Calls for law reform to secure voting access for people with disability

Disability advocates, legal experts and other organisations are calling for urgent law reform, raising concerns that many Australians with disabilities will be excluded from the electoral roll.

Currently, people living with disability can be disallowed to vote under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, which includes archaic language that prevents people with intellectual, psychosocial or cognitive disabilities from voting under provisions that exclude those deemed to be of “unsound mind”.

These provisions have seen over 28,000 Australians removed from the electoral roll between 2008 and 2012.

In an open letter to Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese, 65 organisations and individuals are calling for protections for people with disability to have their vote secured in line with recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). Signatories include Down Syndrome Australia, Inclusion Australia, People with Disability Australia and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.

The ALRC’s 2014 Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws report recommends amending section 93(8) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, urging for a focus on an individual’s decision-making ability with respect to enrolment and voting, as well as consideration for decision-making support and assistance in determining whether an individual meets the legal threshold.

“Casting a vote and having your say on who governs our country is a fundamental constitutional right, an internationally-protected human right and a hallmark of democracy,” Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) Vice President and Chair of Disability Rights said.

“The current law is inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which states that people with disability must be afforded the right and opportunity to vote on an equal basis with others.”

Ellen Skladzien CEO of Down Syndrome Australia says that is extremely disappointing that despite significant advocacy from DSA and others in the disability sector, these discriminatory laws are still in place.

“Every Australian should have the right to have their say in the election,” Skladzien said.

“People with an intellectual disability should have a say about the future of Australia but are routinely denied the right to vote in elections,” fellow open letter signatory Catherine McAlpine CEO of Inclusion Australia added.

“We want that to change now with urgent law reform to restore their democratic rights, including consideration of supported decision-making.”

Sebastian Zagarella CEO of People With Disability Australia has urged political leaders to take action as soon as possible.

“Achieving equal rights for people with disability means ensuring people with disability have the right to vote and are supported to access that right in an equitable manner.”

OIP Staff

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