Advocacy for Inclusion works on the frontline with Canberra’s most marginalised and isolated people with disabilities. People seek our assistance with advocacy when they are in crisis or facing insurmountable barriers to achieving an outcome. Often they experience violence, abuse, interactions with legal processes, or have had their children taken into care. Many are living in arrangements not of their choosing.
There are very few specialist disability services to respond to the people we work with. In most cases there are none. There are no disability led initiatives across most of the areas that we work, which means people with disabilities facing severe discrimination and marginalisation are forced to rely on generic mainstream services, usually with no staff who are people with disabilities. In the future this lack of specialist, disability led, responses must change so that people with disabilities can begin to address our own disadvantage and marginalisation.
The work of Advocacy for Inclusion centres on the issues that we see every day as part of our frontline advocacy work. The issues we raised with the major parties are not isolated, rather they are the most common issues raised by our consumers. Many of these issues are longstanding as they have never received specific attention by policy makers or government.
This ACT election we had hoped to see this lack of response change. We sought commitments from the major parties on disability rights that the ACT has committed to implement through the ACT Human Rights Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
To understand what the major parties intended we interviewed their disability spokespeople, Veronica Wensing, Andrew Wall and Chris Bourke. The videos of those interviews are available on our YouTube channel.
The responses to the commitments we have sought have been varied. All parties spoke of the need to consult directly with people with disabilities, and all have outlined consultative mechanisms in one form or another. It is disappointing that none would commit to those mechanisms being solely made up of people with disabilities. The continuing insistence on diluting our voices is not something any other minority group is expected to withstand, yet people with disabilities must expect that others are considered to be more expert in matters that concern us.
Advocacy for Inclusion has worked for over 6 years to achieve guardianship law reform in the ACT and is very pleased that all parties have committed to taking the current review process forward beyond the election. This issue is far too important to be subject to parliamentary terms and must continue. The Review Report was released during the caretaker period but carries significant progressive reform recommendations. We look forward to working with the new government to continue the process of implementing CRPD Article 12 in the ACT.
We were also pleased to gain a commitment from the Greens and Canberra Liberals to inquire into current child protection systems. Although neither committed to an independent inquiry focussing solely on the removal of children from parents with disabilities, both parties have committed to inquiries where this issue will be examined – for the first time in Canberra. It is disappointing that ACT Labor still fails to recognise the severity or scale of this issue for parents with disabilities.
Advocacy for Inclusion has high exposure to the justice system and legal frameworks given that over half of the ACT prison population is people with disabilities, mainly with cognitive disabilities. We welcome the commitment of both ACT Labor and the ACT Greens to develop a Disability Justice Strategy. We look forward to progressing this with the new government, and we continue to work with the Canberra Liberals to improve understanding of the urgent need to address this area of policy.
Finally, we failed to gain commitments in 2 key areas of disability rights policy: no major party is currently prepared to commit to amending the domestic violence law so that people with disabilities have equal access to using the law, and the supports available through it, when they experience domestic violence. Additionally, no major party was prepared to commit to ending the reliance on congregate living for people with disabilities in the ACT despite the recommendations of the United Nations, strong evidence of the lack of safety, and the continuing lack of choice such environments present.
Thank you to the major party spokespeople for participating in our interview process. Advocacy for Inclusion looks forward to continuing our work with all of you following the election.
Chief Executive Officer