Election 2013 and Human Rights (Part One)

By Right Now
Parliament House

In the lead up to election day this Saturday, we provide an overview of the official policies of Australia’s three major political parties on five noteworthy human rights issues. We start today with disability and indigenous affairs policy, and tomorrow we will look at marriage equality, climate change and asylum seeker policy. First we explain how each policy area presents itself as a human rights issue, before setting out the positions of the ALP, the Coalition and the Greens. 

While we have tried not to editorialise, we encourage you to bring a healthy dose of scepticism to our overview. If Party “A” says they’ll invest in initiative “X”, that’s the way we’ve presented the commitment – it’s up to you to decide whether it’s going to happen.

 

Disability

DISABILITY

The International Convention on Human Rights and Disability (ICHRD) sets out the rights of disabled persons to equality, non-discrimination and accessibility. It requires states parties to adopt measures to raise awareness of disability issues and combat related stereotypes. Domestically, Australia’s Disability Discrimination Actmakes disability discrimination unlawful and takes up a number, but not all, of the challenges set out in the ICHRD.

Disability has been an important issue in the lead up to the election, largely due to the passage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act earlier this year.

 

Labor

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act to Parliament in March of this year. In short compass, the scheme takes an “insurance approach” to disability, sharing the costs of disability care across the wider community. Also known as DisabilityCare Australia, the scheme commenced in Tasmania on 1 July 2013 and will be gradually rolled out across the remaining states and territories from 1 July 2014 with an anticipated completion date of 2018-2019.

Key Points:

  • Remains committed to delivering DisabilityCare across the country according to proposed timelines.
  • Has concluded agreements between the Commonwealth, and the states and territories for the scheme’s full, state-wide rollout.
  • Has invested $1 billion over four years to deliver the first stage of DisabilityCare Australia.
  • Has increased the Medicare levy from 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent to pay for the scheme – an estimated increase in revenue of $3.2 billion per year.
  • Has announced (on Reddit) a $34 million investment to open another 10 Headspace centres across the country.

 

The Coalition

The Coalition supported the passage of the NDIS Act. The Coalition remains committed to the NDIS and will retain Labor’s existing timeline for its implementation. They will maintain announced funding and will honour all Commonwealth agreements with the States and Territories.

But the Coalition isn’t completely enamoured by Labor’s disability policy. They say Australians with disabilities want to be supported, not cared for, and that they will scrap Labor’s “patronising” moniker DisabilityCare Australia. While they supported its passage into law, they have also been critical of the increased Medicare levy.

Key Points:

  • Will preserve income support for carers.
  • Will invest $3 million in the establishment of a young carers bursary scheme – 150 annual bursaries of up to $10,000 will be paid to carers aged 25 years or under on a needs basis with a cap of $1 million per year.
  • Will establish an industry advisory council for the disability and carer sector.
  • Will reduce red-tape and put all government programs relating to the employment of disabled people under the responsibility of a single minister.
  • Does not support an increase in the Medicare levy to cover the cost – they say the costs of the scheme can be met through better economic management.

 

The Greens

The Greens continue to support DisabilityCare Australia, welcoming the passage of the NDIS Act. They emphasise the importance of advocacy and disabled access to free legal services. In the Senate, they were responsible for an amendment that broadened the capacity of the National Disability Insurance Agency to advocate on behalf of the disabled.

Key Points:

  • Propose fixing bugs in the Mining tax and scrapping fossil fuel subsidies to fund the scheme – said this will generate $26 and $13 billion respectively.
  • Have been critical of the Coalition’s position on funding – they say the Opposition needs to spell out where they’re going to find the money, especially if it thinks the Medicare levy increase should only be temporary.
  • Policy aims in this area include: the implementation of broader national access standards; the extension of anti-vilification laws to cover vilification on the basis of disability; community awareness campaigns; greater national legislative protection for persons with disabilities.

 

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INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS

Internationally, the rights of indigenous peoples are spoken to by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While Australia opposed the declaration at the General Assembly in 2007 it has since endorsed it. It contains a large number of individual and collective rights as well as state obligations to protect them. Most controversial in the Australian context have been provisions regarding the recognition of indigenous legal traditions and self-determination.

Indigenous policy in Australia also involves a range of broader, cultural rights such as the right to health, to education and to work. These and other cultural rights can be found in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Labor

Closing the Gap was negotiated by the Rudd government in 2007-2008. Similarly, the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory package, extending the NT Intervention for another ten years, was passed into law by the Gillard government in 2012.

Labor remains committed to these packages and has detailed new policies in documents available at the links above. It supports indigenous recognition in the constitution but will not call a referendum until there is a stronger base for constitutional change.

Key Points:

  • Has set six Closing the Gap targets to address indigenous disadvantage in education, health and employment.
  • Committed to halving the unemployment gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2018.
  • Will honour National Partnership Agreements with the states and territories for the scheme’s state-wide implementation.
  • Has invested $3.4 billion over ten years in the Northern Territory as a part of the Stronger Futures legislation.
  • Supports constitutional change but agrees with Expert Panel that a referendum should be held at a time when it has the most chance of success.

 

The Coalition

The Coalition supports the current Closing the Gap targets. It has promised sizeable investments in employment and training services although it is unclear what the nature of its investment in indigenous health and education will be. It has emphasised engagement with indigenous communities and leaders, naming Warren Mundine the chair of its proposed Indigenous Advisory Council.

Key Points:

 

The Greens

The Greens have urged the major parties to clarify their approach to delivering on the Closing the Gap targets. It welcomed the Close the Gap Campaign’s 2013 election statement, calling for national monitoring and reporting on efforts to meet the targets. The Greens are the only major political party to have retained a strong focus on native title in its indigenous policy.

Key Points:

Tomorrow, Right Now compares the marriage equality, climate change, and asylum seeker policies of the three major parties. 

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