MEDIA RELEASE – Queensland Advocacy welcomes landmark Human Rights legislation tabled in Queensland Parliament today
31 October 2018
For immediate release
Queensland Advocacy welcomes landmark Human Rights legislation tabled in Queensland Parliament today
It is with much excitement that Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI) thanks and congratulates the Queensland Government for introducing a Human Rights Bill for Queensland.
The announcement by the Queensland Attorney-General, the Hon. Yvette D’Ath, that the Human Rights Bill was being tabled in Parliament was enthusiastically welcomed by a broad cross-section of the community at the Community Legal Centres Queensland Leadership Forum in Brisbane on Monday.
QAI strongly supports this highly important legislative reform. “This is the reform that all of us who work with, support and advocate for the most vulnerable people in our community have been waiting and hoping for,” QAI’s Director Michelle O’Flynn said today. “We applaud the Queensland Government for developing a strong and workable Act that will help to create a culture of human rights protection in this state.”
Once enacted, the Human Rights Act will offer basic protection of fundamental civil and political rights for all Queenslanders. In an innovative step for Australia, the Bill also protects the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the economic, social and cultural rights to education and healthcare.
QAI senior lawyer and systems advocate Emma Phillips, who has been working on the community-driven campaign for a Human Rights Act for the past three years and is Chair of the Human Rights Act Sub-Committee of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, welcomed the historic reforms. “The introduction of this Bill represents a pivotal milestone in Queensland history,” Dr Phillips said.
“This Bill contains a strong framework that protects the fundamental human rights of Queenslanders. We are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of a complaints mechanism, which enables people to make a complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission and have the opportunity for this complaint to be heard and conciliated in an accessible forum,” Dr Phillips said. “This is innovative and important law reform – Queensland is leading the way in offering the strongest model of human rights protection in Australia.”
QAI is hopeful that the Government will consider the inclusion of a broad range of remedies for breaches of the Act to ensure that the human rights are enforceable and meaningful. QAI also emphasises the importance of not limiting the Act in any way in its application, to ensure it offers full protection to all Queenslanders, particularly the most vulnerable.
“While the passage of this Human Rights Bill may not make a difference to the lives of all Queenslanders, it will make a fundamental difference to the lives of the most marginalised and disempowered, including people with disability and mental illness who seek advice and assistance from our organisation,” Dr Phillips said. “It will introduce another dimension into decision-making about matters affecting the rights and lives of Queenslanders, requiring those making decisions by or on behalf of public entities to have regard to the impact of those decisions on the human rights of the person concerned. This will be an important safeguard for all Queenslanders, but will be particularly significant for those on the margins.”
“This is a really significant moment in Queensland history,” Ms O’Flynn said. “We wish to congratulate all of those who have worked so hard to make this happen.”
For more information, please visit the campaign website: humanrights4qld.com.au.
Emma Phillips: (07) 3844 4200
Information provided in this release is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. You should obtain your own legal advice before applying any information provided in this release to specific issues or situations.
Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner headlines QAI’s Violence against people with disabilities in their home Forum
Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI) is thrilled to announce that Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Alastair McEwin, will be the keynote speaker at our Violence against people with disabilities in their home forum on Monday 24th September 2018.
Fresh from the release of his report into institutional violence “A Future without Violence: Quality, safeguarding and oversight to prevent and address violence against people with disability in institutional settings”, Mr McEwin will be addressing the forum about this significant social policy issue. “QAI is thrilled to welcome Mr McEwin to Brisbane for this occasion,” QAI Director Michelle O’Flynn said today. “We are so appreciative of the important work the Commissioner does to protect and defend the human rights of people with disability in Australia and we are honoured to have him present the keynote address at our forum.”
This innovative forum will be held at Brisbane City Hall and will include guest speakers, live performances and personal stories from people with lived experience. “We are very excited to present this forum and launch these important resources”, Ms O’Flynn said. “Live theatre and art are such powerful and accessible mediums and we feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work with such talented artists and performers with disability within our local community.”
Mr McEwin’s keynote address will be followed by a wonderful and diverse line-up of speakers, including individuals with lived experience sharing personal stories, former Australian Senator and social campaigner Andrew Bartlett, Caxton Legal Centre’s Ros Williams, Leona Berrie from WWild – Sexual Violence Prevention Service and Dr Natasha Alexander, clinical psychologist in community disability and mental health services from Consentability. A highlight will be the live theatrical performances, interspersed throughout the day, by the talented students of the Access and Equity Program of TAFE Queensland.
We hope and anticipate that the forum and ongoing project will increase general understanding and awareness of violence against people with disability, including the impact it has on a person, the potential perpetrators of violence and the diverse settings and ways in which it can occur. As part of the forum, QAI will also be launching a series of multi-media resources developed in collaboration with artists and actors with disabilities to raise awareness of the types of violence faced by people with disabilities within residential settings.
QAI is an independent, community-based system and individual advocacy organisation for people with disability in Queensland with over 30 years’ experience advocating for systems change, through campaigns directed at attitudinal, law and policy reform.
For more information
Queensland Advocacy on 07 3844 4200 (business hours) QAI is an independent, community-based, individual, systemic and legal advocacy organisation for people with disability in Queensland, Australia. Its Mental Health Legal Service provides advice and representation to people receiving involuntary treatment for mental illness across the State.
Michelle O’Flynn, Director, QAI. Contact: 0481381528
Author: Evee Perich
Last year I completed my final placement for my Masters of Social work with Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI). Being a community legal centre within the disability sector I was apprehensive about how my social work placement would look however, to my surprise, my time at QAI completely changed how I approach social work. During my placement I was able to witness the practical application of theories and how these not only inform my practice but define it.
