: Human rights act and disability

Human rights act and disability

Emma Phillips

Following a grass-roots campaign, and a Parliamentary Inquiry, the Queensland Premier has committed to introduce a Human Rights Act in Queensland. Although it is still unknown how the Human Rights Act will develop, the Premier is examining the Victorian model, which protects a core collection of basic civil and political rights. While all Queenslanders will benefit, a human rights act is likely to be of particular benefit to vulnerable people, including people with disability.

People with disability are frequently denied their choice of accommodation and support. Many young people with disability are forced to live in aged care facilities, enduring social isolation and denied access to appropriate, disability-specific supports and services, or in congregate settings with strangers and shared care not of their choosing. As with the case of the closure of the Barrett Adolescent (mental health) Centre, decision-makers can tend to make pragmatic decisions based on cost, convenience and expediency without regard for human rights. For former residents of the Barrett Centre, this had tragic consequences.

Further, government funding priorities can lead to a lack of appropriate public housing, and disability and mental health services, particularly in rural and remote areas. For example Queenslanders in rural and remote areas are less likely to receive timely diagnosis, treatment and ongoing management of a mental health condition frequently leading to tragic outcomes, including significantly higher rates of suicide than in metropolitan areas.

The recent Senate Inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect of people with disabilities highlights the lived experiences of many people with disability including the experience of violence, neglect and abuse. Such Queenslanders have no human rights standards to protect them. Violence and abuse pervades many areas of life for people with disability, and includes being indefinitely detained in Forensic and Mental Health facilities, and/or subjected to Restrictive Practices (tantamount to solitary confinement, abuse, drugging and chemical castration) within homes, institutions and schools. In 2012–13 for example, only two per cent of Queensland patients on Involuntary Treatment Orders or Forensic Orders were legally represented at hearings — the lowest rate of representation in the country. A Human Rights Act might provide rights to a fair hearing, and advocacy for such patients.

A meaningful Human Rights Act will identify human rights, require the government to respect them, and provide a reasonable avenue for a person to seek justice if their rights are violated. Legislators and decision-makers in Queensland will be required to consider human rights in making laws and in exercising their authority, filling the gap that currently exists.

EMMA PHILLIPS is a Systems Advocate, Queensland Advocacy Incorporated.


(2016) 41(4) AltLJ 287
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