I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting, and to pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
I would also like to acknowledge Jan Daisley and the team who have organised this 30th anniversary event. My first task this evening is to congratulate People With Disability Australia. Thirty years of remarkable work. Much of it pioneering. I hope you feel a sense of achievement.
The formal endorsement of the National Disability Strategy by the Council of Australian Governments this year was in no small measure due to the dedication, and outstanding advocacy, of groups such as People With Disability. Of course it was not before time. I have worked in the disability area myself and shared your frustration at the lack of progress over many years. So I was immensely proud to be able to launch the Strategy in March. For the first time in our history, Australia has a long term vision for the future of disability. One based on the new consciousness that 30 years ago marked the International Year of Disabled Persons and led to the foundation of People With Disability.
This was an understanding of disability based on human rights. With a focus on eliminating barriers created by society and ensuring the right of social inclusion and civic participation. Over the ensuing three decades, People With Disability has never wavered in its goal to instil this consciousness in the community at large.
Moreover, the organisation has reached out on behalf of all groups – the young, the elderly, men and women. You have embraced homeless people with disability, people in institutions, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability. People living with disability in our Pacific neighbourhood.
You have challenged discrimination, abuse and neglect on behalf of all people with disability. And, importantly, both as an exemplar, and through your capacity building partnerships, you have shown disadvantaged groups how to develop vital advocacy skills. I do hope you realise how effective your advocacy has been. Including your lead role in helping establish the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Our National Disability Strategy is founded on the principles of this Convention, and my vision for the future is very much tied up with the Strategy.
My vision is a world in which people with disability enjoy the broadest possible participation in all aspects of mainstream community life. I want people with disability to have the same opportunities as other Australians – a quality education, health care, a job where possible and access to buildings, transport and social activities. One submission to the Strategy consultations put it this way:
We want … a life lived in the community, shaped not by exclusion and oppression but by everyday ordinariness.
That is my vision. And that is why, as part of the Strategy we have already committed $11 million to support six new initiatives to secure the rights of people with a disability to enjoy activities that they should be able to take for granted.
Ordinary activities, like doing the shopping or enjoying an art gallery. I recently announced funding of up to $100,000 each for 67 local councils across Australia. Because having a vision is one thing. However, we need tangible practical measures to realise it. I expect for example to see a lot of new access ramps and paths to community facilities, better access and specialised mobility equipment at facilities such as public swimming pools and fully accessible public toilets across the country, as a result of our local government funding.
Similarly, Universal Design measures are being given added impetus under the National Disability Strategy so that we can ensure their incorporation in a growing number of community resources, such as sporting arenas, and, of course, homes. We need to exploit technology, too, which is why we are providing digital playback devices in public libraries around the country and improving cinema access for people with hearing and vision impairment. And we need to look beyond our immediate communities. My vision, and the National Disability Strategy, are firmly founded on economic security and the right to work.
The right to work is a fundamental right in Australian society. And people with disability should share that right. Having a job builds self esteem, broadens social networks and provides one of the most significant ways through which people can participate socially and economically in their communities. As we know, people with disability have struggled to get the support they need to get and keep a job. A major priority of the Australian Government is to improve support for Australians with disability to help them into work where possible, while providing an essential safety net for those unable to work.
This includes providing more generous rules for existing disability pensioners to encourage them to work more hours, and supporting employers to take on more disability pensioners through new financial incentives. The Government is investing $92.8 million over the next four years in new requirements for disability support pensioners to increase their participation, including $30.4 million in additional employment services for people with disability. We also know how important an education is to getting a job and learning life skills. And how important it is to start early.
This is why we have introduced initiatives like Better Start, giving some 9000 children across Australia access to a range of early intervention services and therapies such as speech pathology, audiology, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Getting children into early intervention services in their early years will better prepare them for school and an education. Importantly, we have asked the Productivity Commission to consider how the disability services system could be reformed, including consideration of the feasibility of a national disability insurance scheme. The Commission’s final report is due this month and the Government looks forward to considering its recommendations.
I know you do too. Just recently, Michael Bleasdale, issued a paper with a firm plea to the Commission:
Please Sir, Not more of the same …
Michael’s plea is for significant change. I share that aspiration and I believe the Australian government has set that it in train. But there is very much more to do. This is a critical time.
We need the sector to be united as we work with all Governments, in the common pursuit of achieving a society where people with disability are truly free and able to enjoy life to their fullest potential. Neither shut out, nor shut in. Recently I announced funding of $300,000 to the Human Rights Commission to ensure people with disability continue to be involved on the international stage. This is because I want people with disability and organisations representing them to continue their advocacy and monitoring of Australia’s performance under the convention.
So I encourage you to continue your advocacy role and build on a splendid record. We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude. For thirty years of magnificent work, I say thank you.