Australia's appearance before the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Australia’s Opening Statement
3 September 2013
Chairperson, distinguished members of the Committee.
It is an honour to meet with you today to discuss, for the first time, Australia’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Australia has worked over many years to remove barriers to people with disabilities’ enjoyment of their rights on an equal basis with others. Much has been accomplished.
We do however, acknowledge there is still more work to be done – especially in meeting the challenges faced by Indigenous people with disabilities, improving economic security and social inclusion for people with disabilities, and ensuring that our systems and programs respect a person’s autonomy and choice.
I would like to acknowledge Professor Ron McCallum, Vice-Chair of the Committee and fellow Australian. He has worked tirelessly to advocate for disability rights and to ensure the smooth functioning of this Committee as a mechanism to promote and protect those rights. I’m sure he will keep us on our toes.
Australia welcomes the opportunity to reflect on our progress so far and consider possible areas for further improvement provided by this constructive dialogue.
As you may be aware, a federal election has been announced and the Australian people will go to the polls on Saturday 7 September 2013. In Australia once an election is announced, the Government assumes a ‘caretaker role.’ This practice recognises that with every general election there is the possibility of a change of government.
Due to these caretaker conventions we are unable to respond to your questions regarding any future Government actions or policy developments. However, we are able to provide you with factual information on key legislative, policy and other measures adopted during our review period.
We are honoured to be amongst the first state parties to be considered by this Committee. Australia places great importance on meeting our obligations under the Convention and we have brought together a broad ranging delegation whose members are experienced and who will do their best to answer your questions.
• Mr Stephen Bouwhuis, Assistant Secretary, Human Rights Policy Branch, Attorney-General’s Department.
• Ms Anna Sherburn, Human Rights Policy Branch, Attorney-General’s Department.
The Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for providing legal and policy advice on human rights in Australia and for issues relating to law and justice.
• Mr Evan Lewis, Group Manager of Disability and Carers Group, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
This department is Australia’s national social policy department, and is responsible for many services and programs for people with disability, women, children and Indigenous Australians.
• Mr David Garner, Counsellor (Labour), Australian Permanent Mission, Geneva, representing the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The portfolio responsibilities of this department include education and employment programs.
• Shireen Sandhu, Counsellor (Development), Australian Permanent Mission, Geneva, representing the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), which manages Australia's overseas aid program
• Kate O’Malley, Minister Counsellor (Migration), Australian Permanent Mission, Geneva representing the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, which manages Australia’s migration, refugee and humanitarian entrance programs, drives Australia’s multicultural policy and is responsible for migration and community support work.
We are particularly pleased to have as part of our delegation Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Graeme Innes. The Commissioner works within Australia’s National Human Rights Institution, the Australian Human Rights Commission. This is an independent statutory body that is responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights in Australia.
Mr Innes is a strong disability rights advocate within Australia and also a trusted source of advice for the Australian Government. However, I note that he will speak with you in his independent capacity. This means that Mr Innes may have a different perspective to the Australian Government.
Australia is proud to be the first state party to have, as part of its delegation, a representative from a National Human Rights Institution. This is a clear demonstration of Australia’s commitment to open and robust engagement with our National Human Rights Institution and to improving the protection of human rights for people with disabilities. We trust that Mr Innes’s engagement will be of value to the Committee today.
Firstly, I would like put into context Australia’s system of government as this fundamentally affects how the Federal Government interacts with Australian people with disabilities.
Australia has a federal constitutional system in which legislative, executive and judicial powers are shared or distributed between the national government, called the Australian Government, six state governments, and two internal self-governing territories.
In practice, there are nine governments which share responsibility for implementing the Convention.
The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs are designated as Australia’s joint focal points for matters related to Australia’s implementation of the Convention. Australia’s focal points encourage all ministries in the national government to think about people with disabilities when they are designing policies and implementing programmes. They also work with policy offices in every state and territory government.
National Disability Strategy
The foundation of Australia’s work to advance disability rights is the National Disability Strategy, which has been agreed to by all nine governments in Australia.
The Strategy guides public policy across all levels of government and aims to improve design and delivery of mainstream, as well as disability specific, services and programs. The National Disability Strategy is an important mechanism to ensure that the principles underpinning the Convention are incorporated into policies, services and programs affecting people with disabilities, their families and carers.
The National Disability Strategy aims to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same opportunities as other Australians by working to advance:
• inclusive and accessible communities
• rights protection, justice and legislation
• economic security
• personal and community support
• learning and skills, and
• health and wellbeing.
The Australian Government will provide $19.3 billion over seven years from 2012-13 to roll out DisabilityCare across the country.
Disability Discrimination Act
As the Committee is aware, Australia’s work to improve the realisation of the rights of people with disabilities is longstanding. These rights were enshrined in law by the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act. The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with disability in a range of areas of public life, including employment, education and the provision of goods and services.
For twenty years, this Act has served as a significant driver for increasing people with disabilities’ access to a range of areas of public life. I had the pleasure of hosting a cultural event last night which showcased short films collated by the Disability Discrimination Commissioner to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this Act. These films highlight that the Disability Discrimination Act is a law that is actively used in Australia to strive for greater equality.
