Speech by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

Australian Launch of World Report on Disability

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

*** Check Against Delivery ***

Thank you Professor McCallum and honoured guests … and thank you for the work you all do for us in Australia.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the Land on which we’re meeting and pay respect to their Elders past and present.

Can I thank our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, for his speech and his commitment to people with a disability in this country.

Can I also acknowledge my other parliamentary colleagues here today. I thank you Julie Bishop for your words and to Antoni Tsaputra, thank you for sharing your experiences.

I’d like to make particular mention of the Prime Minister’s commitment to improving the lives of people with disability.

She would have loved to be here today because this is an issue that’s close to her heart.

I know that she was tremendously proud to have signed the National Disability Strategy earlier this year – an historic agreement which sets the foundation for our Government’s commitment to full inclusion, full participation, of people with a disability in this country. And I’ll speak more about this shortly.

I’ve been asked to talk about disability in the domestic context.

The World Health Organisation does some wonderful work.

This report is a great example of that.

Importantly, the World Report takes a broad perspective. It analyses the circumstances and the level of inclusion of people with disability across the world – providing an evidence base that is extremely useful as we seek the fullest implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It doesn’t narrowly focus on the disability service system but rather recognises that, for example, health outcomes for people with disability are affected by the mainstream health service system…

…Educational outcomes are affected by the mainstream education system.

…That we need to improve the accessibility of the built environment.

…That poverty needs to be addressed through access to education and jobs, not simply welfare.

And our response has to be founded in the logic that the whole community needs to change to address these issues, not just the specialist disability service system.

This report brings to the centre some of the stories about disability, which are too often shunted off to the margins.

It is a constant battle for people with disability to get their issues recognised as being mainstream issues, not issues that should be dealt with by someone over there in the disability services system…But dealt with by everyone, everywhere.

In many ways, this is not a report about disability. It is a report about our lack of capacity, the lack of capacity of mainstream society.

We are not yet able to properly include people with disability.

But let’s hear from people with disability themselves.

Alisha Lee from Canada writes of her struggle to be a regular 16 year old in a world where rules and negative attitudes of the mainstream community are some of her greatest barriers:

She says “What’s important to me in life is trying to be as regular as I can be, up to the fullest point”.

She describes her challenge to be embraced in the school community and by her peers.

She says “There isn’t a lot of romance in my life, although there are lots of boys I am interested in. But I think when they look at me they see the chair.

We need to stop seeing ‘the chair’. We need to make disability disappear and focus on ability, capacity.

Because people with disability want the same things as everyone else. A good, happy, healthy, successful life.

A young man with Down syndrome, Vlad Sanotsky, from the Russian Federation talks on the WHO website about his experience in sports. He says:

“I am a champion swimmer – I have won many medals. But when I went to pre-school, the teacher told me I was too fast to be in her class. They couldn’t catch me. I swam in competitions in Belgium, and the US – and won medals. When my mother and I were on vacation, and I was on the beach, other kids ignored me and laughed at me. Nobody wanted to talk to me. But after they saw me swimming, they started to say “hi” and talk to me.”

He is describing in his own way, the same desire that all young people at that age have – to be seen for what they can do, not for what they can’t do, to be able to pursue a life of competence, success and acceptance.

And Jaime Silva from the Philippines describes how despite congenital glaucoma, he has been able to pursue his dream of working in the field of architecture.He writes:

“I just want to be proactive in the things I do: be it my career or helping those around me.”

These stories reinforce everything I hear in Australia – the stories quite clearly are similar the world over.

They remind me of the stories in the Shut Out report which informed Australia’s National Disability Strategy. The message is, if I can quote a young person from the Shut Out consultations:

“It is society which handicaps me, far more seriously and completely than the fact I have Spina Bifida”.

And so the fundamental principle of everything our Government does in relation to disability is that we stand for full community inclusion of people with disability.

This is what drives everything we do in disability.

Many of the themes identified in the World Report were identified by our Government when we were elected in 2007 and also by the consultations we undertook in pursuing the National Disability Strategy.

And they motivated a range of policy responses that we have initiated.

Australia was one of the first western countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 17 July 2008.

Off the back of that, we undertook two years of consultations and negotiation and policy development with the community and our state and territory counterparts to develop the National Disability Strategy.

And with the adoption of the Strategy by all State and Territory Governments earlier this year, for the first time in our history Australia has a holistic vision for the future of disability.

The Strategy will play an important part in ensuring the principles underpinning the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are incorporated in policies and programs throughout Australia.

Reflecting the Australian Government’s commitment to full community inclusion, the National Disability Strategy will drive the change needed to ensure people with disability can fully participate in the economic, social and cultural life of the nation.

It offers an unprecedented opportunity to ‘close the gap’ between the lived experience of people with disability and the rest of the community.

Frankly, it is a stain on the fabric of our nation that people with disability experience severe gaps in labour force participation, poorer outcomes in many healthcare measures and in other indicators including education, compared with the rest of the community.

So the Strategy maps a ten year reform plan for all governments to address the barriers faced by Australians with disability.

Through this Strategy, we hope to bring about positive change in the way all services and programs are delivered to people with disability, not just the specialist disability services system.

We need to make disability everyone’s issue, everyone’s business, and that’s what the strategy sets out to do.

Health and wellbeing is one key focus of the Strategy.

Good health and wellbeing are important for everyone.

As part of our overall strategy, we are improving access to health services for people with disability through new Medicare Benefits Schedule items including the Intellectual Disability Health Check and Chronic Disease Management items.

New items have also been added to the schedule under the Helping Children with Autism and Better Start for Children with Disability initiatives, as well as the Better Access initiative for mental health services.

The National Disability Strategy will be critical in changing mainstream community attitudes and getting all governments and departments to consider disability in everything they do, but simultaneously, we need to get real improvement in our specialist disability service system.

We know that a range of factors impact on the outcomes for people with disability, such as having an appropriate place to live and being able to participate in community life.

And many of the services that support better outcomes in these areas are funded through the National Disability Agreement, with most services delivered by the States and Territories.

Since coming to Government, we’ve more than doubled the Commonwealth funding to support specialist disability services under the National Disability Agreement, in response to the unmet demand that was clearly evident when we came to government.

I am pleased to see that a number of key recommendations of the World Health Organisation report are aligned with these reform objectives.

But we know that there are cracks in the state and territories service systems that cannot be fixed with money alone.

So, as many of you know, we have asked the Productivity Commission to inquire into the costs, benefits and feasibility of a national long-term care and support scheme.

The Inquiry is an important opportunity to rethink how governments support people with disability, their families and carers.

The Commission released its draft report in February this year, with the final report due at the end of next month.

The World Report will be useful research to inform the Government’s response to the final PC report.

The important role of organisations like the World Health Organisation in overseeing the delivery of outcomes under the United Nations Convention cannot be underestimated.

I’d like to encourage greater oversight of Australia’s performance under the UN Convention.

To that end, the Government will provide $300,000 to the Australian Human Rights Commission to ensure people with disability play a more prominent role in international discussions on disability issues.

This will ensure people with disability and the organisations representing them get involved and have their say on the international stage, and can play a greater role in monitoring Australia’s performance under the Convention.

I congratulate the World Health Organisation for their pioneering work.

Their analysis and recommendations are in line with Australia’s approach to achieving full inclusion of people with disability.

We will achieve this, yes through improvements to the specialist disability service system…but to fully make disability disappear, all Governments, all businesses, all community have to play their part and take responsibility to ensure people with disability are part of everything they do.

Thank you.