Right To Vote: Let People With Disability Vote

On 21 May this year, most adult Australians will vote in the Federal Election. However, there is a whole section of our community who can be removed from the Electoral Roll and disallowed from having their say: people deemed to be of “unsound mind.”

In an open letter to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, the Australian Services Union has joined a group of 65 legal, disability and civil society organisations calling for action to protect the right of people with disability to vote.

Between 2008 and 2012, more than 28,000 people were removed from the Federal electoral roll due to archaic and offensive ‘unsound mind’ provisions in the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

These provisions disproportionately prevent Australians with intellectual, psychosocial disabilities and cognitive disabilities from voting. 

This reform is long overdue. For nearly eight years, successive Prime Ministers have consistently failed to act on the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) 2014 ‘Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws’ report, This report called for section 93(8) of the Electoral Act to be amended to:

  • focus on a person’s decision-making ability with respect to enrolment and voting in the relevant election,
  • give consideration for decision-making support and assistance when determining if a person meets the threshold.

Not only does the operation of section 93(8) violate the fundamental human rights of people with disabilities, the language used is offensive and archaic, reflecting an outdated model of disability that has since been rejected by international law. Words like ‘unsound mind’ recall an era where people with disability were not seen as rights holders and had no protection at law. Australia’s laws should keep pace with progress in disability rights. Doing so is fundamental to the protection and promotion of the human rights of people with disabilities.

Australian laws must recognise that people with disability enjoy the right to vote on an equal basis with their fellow Australians.

Read the Open Letter here.