Landmark report calls for full human rights for all Australians with disability

The Victorian Public Advocate today launched a major new reform agenda to ensure full human rights for the four million Australians with a disability, including prisoners.

Decision Time: Activating the rights of adults with cognitive disability aims to ensure Australia fully meets its United Nations obligations for people with disability within five years.

Dr Colleen Pearce said it was one of the most significant report ever released by her office setting out what all Australian governments need to do to ensure people with disability receive their legal entitlements.

The report recommends all prisoners entering facilities across the country be screened for cognitive disabilities as well as supported to understand and participate in their criminal justice journey, receive support services in prison, and provided with supported housing if found unfit to stand trial or not guilty for reasons of mental impairment.

“Most prisoners in Australia have a cognitive disability such as an intellectual disability, autism, acquired brain injury, dementia or mental illness and, as such, they need adequate support during their sentence,” Public Advocate, Dr Colleen Pearce, said.

“By implementing the recommendations in this report, Australians with disability, including those in prison, will have their rights better met and Australia will be better able to meet its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which it is a signatory.”

Latest Australian Bureau of Statistics put the number of Australian prisoners at 41,060.

“People with disabilities, particularly psychosocial or cognitive disabilities, are dramatically overrepresented in the criminal justice system in Australia – 18 per cent of the country's population, but almost 50 percent of people entering prison,” Dr Pearce said.

Decision Time recommends practical changes to laws and policies around the nation to improve the human rights of all Australians with disability.

It covers their rights as consumers of services including in the NDIS, guardianship, mental healthcare, medical treatment and advance planning, and calls for more opportunities for them to be supported to make their own decisions rather than having others make decisions for them.

The 25 recommendations in the landmark report include:

  • carers to be legal ‘decision-supporters’ of their adult children with disability.
  • broad powers for public advocates and public guardians to investigate abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • fines for people who abuse their legal power to make decisions for others, and compensation for those affected
  • people to be able to make advance medical decisions, including about their end-of-life, which are binding on healthcare professionals
  • changes to laws about decision-making for people with disability to reflect what they want - their will and preference and rather than their ‘best interests’— where this is not yet available.

Dr Pearce said that the reforms would “revolutionise” life for Australians with disabilities.

“Australia has the chance to be world standard in rights for its citizens with disabilities and the whole country would benefit from that,” Dr Pearce said.

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