First, we met with the Australian Government delegation. This was a great opportunity for some open dialogue and transparency in regards to the issues that we will be raising with the Committee, as well as constructive feedback to the Government on areas where improvements need to occur. This meeting allowed us to continue our collaborative approach with the Australian Government. We agreed to meet again in Australia following the release of the CRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations, and to continue our working relationship with the Australian government.
Next, our Civil Society Delegation hosted a side event for the Committee and other NGOs and interested stakeholders. We were able to present key issues to the Committee that we believe should be given further consideration in the Committee’s dialogue with the Government Delegation.
The side event was a private event and government representatives were not invited to attend. The event was chaired by Colin Allen, President of the World Federation of the Deaf and the second Vice Chair of the International Disability Alliance. Each member of the Civil Society Parallel Delegation prepared a three minute presentation to the Committee and then the floor was open for the Committee to ask us questions. In particular we highlighted the following issues of for the Committee’s consideration:
- the high ratio of Indigenous people with disability compared to non-Indigenous people with disability, along with raising awareness of multiple barriers to meaningful participation in our society for Indigenous people with disability;
- access to Justice and the legal system for people with disability along with the prevalent issue of indefinite incarceration, particularly for people with psychosocial and intellectual disability and cognitive impairment;
- the high rate of all forms of violence that is experienced by woman and girls with disability and the continued widespread practice of woman and girls with disability being denied the right to make decisions about their own bodies, experience sexuality, have sexual relationships and maintain their families.
- the continued practice of involuntary sterilisation for women and girls with disability being a breach of fundamental human rights;
- the continuing practice of institutionalisation of people with disability, and therefore removing control for people with disability to choose to live the life they wish to;
- the issue of sheltered workshops continuing to rob people with disability of their right to meaningful employment, and their right to earn a meaningful income and participate as equal citizens of Australia;
- the lack of any clear, systemic meaningful engagement strategy to work with DPOs and relevant others to ensure the effective implementation and monitoring of the Convention across all areas of government.
After the Civil Society Delegation presentation, the Committee asked a number of questions to clarify the position of Australia and people with disability.
Following our side event, it was the Australia Government’s turn to appear before the Committee and provide their report of compliance with the CRPD. The Australian Government Delegation was led by Ambassador Peter Woolcott, who was given the floor to make an opening statement.
Ms Edah Maina next made an opening statement on behalf of the CRPD Committee. She highlighted that Australia is a wealthy country with ample resources to ensure compliance with the CRPD and for this reason the standard for compliance should be high. She recognised the significant reform agenda in Australia, but raised concerns about the ongoing use of restrictive practices; forced treatments such as forced psychosurgery and sterilisation; indefinite detention in prisons; the situation of Indigenous people with disability; and the medical model approach to disability within the health and rehabilitation systems.
Individual Committee members then asked a number of questions of the Australian Government. The first round of questions focused on articles 1 to 10. The Government Delegation then responded to these questions before the Committee members asked questions focused on articles 11 to 20. The Government Delegation will be responding to these questions on Wednesday morning.
The Civil Society Delegation was very pleased with the concerns raised by Edah Maina, as well as the questions that the Committee members asked of the Government Delegation. The questions and concerns were all issues that the Civil Society Delegation had raised with the CRPD Committee through our parallel report, Disability Rights Now, through our advocacy at the ninth session in April, and through our advocacy and responses for the tenth session.
A predominant issue that was raised by several committee members, echoing Ms Maina's opening statement, was the Interpretative Declarations made by Australia to articles 12, 17 and 18. There was particular concern about the impact of the Interpretative Declaration to article 17 (physical integrity) and its impact on human rights violations under article 14 (liberty and security of the person) and article 15 (Inhuman and degrading treatment). The Committee strongly emphasised that the Interpretative Declarations have actually hindered and not helped Australia to full implementation of the Convention. The Government was asked what actions might be taken to repeal these Interpretative Declarations.
As the Australian government takes to the floor tomorrow to respond to the questions asked by CRPD Committee members, we will provide our readers with a further update at the conclusion of the session. It is our hope that the Concluding Observation of the UNCRPD committee will lead to further positive reform for people with disability in Australia.
On behalf of the Australian Civil Society Parallel Report Group Delegation