QAI operates from a human rights and anti-oppressive framework so my placement was heavily focussed on issues surrounding violence against people with disabilities. My placement opened my eyes to all the kinds of violence that are inflicted against people with disabilities and challenged not only my understanding of oppression but my focus as an emerging social worker. I was able to research and contribute to systems advocacy campaigns concerning legislative violence such as Restrictive Practices to coordinating awareness campaigns relating to physical and sexual violence. Through these campaigns I was able to see that operating from an anti-oppressive framework shaped everything about me from my language, my values, my approach to work and certainly how I processed information.
By far the most defining moment on my placement was when I was gifted the honour to present at parliament on behalf of QAI. When I was first approached to write a presentation I was under the impression that I would be talking about violence however to my surprise I was asked to speak about sex or more accurately, the unintended consequences of Section 216 of the Queensland criminal code which criminalises intimate relationships with people with impairments of the mind. Section 216 was designed to protect the vulnerable from sexual exploitation, which is a good thing as people living with disabilities, particularly women, are more likely to experience sexual violence than people without disabilities. So laws to protect our most vulnerable are always a good thing however, in the case of Section 216, many legitimate consensual and loving relationships are being ruled invalid and illegal.
Section 216 is a double edged sword of protection and prohibition because, unlike all other jurisdictions within Australia, Queensland is the only state that does not adopt a consent based approach to the law. This immediately silences people with intellectual impairments and once again removes them from any conversation about sex, intimacy and sexual wellbeing. This realisation made me wonder about the consequences when we don’t talk about the sexual wellbeing of people living with disabilities. Or perhaps what I should be asking is why don’t we talk about sex and intimacy in relation to disability? Rights to bodily integrity as well as the right to freely form relationships, including founding a family, are human rights protected in international conventions so why are we so afraid of these conversations? Historically our inability to talk about sex and disability has led us down a path of discrimination, institutionalisation, sterilisation, and eugenics however even today as a society we still struggle to separate the disability from the person. People with intellectual impairments are seen as ‘eternal children’ and labelled as asexual or hypersexual and are always viewed through the lens of risk. This made me realise that we need to find a less oppressive way to talk about sex and disability without exclusively framing it in terms of vulnerability and abuse. People living with disabilities are entitled to have a relationship with sex outside of sexual victimisation, otherwise sex and intimacy becomes something that is only seen as taboo, dangerous and forbidden. Viewing human beings in terms of risk and vulnerability is not only incredibly disempowering but it is at the core of Section 216.
So it seems that my presentation was actually about violence as Section 216 is a form of legislative violence and unfortunately this law represents the wider social and political beliefs around disability and sex. Until I started researching this law and reflecting on the consequences to people living with disabilities I didn’t fully understand how oppressive and far reaching the fallout of this law could be. By avoiding conversations around sexuality and actively preventing access to things such as sex education and sexual expression we are actually increasing the risk of exploitation and abuse towards people living with disabilities. So not only are we disempowering people we are actually making them more vulnerable.
Instead of involving children with disabilities in conversations about puberty we place our own comfort, convenience, and paternalistic agendas first and commit medical violence such as forced or coerced sterilisation.
As an alternative to conversations about consent we punish inappropriate behaviour with antilibido medication and in some cases forensic orders, indefinite detention and label them as sex offenders. Sex education and conversations about consent empowers people to understand and recognise abuse which in turn reduces the likelihood of becoming victims as well as the possibility of that abuse being normalised and repeated by breaking the cycle and preventing people from becoming future perpetrators of sexual violence.
As a substitute to engaging in respectful conversations about healthy relationships we create structural and political barriers around parenthood, under the guise of protection, to justifying the removal of children from parents with intellectual impairments. In 2011 all levels of government in Australia committed to the National Disability Strategy which demonstrated a unified effort among the states and territories to improve the lives of people living with disabilities. The government declared that the idea that people with disabilities could be more disadvantaged by society’s response to their disability than the disability itself, led to greater need to focus on policies to remove those barriers.
The National Disability Strategy states that the level of control an individual has over his or her own life can make a big difference to the quality of their life as well as recognising that social participation and developing relationships are fundamental to the wellbeing and health of the individual. The existence of laws such as Section 216 further confirms that people living with disability have less ownership and control over their bodies and lives than able bodied people. However, this issue is not only present in the sexual lives of people living with disability as it spreads into every aspect of their lives from access to health care, housing, education and recognition under the law.
As social workers we know that feeling connected is a human right; in fact it could be argued that it is what makes us human. Feeling disconnected to our community, to other human beings, leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness which significantly impacts on our mental and physical health. The denial of an intimate relationship, if it is desired, contributes to these experiences of disconnection and loneliness. As advocates we must commit to supporting people to lead full lives including sexual expression, which is why Section 216 needs to be amended to ensure these discriminatory barriers are removed.
Having the opportunity to talk about these issues at Parliament was extremely exciting and humbling however as I was standing at the podium I couldn’t help but feel like an able bodied intruder. It felt almost uncomfortable to be initiating conversations about the sexual lives of people with disabilities as I am aware how dehumanising these conversations can become. We need to acknowledge how we continuously blur the line between public and private lives for people with disabilities however these conversations are important yet it must also be acknowledged that my role as a social worker, as an able bodied ally, is not just to start these conversations but to ensure that people with intellectual impairments have access to the same platforms I did.
As an advocate I can’t forget that I am in this space via invitation only and that my words and actions belong to others, are for others and is only being heard because of the suffering of others. After all my research about this law, I believe that it was perhaps this observation that helped me understand antioppressive practice the most.