Research and Reports | 1 December 2014

The one thing all Australians with disabilities REALLY need

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In a country such as ours, we sometimes don’t think about rights until they are violated, or we can’t express them. Like our right to have a say in the way our country is run – our democratic right to vote.

Some interesting issues came out of a recent report which had the horribly dry title: “Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws.”

The report actually covered some important ground. It looked at ways that disabled people are discriminated against in Australian law, and came up with 55 recommendations to make things a whole lot better.

One of these recommendations had to do with voting for people of “unsound mind”. (Please note that “unsound mind” is a horrible piece of legalese and is not our choice of words.)

Here’s what Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy and Research at the Human Rights Law Centre, had to say about the voting issue:

“A healthy democracy requires participation in voting from as broad a range of voters as possible. We should be providing the necessary support to ensure everyone has an opportunity to have their say by casting their vote.

“The law is written in written in vague, derogatory and stigmatising language that does not reflect the true capacity of people with disabilities to make decisions about voting.”

Yes it is, Emily. And thanks for pointing it out so strongly.

The Law Reform Commission, which produced the report, did say that people who lack decision-making ability should be exempt from compulsory voting, which seems fair enough.

But the point is, those people should be on the electoral roll and be able to vote if they want to or are able to.

Or as Emily Howie said: “By keeping people on the electoral roll, the government would strike the right balance between giving people with disabilities the opportunity to vote and relieving the burden on those for whom voting is not within their capacity”.

Read a quick summary of the full list of recommendations in the report.