Submission to UN on Rights or Persons with Disabilities

Autistic Minority International included a section from A4 in its submission to the United Nations Day of General Discussion (DGD) on the right to education for persons with disabilities.

The section from A4 says ...

"While the Australian government readily signs up to many international human rights conventions, it refuses to take the required next step, that is enacting laws that ensure the protection of human rights for its citizens. This lack of legal protection for rights of Australian citizens with a disability results in especially poor outcomes. Australia has the worst poverty of people with disability in the OECD.

"This is not just about the CRPD. Other examples of the lack of rights for people with disability in Australia are:

  1. The right to safety (and life) of the most vulnerable people with disabilities when they are in the care of a disability service is not protected. Coronial inquests into deaths of people with disability who are in the care of disability services consistently exonerate employers and workers ... people with disability die from unsafe practices and situations, and little or nothing is learned.
  2. The Australian government enacted its Disability Discrimination Act 1992: Contrary to the requirement that people with disability are protected from all forms of discrimination, this Australian legislation creates the concept of 'lawful discrimination'. To our knowledge, the legal system in Australia (like many countries, Australia lacks a justice system) has never ever decided that a government agency discriminated unlawfully against a person with a disability.
  3. Australian law denies the right of children with disability to 'education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services [and] preparation for employment' that is described in article 23 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This denial of children's rights is confirmed in legal decisions like Purvis vs NSW, Walker vs Vic, and Woodbury and Australian Capital Territory (the latter was an abusive legal process lasting 10 years). In particular, the High Court's Purvis vs NSW decision says any and every school, or service of any type, can deny an education/service to a child/person who the school/service thinks may present a behavioural problem/challenge; there is no obligation or expectation that anyone has a responsibility for ensuring the child has access to effective, or even reasonable, education or other rightful services.

"The law has been amended since Purvis vs NSW, but, to our knowledge, has still never protected the right of a child with disability to access education or any other essential/rightful services that the international conventions make 'state responsibilities'. The Purvis vs NSW precedent is particularly problematic for children with an autism spectrum condition. Autism is associated with 'different behaviour'. In Australia, many autistic children, hence with 'different behaviour', do not have access to appropriate/effective education. Many schools exclude autistic students, or autistic students simply drop out (stop going) ... the 'responsible' government simply ignores the child's absence from school.

"In Australia, young autistic children rarely receive best (or even good) practice early intervention to prepare them for inclusive education. The dearth of services for autistic children led the government to introduce its Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) package in 2008. HCWA funds about 5% of what the government itself advised is best (or even good) practice early intervention for autistic children. Rather than a state responsibility, it was left to parents to fund the other 95% of their child's early intervention needs (which few families can afford) ... or to try themselves to deliver intensive autism-specific early intervention for their child (but evidence shows delivery of early intervention for autism by parents lacks efficacy). Australian universities do not train graduates in allied health to deliver or supervise individualised intensive autism-specific early intervention programs or provide appropriate behaviour health carer and rehabilitation services for autistic persons, including students.

"The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) replaces HCWA typically with funding for up to 10% of the early intervention needs of autistic children. The NDIS did not consult autism stakeholders prior to starting and currently prefers early intervention methods for autism that have been discredited comprehensively. In the 1950s and 60s, autism was blamed on 'refrigerator mothers', that is, mothers were said to make their children autistic. The NDIS now says the best early intervention is making parents better at parenting ... it's the same thing. There is no evidence for this, and families who also have non-autistic children are strong evidence that their view on this is not accurate.

"The NDIS does not support students with disability; state education authorities are responsible for education services and support for students with disability. The state education authorities in Australia espouse/promote inclusive education. Inclusive education practice often means Australian autistic students:

  1. are dumped in mainstream education with inadequate resources, services and support, and without staff trained in teaching autistic students;
  2. are bullied by students and staff (then, school and department staff bully parents who have the audacity to report bullying); and
  3. fail in or do not continue to attend school.

"Baroness Warnock, the educationalist whose report famously led to including children with special needs in mainstream classes, arrived a decade ago at similar concerns about inclusive education for many autistic students in Britain. She talked about failed policy and 'a disastrous legacy'.

"Australia has its National Assessment Program (NAP) to measure 'important educational outcomes' at the national level. Most schools expect autistic students are exempt from testing, or to be absent on the day. The Australian education system does not measure or report its performance for autistic students ... and apparently remains carefully oblivious of reports from other agencies, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which repeatedly divulged abysmal education outcomes. Governments in Australia fund ideology-based advocates to undermine the voices of autism families and organisations that even question the policy that delivers such outcomes for autistic students. Government ministers will not acknowledge concerns of or meet with autism advocates. Australian autistic children have no right to education."

More information about the discussion is available here. The full submission can be downloaded here

Other submissions from Australia include: