Disability advocates
A royal commission handed down more than 200 recommendations to improve the disability sector. Image by Jacob Shteyman/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Phase out of segregated schools ‘wildly inadequate’

Andrew Brown October 1, 2023

A proposal for a 30-year phase-out of special schools for students with disabilities is “wildly inadequate”, a Greens senator says. 

The final report for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, handed down on Friday, could not come to a consensus on how to phase out segregated education in the disability community.

Three of the commissioners recommended having no students with disabilities in segregated education by 2052, with no new special schools to be built from 2025 onwards.

However, the commission’s chair and two other commissioners did not think such a phasing out was necessary.

WA Greens senator and disability advocate Jordon Steele-John said it would be possible to end segregation in schools by 2030.

“Thirty years (to phase it out) is wildly inadequate,” he told ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

“To put that in perspective, that would mean a disabled child born today would be likely to see their child educated in a separate, segregated setting. 

“That is lonely, that is abusive, that is unacceptable,” he said.

“It’s not acceptable for another generation of children to be educated in segregated settings.”

Senator Steele-John said an acceleration of desegregation was also needed in the workplace and housing settings.

“There must be a reality in Australia where disabled people are paid a fair pay for a fair day’s work, as every other Australian is guaranteed under the law,” he said.

“There shouldn’t be a caveat on the minimum wage that says ‘except for disabled people’.”

After more than four years of hearings, the commission handed down more than 200 recommendations to improve the disability sector.

Among the areas of reform suggested was a disability rights act, which would enshrine the international human rights of those with a disability into domestic law.

Senator Steele-John said it was essential for a mechanism for complaints and redress to be available for those with a disability.

“(The act) calls for a proactive obligation to prevent violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect,” he said.

“It can be a tool for the radical transformation that is needed to end ableism and segregation in Australian society.”

Education Minister Jason Clare said it was incumbent on the federal, state and territory governments to implement the commission’s recommendations.

It was even more crucial to get the decisions right, following the split from commissioners on how best to handle schools for students with disabilities, he said.

“We need to make sure that children get the sort of education that they need, and there’s a lot that we do at the moment in providing that support for students,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

A federal task force is set to examine the recommendations and how they would be implemented.

Senator Steele-John said the royal commission reinforced the need to make the NDIS more accessible.

“We do want to see changes so that it is more in line with the supports that people need,” he said.

An independent review is being carried out into the NDIS, which is due to be handed down later in October.

The NDIS is set to cost $42 billion this financial year and is on track to be the biggest single spending item in the federal budget, eclipsing Medicare.

The federal government has committed to reducing the growth rate of NDIS spending to eight per cent by 2026.

But Senator Steele-John said state, territory and federal governments all had resources for the NDIS to have the funds it needed, and a levy was not necessary.

“There are a bunch of different options on the table for additional resources, and we should look at those if required,” he said.