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It’s time to fully include people with disability in our democracy

It’s time to fully include people with disability in our democracy

27 July 2014

Governments should ensure that people with disabilities fully enjoy the right to vote by ensuring that all people who express a wish to vote are provided necessary supports and assistance.

Commenting on the Human Rights Law Centre’s submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into ‘Legal Barriers for People with Disability’, the HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said that a healthy democracy emphasises inclusion in electoral processes and requires participation from as broad range of voters as possible.

“As a community we shouldn’t be preventing people living with a disability from participating in our democracy. We should be providing the necessary support to ensure everyone has an opportunity to have their say by casting their vote,” said Ms Howie

The HRLC’s submission highlighted the need to remove archaic language from the Electoral Act and Ms Howie welcomed the Law Reform Commission’s proposal to scrap the phrase “unsound mind” but she has outlined concerns about what the Commission is proposing to replace it with.

“It’s great that the Commission has identified the problems surrounding such out-dated language, but there’s a very real risk that the suggested new wording will simply see a continuation of the existing discrimination,” said Ms Howie.

The Law Reform Commission’s proposal is to remove the provisions of the Australian Electoral Act that currently prohibit the enrolment of people who “by reason of being of unsound mind are incapable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolment and voting” but to deny the vote to people who are said to lack “decision-making ability.”

Ms Howie said such an exclusion would be discriminatory because in practice it is particular people living with disabilities who would likely be required to pass the test of their decision-making ability.

“Let’s face it, many people regardless of disability cast their vote without understanding or weighing information about an election. If the decision-making ability test is set too high it will indirectly discriminate against people with disabilities,” said Ms Howie.

Under international human rights law, Australia cannot limit a person’s right to vote because of their disability or decision-making ability. Many European countries, including the United Kingdom, have removed restrictions on voting that are based on mental incapacity.

“Instead of excluding people who wish to vote, the law should ensure that people are assisted to exercise their democratic rights,” said Ms Howie

The HRLC’s submission can be found here.

 

For further information contact: Emily Howie on 0421 370 997or via emily.howie@hrlc.org.au