Speech by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

The Commitment to Action: Address to the Special Olympics Development Summit

Location: South Korea


[Acknowledgments omitted]


I am so honoured to be here today in my role as the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers.

We are all here today to share our experiences, learnings, successes and mistakes in how we work towards a better world for people with intellectual disability.

We have much to learn from each other and I hope that we can all come away with new ideas to continue on this journey – and to renew our commitment to action.

Ladies and Gentleman, Australia likes to regard itself as the ‘lucky country’.

In part because most of us can expect to receive a good education, find a steady job, buy a home of our own, become a valued and respected member of a family and a community, and then retire relatively comfortably in a safe and peaceful place.

But for an estimated 4 million Australians, 2.6 million under 65, who have a permanent disability, the story can be somewhat different.

For most people with disability, their families and carers in Australia, the aspirations of the average Australian are difficult to achieve.

Most people with disability in Australia can expect to face life-long battles to achieve what the rest of us take for granted.

To struggle to find a school that can accommodate them, to face difficulties in travelling on public transport, to fight long and hard to find an employer willing to take them on, to find very few housing options, and a life of additional expenses, isolation and frustration.

People with disability want their voice heard, to have a say and to be at the decision making table.

As is the case elsewhere in the world, in Australia people with disability have a greater likelihood of living in relative poverty

This is a major human rights issue that the Australian Government is committed to addressing.

We know we need to do better, because people with disability deserve a fair go.

The Australian Government understands that creating a more inclusive society is the right thing to do, the decent thing to do.
We have a moral imperative to act.

And we have an economic imperative to act.

If people are valued members of society, are in meaningful employment and contributing positively to their community, the cost to Government over a lifetime can be significantly reduced.

And of course, those very people will have a much better life experience, will have friends and live their lives in the way they want.

Sport is one of the vehicles delivering action to ensure a much better life experience for people with disability.

Australia is a sporting nation – we are a country blessed with plenty of wide open spaces.

Sport brings people together with a shared interest and passion.

And when we say “sport” it includes all participants –spectators, umpires and of course the athletes and their families.

It not only gives participants a healthy activity, it gives a sense of purpose and sense of community.

Our sporting champions who have a disability showcase what people with disability can rather than can’t do.

This is an area where people with disability can gain the attention and respect of their families and friends, their communities and the nation, based on their merits.

These champions inspire all of us to be the best we can be – and it is great to be here supporting all the athletes competing at the Winter Games

Australia’s commitment to action

The Australian Government is committed to doing the best we can, to doing all we can to ensure the rights of people with disability are upheld and respected both domestically and internationally.

We are committed to action.

We signaled this commitment to the world when we ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in July, 2008.

In Australia, we are fulfilling our obligation under the UN Convention to ensure that the mainstream service systems are focussed on the principles of inclusion.

In 2011, all Australian Governments agreed to our National Disability Strategy.

The Strategy reflects the principles of the UN Convention, outlining a 10-year, unified commitment and approach to reform and substantially improve Australia’s response to the needs of people with disability.

It guides public policy across all governments, and aims to bring about change in all mainstream services and programs to better cater for people with disability, as well as community infrastructure.

It also provides a framework across all government departments to ensure they meet their obligations to adopt a fair and inclusive approach to policies and service delivery.

Such change and co-ordination is pivotal to making sure people with disability have the same opportunities as other Australians – a quality education, adequate health care, a job where possible, and access to buildings, transport and social activities.

This framework, our National Disability Strategy, is focused on systematically improving the way mainstream policies and services are developed and designed so that they include and accommodate the needs of people with disability.

One of the outcomes of the strategy is providing inclusive and accessible communities for people with disabilities in the physical environment – we have had a breakthrough with the introduction of a national Access to Premises standard.

This standard ensures all new and substantially renovated public buildings, must be fully accessible for all people with disability.

Further, we have also just published an accessible design guide which demonstrates universal design principles for all building and construction through our aid program.

