Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan

Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has strongly rejected comments made by Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield opposing the need for a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older People.

Ms Ryan said on Thursday the case for a new human rights treaty to protect the rights of older people was strong and she vowed to step up her advocacy in this area in conjunction with peak seniors groups.

As Australian Ageing Agenda reported last week, Senator Mitch Fifield said he remained unconvinced that a new legal instrument specific to the rights of older people was necessary as their rights were already protected by existing human rights treaties.

However, Ms Ryan said she rejected the minister’s position.

“It doesn’t suffice to say that because the rights of older people are implied in the other major UN agreements, that there is no case for a specific convention,” she told the AAG’s webinar on strengthening the rights of older people.

“Yes, [their rights] are implied but that is not the same thing as having a spotlight put on the rights of older people and then having monitoring, reporting and accountability processes that have to be observed because of UN commitments.”

Ms Ryan said similar arguments had been used to oppose the UN convention on the rights of people with a disability, but the push for international recognition through a specific legal instrument was ultimately won by the disability community.

“I ask you to bear in mind that exactly the same arguments were used in relation to the convention on the rights of people with disabilities when that convention was first being developed in the 1990s.”

She said:

“Many of the UN member states said people with a disability were already covered in other conventions and we didn’t need a special convention. Well, the disability community and their supporters didn’t accept that and after a number of years the excellent UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was put in place.”

Ms Ryan said there was no doubt that the UN convention for people with a disability, ratified by the Australian Government in 2008, demonstrated what could be achieved by an international convention, which focused attention and awareness on the rights of a specific group.

She acknowledged the road towards a UN convention on the rights of older people would be long, but she said support within the region was growing.

A convention for older people would help create a paradigm shift in the negative and discriminatory attitudes towards older people and would draw attention to areas of policy failure, she said.

“From Australia’s perspective, I do not accept defeat having heard the views of Senator Fifield. What it means is that we need to upgrade our advocacy activities to persuade members of the government that to support such a convention would be very important in terms of protecting older Australians and to our responsibility to older people in our neighbouring countries where the shortage of provisions is much more acute.”

As partners of the AAG, AAA readers can access a copy of the recording of this webinar at a discounted rate of $10. To purchase your copy of this webinar click here

Related AAA coverage: Govt rejects international convention for older people

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  1. I would have thought any educated person would see the relevance and need for a UN Treaty that formalised many rights that older people still struggle with. As Ms Ryan has correctly stated above, the rights of older people in Australia are implied, but the government is not held accountable for some of the less publicised rights that are yet to be recognised. Some rights may not be as tangible as others but are still just as important and to have these adopted and ratified by Australia would be a milestone in human rights history for the older and ageing population in this country. I was mortified when I heard that the Senator had spoken against the need for a treaty, something I would not have expected from someone in such an influential position in our country. I will certainly be lobbying my local Senator to put pressure on the government to support this treaty, especially given the ageing population.

  2. The idea of linking the desire to secure good outcomes for the older person to the concept of human rights is both understandable but also rather curious.

    Understandable, because the notion of human rights is often seen as a vehicle for articulating claims that vulnerable groups and individuals deserve a certain standard of care and protection; curious, because if there is one thing that the concept of human rights cannot do is to secure advantage for vulnerable groups and individuals.

    The history of human rights is surely one of abject failure in protecting vulnerable people from acts and actions that would do them harm. Whether these vulnerable groups are refugees, minority groups in third world countries, women and children in conflict zones, the history of both human rights and international politics over the last 100 years at least is that claims of rights by vulnerable people has never secured their protection against murder, rape, torture and sundry violence.

    And yet we persist with the odd notion that if you pass a bill of rights then somehow you will benefit people. Curious, as I said.

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