Australia’s work to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities is a continuous process.
We recognise that, despite our significant work to date, there are substantial faults in the support system available for people with disabilities – and that these create barriers to people with disabilities participating fully in society.
In response, all Australian governments are building DisabilityCare Australia – a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Scheme was launched on 1 July this year following two years of development.
DisabilityCare Australia will take an individualised approach to provide supports to people with disabilities to enable them to meet their particular needs and goals. This reform will create opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Australians with disabilities to participate in our communities and in the economy in a way that many take for granted.
The legislation that implements the scheme lists implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as its first object and it aims to:
• support the independence and social and economic participation of people with disabilities
• provide people with disabilities with choice and control in identifying their goals and in the planning and delivery of their supports, and
• promote the provision of high quality and innovative supports that enable people with disabilities to maximise independent lifestyles and full inclusion in the community.
The Scheme will be fully rolled out by July 2016. By then, DisabilityCare Australia will provide support to about 460,000 people who have a significant and permanent disability resulting in a substantially reduced capacity to participate in the activities of daily life.
People with disabilities who are participants in the scheme will be empowered to choose the support they want based on their particular needs and goals, as well as how and by whom they are delivered. This support may include links to existing services and support within the participant’s community, and/or reasonable and necessary funded support.
The scheme is being progressively rolled out to ensure that people with disabilities are supported to transition to the new scheme. This will also enable governments and service providers to learn from early implementation and apply these lessons to the rollout across Australia.
The first stage of DisabilityCare Australia launched in four locations around Australia in July 2013 and will launch in two further locations from July 2014.
Improving Workforce participation for people with disability
Australia is also committed to ensuring people with disabilities receive opportunities to reach their potential by participating in the community and the workforce. Work is essential to an individual's economic security and is important to achieving social inclusion. Employment contributes to physical and mental health, personal wellbeing and a sense of identity.
In Australia, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their disability in relation to employment. The Australian Government provides significant services to assist people with disabilities find and maintain employment, including for people who need substantial ongoing support.
For example, the Australian Government Disability Employment Services program encourages employment of people with disabilities - by not only helping job-seekers with disability to build their skills, but also building the disability awareness of employers and helping employers meet the costs of making adjustments for employees with disabilities.
Engaging with People with Disability and their Representative Organisations
We recognise the fundamental importance of engaging people with disabilities and their representative organisations. That’s why the Australian Government provides funding to 13 national disability peak organisations to contribute to government policies on issues affecting people with disabilities, their families and carers. These national disability organisations are member-based organisations, accountable to the individuals and groups that support them. There are also groups that are specifically focused on promoting the rights and needs of people with disabilities who are also women, children, Indigenous Australians or people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The Australian Government also established the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council, which provides advice on the implementation of the national elements of the National Disability Strategy, National Carer Strategy, DisabilityCare Australia and other key reforms impacting on people with disabilities.
The Council consists of 28 members who represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experience including people with disabilities and their families, carers, industry and union representatives, academics and members representing Indigenous Australians with disabilities. The formation of this Council creates a single advisory body on the inter-related issues of disability and caring relationship.
Indigenous Australians with Disability
With the introduction of DisabilityCare Australia, the Australian Government is developing a new target specifically aimed at increasing access to specialist services and support for Indigenous people with disabilities to ensure that Indigenous Australians with disabilities receive the supports they require. There is bipartisan support for this new target.
The Australian Government is also investing in leadership programs for Indigenous disability advocates – in recognition of the important role that advocates and civil society organisations play in effecting change for people with disabilities.
The Australian Government is proud to support a non-government peak organisation, the First Peoples Disability Network Australia, to ensure Indigenous Australians have a say on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities, their families and carers in Australia. This is the only formal, nationally-constituted organisation representing Indigenous people with disabilities in the world.
Disability inclusive development
Australia’s work to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities does not stop at our borders. Australia’s aid program has provided significant support to improve the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries. Australia was recognised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee this year as an international leader in disability inclusive development. In 2012 an independent review found that Australia’s support for disability-inclusive development has been ‘considerable and impressive’ and has led to significant improvement in the lives of people with disability, including through increased access to education, employment, health services and law and justice.
Australia’s work through the aid program is underpinned by the Convention and has a strong focus on active participation and contributions by people with disabilities. Australia’s aid agency - AusAID - is including people with disabilities in both policy development and program design leading to more effective programs in a range of areas such as education, water and sanitation and disaster risk reduction. AusAID is also providing capacity building support to disabled people’s organisations. This is critical to ensuring that people with disabilities can effectively contribute to more inclusive communities.
Madam Chair, distinguished members of the Committee.
I am pleased to share Australia’s laws, policies and programs that promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. We do, however, recognise that more can always be done. We must endeavour to consistently evaluate existing measures, to ensure they are still appropriate and relevant to achieving our goal to advance the rights of persons with disabilities. We see our appearance before the Committee as an integral part of that evaluation.
On behalf of the Australian delegation, I wish to thank you for this opportunity.