A significant measure initiated under the Strategy is the reform of the disability specific service system – the government funded care and support for people with disability.

Independent analysis of the existing system said that it was “underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient giving people with disability little choice”.

The receipt of this report in 2011 was our call to action.

We are currently building a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a historic change in the way disability care and support is provided in our country.

Our scheme is based on the principles of insurance.

It will cover all Australians for the cost of care and support in the event of significant and permanent disability.

It means we need to more than double the size of the existing system of support, not to mention to the reforms to the service sector that need to occur.

As I said, this reform is based on insurance principles – but will not require citizens to contribute directly to be covered by the scheme.

We are moving away from the crisis driven model that characterises our current service system in Australia, and moving towards a focus on early intervention and support that avoids reacting when a crisis point is inevitably reached and takes into account the support needs and personal outcomes over a person’s lifetime.

Another underlying principle of our National Disability Insurance Scheme is certainty.

Such a scheme will provide certainty, so that people with disability, their families and carers can be confident of continuing support.

Currently, there are simply too many who don’t know what the future holds.

This creates enormous anxiety for people with disability, their families and carers, and we must alleviate that fear.

A National Disability Insurance Scheme will give people with disability over what type of care and support they receive and who provides it.

As we implement these historic reforms, we are talking, we are listening, we are consulting and negotiating with the people who these reforms most impact – people with disability, their families, and their carers.

Though experience I know that the most fundamental principle in designing any policy affecting people with disability is ensuring the honest engagement with people with disability, their families and carers.

To this end, we have developed a range of formal and informal consultation and negotiation structures to ensure that the principle “nothing about us without us” is delivered.

The Australian Government has, among other mechanisms:

  • Established and funded a consultative committee made up of people with disability, their families, carers, advocates and service sector;
  • Funded a number of Disability People’s Organisations to give advice to Government; and
  • Established communication channels to encourage people with disability, their families and carers to speak directly to Government.

Our Government firmly believes every Australian, including people with disability, deserves the opportunity to achieve their best in life, to develop skills and gain experience, and to have the confidence to dream big and believe in themselves — to achieve their personal best.

Outside Australia: Australia’s aid program

But our ambition is not limited to Australia.

Disability-inclusive development is a priority for the Australian aid program because we recognise that aid will be most effective, and achieve poverty reduction, if it reaches and benefits people with disability.

Enhancing the lives of people with disability is one of the ten key objectives of the overall aid program.

It is crucial to achieving the fundamental purpose of Australian aid, which is to help people to overcome poverty.

We are guided by the strategy: Development for All (Towards a disability-inclusive Australian aid program 2009-2014).

We developed our strategy in close consultation with people with disability.

This strong stakeholder collaboration was recognised as a good example of inclusive practice in the first World Bank-WHO World Report on Disability in 2011.

Development for All is about changing the way we work including people with disability in our aid programs is now core business.

It is about making all our aid programs more inclusive of, and accessible to, people with disability.

We’ve just done a mid-term review of the Development for All strategy.

AusAID is grateful for the valuable contributions to the review made in particular by people with disability and their families and communities.

The report shows the work undertaken is “considerable and impressive”.

Australian support through our aid program has contributed to increased access for people with disability in a range of areas including education, employment, health services and law and justice in the countries in which we work.

Our partnerships with Disabled People’s Organisations have enabled people with disability to work together for their own development and to advocate for their rights as citizens.

Our review highlighted many examples of how our approach is making a difference.

Some examples include:
Our volunteer program is both supporting people with disability to become volunteers and placing volunteers in disability related fields in partner countries.

An Australian, Kylie Hinde volunteered at the Centre for Disability in Development in Bangladesh. One of Kylie’s proudest achievements was delivering a new mode of therapy through music and for children with autism in Bangladesh. She recalls the joy of seeing the overwhelming positive effects of music and creative therapy on the children.

Australia is supporting the Disability Rights Fund which provides grants to disabled persons organisations to advocate for the rights of people with disability.

