Low number of people with disability in APS is raised at the UN

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday September 12, 2019

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Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett has expressed concern over the lack of people with disability employed in the Australian Public Service.

But this is a nation-wide problem. Australia is currently ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries for employment rates for people with disability, Gauntlett noted in a speech on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission at the United Nations in Geneva on Monday.

“The commission is particularly concerned by the low rates of people with disability working in the public service,” he said.

“In 2018, the proportion of Australian Public Service employees with disability was 3.7%. This represents no movement since 2016 and only a 0.5 percentage point increase since 2013.”

However, there have been discrepancies over the accuracy of these figures, with one survey recording the proportion of APS employees with disability as 8.7%.

Read more: Coalition promises 7% APS disability target — but has it already been met?

Including the employment problem, the commissioner outlined a number of human rights issues that have potentially worsened by government inaction on implementing Australia’s National Disability Strategy 2010-2020. A recent review of the strategy found “the implementation of the strategy had been uneven, and a consistent, systematic approach to implementation across Australia had been absent”.

Gauntlett said Australia must develop a stronger plan with governance and accountability requirements.

“A lack of dedicated resources and robust data collection, efforts to change community attitudes, inclusive education opportunities and accessible housing and transport has hampered its effective implementation and monitoring,” he said.

“I will continue to work in partnership with civil society and governments at all levels to drive changes in Australia’s legislation, policies and practices that will advance the rights of Australians with disability.”

The commission’s areas of concern include lack of progress on giving people with disability equal rights before the law and issues surrounding the detention of those with disability, according to Gauntlett.

“Lack of recognition before the law continues to be an issue when voting, accessing financial services, participating in court proceedings, accessing justice, consenting to medical treatment and in guardianship and/or mental health legislation,” he said.

“Under current laws, policies and practices in Australia, people with disability who are deemed ‘unfit to stand trial’ may be detained for indefinite and prolonged periods.

“A disproportionate number of the people who are indefinitely detained are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Read more: Queensland department knew of intellectually disabled man detained in ‘severe’ conditions, says Ombudsman

The forced sterilisation of people with disability — particularly women and girls — without free, prior and informed consent has also remained a major issue, Gauntlett said. He noted that several UN human rights bodies have called on Australia to prohibit the practice.

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