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Australian Gillard Government Silent on Disabilities Report

  • Published: 2010-10-04 : Author: ASSID
  • Synopsis: Government remains silent as thousands of Australians with intellectual and developmental disabilities subject to serious abuses of human rights.

Main Document

The Gillard Government remains silent as thousands of Australians with intellectual and developmental disabilities are subject to serious abuses of their human rights.

A recent article published in the September issues of the scientific journal, the Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, documents the tip of the iceberg, based on data from Victoria, and highlights the absence of any nationally co-ordinated effort to monitor or regulate the use of chemical, mechanical and physical restraint and seclusion in disability services.

Among the former Rudd Labor Government's first actions on taking office was to commit Australia to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, the Hon. Bill Shorten, sort to hold state governments to account for their failure to address the misuse of restrictive and dangerous interventions such as chemical, physical and mechanical restrain and seclusion. However, with the transition to a new government, the voice and interests of Australians with intellectual disability, many of whom are unable to express their concerns at the ballot box because of their disability, is not being heard. So too, threats to the occupational health and safety of the many committed staff who provide support, and who are expected to use these dangerous and inhumane practices in poorly resourced services remain unaddressed.

Government officials have declined to make public, or to speak to a report commissioned by the former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities. This report scopes the extent to which state governments have been able to address these issues and proposes potential solutions, including action to be co-ordinated by the Commonwealth. Furthermore, the recently appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Queensland Senator the Hon. Jan McLucas, has been unable to provide active representation for an Australasian forum convened to discuss the treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in services across Australia and New Zealand. The Australian government's silence and lack of engagement with these issues is in contrast to that of the New Zealand Minister for Disability Issues, who is sending a high level delegation to actively participate and present at the restrictive practices forum.

The forum will be conducted on Thursday 30th September, during the 45th annual conference of the Australasian Society for the Study of Intellectual Disability, at the Hilton Hotel, Brisbane. It is the third in a series of Australasian forums on this issue. The forum has contributed to national position statements being released by the Australasian Society or the Study of Intellectual Disability (ASSID), and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

ASSID notes that, in Australia, the Commonwealth Government has already taken a lead role to co-ordinate and fund national action to address the use of restrictive practices in public mental health services. However, this action has not extended to address the needs of vulnerable citizens in disability services. Reports indicate that the National Mental Health Seclusion and Restraint Project has been of significant success, both in bringing about cultural change in mental health services and, importantly, reducing the frequency and intensity of restrictive practices in mental health services. These achievements have been made possible due largely to the instigation of an inter-jurisdictional strategy, endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council (AHMAC).

ASSID is seeking the establishment of a national strategy in the disability sector to address the use of restrictive practices, similar to that already instigated by the Commonwealth for the mental health sector. Such a strategy will require education of the workforce and substantial efforts to bring about cultural change in the delivery of disability services, consistent with our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. Resource priorities for commonwealth and state governments will need to be reviewed, together with the development of a comprehensive practice standards framework and a scientifically robust national monitoring system to ensure accountability.

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