Like in Peru, the fund supported the Society of Down Syndrome to successfully advocate against the removal of around 20,000 people with intellectual disabilities from the voting register.

In Samoa, the Inclusive Education Demonstration Program is helping around 500 children with disability, including children with intellectual disability, to access education.

The Program also supports families and communities advocating for the right to inclusion of children with disabilities in all aspects of society.

I recently attended the second Pacific Islands Forum Disability Ministers’ Meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in October 2012 where Pacific Ministers emphasised the good progress in implementing the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability as a “realisation of Australia’s investments”.

The Meeting resulted in Ministers from eleven Pacific countries reaffirming their commitment to disability-inclusive development.

These examples make me feel confident of progress to now, and hopeful of a bright and truly inclusive future.


I now want to turn to how sport fits with Australia’s support for disability-inclusive development.

We believe Australia’s approach to the planning and delivery of Development-through-Sport Assistance can be a model for other countries.

We start by working with partners in developing countries to identify development challenges – and then to determine how well-planned, sport-based activities can help.

Sport is used as a vehicle or a means to achieve a non-sporting development outcome.

We focus on development issues where it is clear that sport is well placed to facilitate positive change.

We are currently finalising a Development-through-Sport Strategy which will guide Australia’s current and future investments.

This strategy has identified two main development outcomes that Australia’s Development-through-Sport assistance will work towards:

  • improving health-related behaviours to address the risk factors for non-communicable diseases; and
  • more importantly for today, enhancing the lives of people with disability.

Our Development for All strategy highlighted sport as a flexible support mechanism to contribute to disability-inclusive development.

Sport has a number of inherent benefits that make it a great vehicle for this purpose.

Sport has the power to bring people together in a fun way.

Sport can increase participation in the community.

And of course, as the Special Olympics is testament to this, sport can highlight people’s abilities: that disability is no barrier to achieving.

Australia’s work in this area was also highlighted in the 2011 World Bank-WHO World Report on Disability.

Future Development-through-Sports Programs will focus on:

  • changing how people with disability think and feel about themselves; and
  • addressing barriers to inclusion including negative attitudes, stigma and discrimination.

We all know that stigma and exclusion of people with intellectual disability is one of the biggest challenges that we all face.

And we also know that this exclusion often extends to the families, particularly the mothers of these children.

This is why sport is such an important toll to demonstrate what people with intellectual disabilities can do to contribute to their society.

And when communities celebrate the achievements of people with disability, their families and mothers are out there celebrating too.

We must remove that stigma and discrimination.

That’s our challenge.


In our world today there are one billion people with disability.

We, in the developed world have a responsibility to assist to act to reverse the exclusion we have heard of today.

Article 32 of the Convention on international cooperation requires development activities to be inclusive of, and of benefit to, people with disability.

It is our belief, in fact our promise, and our obligation to continue to honour this article.

People with disability have a right to benefit from our aid programs, whether they be in the areas of education, health, law and justice or sport.

We will all benefit many times over when all our friends have the support, the resources, and the capacity to participate in the growth of our communities, and build a future we can all share.

We as leaders have a responsibility to ensure the objectives of this summit are achieved.

We have a responsibility to lead meaningful change in people’s lives so that all children are educated, all people have access to health services, all people can gain access to work and all family members attend religious, cultural and social activities that provide a sense of belonging.

I encourage other Governments and donors to commit to action by:

  • ratifying and implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • developing national plans of action to support people with disability;
  • including people with disability in your development co-operation;
  • actively engaging with people with disability to better understand and respond to their needs and aspirations; and
  • utilising the unique benefits of sport as a vehicle for providing opportunities for people with disability.

Too often people with disability, particularly people with intellectual disability, miss opportunities that others take for granted: an education, a job and the ability to participate in their community.

In Australia, our commitment to action starts with signing the UN Convention and delivers on that promise through principally, the National Disability Strategy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Australia has taken but one path – a path whose learnings we are happy to share. But in saying that, we know we can learn from other country’s experiences which can enrich our actions to better support and include people with disability in Australia.