Frank Hall-Bentick is well-known and admired in the Australian disability community. Frank has been deeply involved in activism to improve the lives of people with a disability since 1980. His lifetime of work has now been recognised by a Federal Government National Disability Award. Frank won the Community Services Minister's Lifelong Achievement Award.
Frank's activism started when he was a union representative. He was working as a public servant for the Federal Government. He planned his union's activities for the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. Frank says the disability world was
very pleasant after the dog-eat-dog union debates he was used to.
Challenging large institutions
Frank then joined the new Disability Resource Centre (DRC). He began helping with mail-outs. He attended the foundation meeting in August 1981. He later joined the management committee.
The DRC was at the forefront of challenging large institutions where many people with disabilities were forced to live. They worked to get people with disabilities into mainstream education. They also helped establish attendant care services for people in their homes. The DRC also fought to make public transport accessible. People with a disability were largely shut out of public transport at the time.
Pickets and demonstrations
There were many pickets and demonstrations that Frank was involved in.
You don't see them as much these days, Frank says.
People were more angry then. Frank says people were angry about living in institutions. Sheltered workshops were also the main form of employment. But there was a strong element in mainstream society
who weren't happy with the status quo being challenged says Frank.
Frank has travelled widely through his involvement with the International Disability Alliance and Disabled Peoples International. Frank says we can learn a lot by sharing experiences.
International solidarity not only improves things locally but worldwide, says Frank.
United Nations Convention
In recent times Frank has concentrated his work on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention was adopted by the Australian Government in 2008. Frank is on the committee of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO). Frank keeps watch on how well the convention is being put into action by government. He contributes to a report on the convention in Australia by non-government organisations.
Frank also circulates information about his work on disability rights through his very informative email list. Many people rely on the list to keep up-to-date with matters affecting the lives of Australians with a disability. People use his email bulletins to spread information daily about many different topics.
What keeps Frank going as an activist?
Seeing others get involved, going on to take up issues, he says.
(Also) meeting people overseas and finding out what they do in their country. But Frank admits sometimes he gets impatient.
Like all good activists you want to see things done yesterday. Progress is slow. Governments insist on re-inventing the wheel. Franks says access, housing, employment and transport remain
on-going issues in Australia.
Frank says he has also become passionate recently about the treatment of people with mental illness.
If I threaten to hurt someone, action should be taken, he explains.
But people are locked up because they are only thought to be dangerous. Frank sees the media as partly to blame for people's fear. He also says the
medical model of treatment is
People are calling for change and a reduction in massive drugging, he says.
As with many of Frank's previous causes, his latest battle will create controversy and resistance. But history shows that attitudes can slowly change thanks to the purposeful persistence of amazing people like Frank Hall-Bentick.