex support needs. Government needs to act decisively and with urgency.

“Good disability policy in Australia requires long-term commitment from federal and state governments and careful monitoring – we need to make sure our laws and policies are effective and are consistent with our human rights obligations.”

The next periodic report by Australia under the Convention is due on August 17, 2026.



See Also

Disability Disability Rights

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22nd Session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Australia’s appearance, 12 to 13 September 2019 Geneva, Palais des Nations Room XVII Opening Statement (5 minutes) Ben Gauntlett, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Thank you Mr Chairman. I welcome the opportunity to make...

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