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Break the Silence – advocates call for urgent reform of State’s gag law

MELBOURNE: Disability advocates and their supporters will call on Victoria’s Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes MLC to act urgently to reform a law effectively rendering voiceless people with disabilities who are subject to guardianship or administration orders.

A provision of the VCAT Act 1996 (Clause 37 of Schedule 1) makes it unlawful for anyone subject to such an order to speak publicly about their experiences, even if they intend to reveal abuses or other concerns associated with their order.

At a protest rally on Thursday 8 February 2024 (11.00am) on the steps of Parliament House, people with disabilities and supporters will call on A-G Symes to “break the silence” by changing the law to remove the automatic application of Clause 37 in all cases.

“We’re hearing lots of rhetoric from the Government about choice and control for people with disabilities, the value of lived experience and of listening to our community, but when it comes to these gag laws, we’re still failing those in need”, said disability advocate Uli Cartwright.

“People on financial administration and guardianship orders are among the most vulnerable people in our community and that makes it vital they have their human rights protected. Being truly inclusive means giving people on orders their voice back. By gagging those on orders, the government is allowing public administrators to not be held to account. The result of that is complacency and a system with no incentive to do better.”

Data from the Office of the Public Advocate and State Trustees show that over 12,000 Victorians are subject to guardianship or administration orders and therefore automatically barred from telling their own stories. Victoria’s Public Advocate Dr Colleen Pearce called in April 2023 for the law to be changed in accordance with international human rights standards.

“The Disability Royal Commission has highlighted the need to overhaul Australia’s systems for substitute decision-making, including guardianship”, said VALID’s CEO Fionn Skiotis. “It’s not acceptable to deny people with disabilities the basic right to speak about their own lives as they see fit. While we want to see further changes to guardianship systems in the future, this change is easy to make and will free many people with disabilities from an unjust restriction.”

Protestors at the rally will wear black “gags” to symbolise their situation, and then remove them as a gesture of hope and resistance. The rally will also encourage everyone attending to “make some noise” to ensure the voices of people with disabilities are heard loud and clear.

Further info:

Uli Cartwright, Life is a Battlefield – 0413 901 210 / [email protected]
Fionn Skiotis, VALID CEO – 0400 833 314 / [email protected]

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