We Belong Here: Our Nation Must End Exclusionary Systems that Harm People with Disability.

28 July 2021

People with Disability Australia’s submission We Belong Here: Our Nation Must End Exclusionary Systems that Harm People with Disability was made in response to the Promoting Inclusion Issues Paper released by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Disability Royal Commission) in December 2020.

PWDA’s July 2021 submission argues that authentic inclusion must include ending the exclusion people with disability face in everyday life on Australia’s shores.

That exclusion involves the use of exclusionary systems, such as the segregated workplaces run by Australian disability enterprises (ADEs), and so-called special schools for students with disability.

People with disability experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in these segregated spaces, both because people are vulnerable, and vulnerable in these settings, and because they are secreted away places where minimum standards of behaviour are less likely to be enforced. Our human rights are breached in these settings and are breached by their very existence.

These are spaces where inclusion is talked about but does not exist authentically. Instead, these are places where a predatory tokenism is adopted, where ingrained ableism allows abuses such as below-minimum-wage hourly rates and unreported sex crimes to continue, benefitting people such as business honours while allowing harm against people with disability to go unchecked.

The exclusion people with disability experience extends to our decision-making, with Australia having a web of guardianship and substituted decision-making regimes in place that breach Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Human rights–breaching exclusion is particularly allowed under Australia’s interpretive declaration on the CRPD and this must end. The declaration must be revoked, forcing a termination of the guardianship laws that have allowed many abuses against people with disability in breach of their human rights, including forced sterilisation and abortion.

In this submission, we examine the ways in which people with disability are excluded across the social spectrum, and how our exclusion promotes violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. We also present strategies for moving beyond tokenistic gestures that fall short on real action to address the exclusion of people with disability, realising authentically inclusive practice via a human rights framework that prioritises equity and social justice.

We make key recommendations to the Disability Royal Commission on what commissioners should recommend to the Australian Government.

Our recommendations provide a simple way forward for ending exclusion and working towards real, authentic inclusion.

1. Australia must make genuine efforts to fully implement the CRPD

Australia must make genuine efforts to fully implement the CRPD and meet its CRPD obligations. The nation must enshrine the ideals of the convention across the policy sector.

The guiding principles[1] of the CRPD cite inclusion as an essential part of the framework guiding its operation. As a signatory to the CRPD, Australia has a responsibility to make concerted efforts toward dislodging exclusionary thinking and practice, to enact inclusive policy, and reframe a wider culture of consciousness about disability.

People with disability must have equal recognition before the law and enjoy all rights and freedoms on an equitable basis with others.

The human rights of people with disability must be acknowledged, normalised and enacted.

2.  Australia must revoke its interpretive declarations on the CRPD

Australia must revoke its interpretive declarations on the CRPD to ensure people with disability can fully enjoy our human rights.

There can be no equivocation or exceptions made when it comes to the implementation of our human rights.

The interpretive declarations to the CRPD must be revoked.

3. Australia must invest in the authentic inclusion of people with disability at all levels of decision-making

Australia must invest in the authentic inclusion of people with disability at all levels of decision-making.

The CRPD affirms that our inclusion must be integrated far more widely across social interfaces and intersections. Number 3 of the general obligations found in article 4 maps this assertion:

In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations.[2]

Australia must ensure inclusion is authentic on its shores.

4. Australia must end segregated systems

Australia must end its segregated systems that include segregated schools and workplaces.

The nation must develop plans to end or phase out all segregated systems for people with disability, with a focus on broadening the scope of mainstream systems to become fully, authentically inclusive and accessible.

5. Australia must end the outsourcing of decision-making for people with disability

Australia must end the outsourcing of decision-making for people with disability.

People with disability must be empowered systemically to make our own decisions, with an end to restrictive guardianships, mental health orders, and an end to policy that leaves us out of decision-making processes relating to our own lives.

6. Australia must improve staff training for planners and reviewers

Australia must improve staff training for government-appointed planners and reviewers.

Whether at Centrelink or the National Disability Insurance Agency, staff members responsible for making major decisions about the supports that people with disability have access to need fit-for-purpose training to avoid causing harm or trauma via uninformed or unintentionally biased (ableist) decision-making and decision-making practices.

7. Australia must legislate for the longevity and stability of lifelong supports

Australia must legislate for the longevity and stability of lifelong supports.

Australian government agencies responsible for managing disability support must identify where supports are going to be needed long term, and keep accurate records to ensure lifelong supports are not subjected to unnecessary and traumatic review processes.