Address to Endeavour Foundation Council Meeting, Boondall, Queensland
** Check against delivery **
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
I also wish to thank Grant Murdoch, Chairman, and David Barbagallo, Chief Executive of the Endeavour Foundation, for inviting me here today.
I am really thrilled to be appointed as Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers.
As many of you know, I’m not a stranger to the disability sector.
As Shadow Minister responsible for Ageing, Disabilities and Carers prior to the 2007 election, I had the privilege of meeting many people with disability and many carers, and hearing their stories.
I learnt about the barriers and challenges they face.
It drove me to work hard for change.
I moved for the Senate to inquire into the examination of the funding and operation of the Commonwealth State Territory Disability Agreement.
One of the recommendations of this Inquiry was to establish a National Disability Strategy, which is an achievement I am very proud that our Government has delivered.
Also, this work led to the development of the National Disability Agreement, which is delivering a significant funding increase for disability services and support across Australia.
Three years on, I feel I’ve come into this new role at an exciting time.
The Government has delivered significant improvements to disability services funding and the Disability Support Pension but there’s still a lot more work to be done.
My colleague, Minister Jenny Macklin, has identified disability reform as one of her top portfolio priorities for the current term.
We want to improve the day to day lives of people with disability, promote participation, remove discrimination and create a more inclusive society.
This is why I am excited about my role as Parliamentary Secretary. It is a role in which I want to have an open exchange of ideas as to how we can make this sector better for people with disability.
This is why I am pleased to be here today with Endeavour Foundation stakeholders, people with disability, their friends and families, their carers and their advocates.
I regard Endeavour as a friend, having been invited for many years to present the end-of-year awards at the farm near Mareeba and having an ongoing relationship with the Cairns workplace.
The work done by Endeavour has helped countless numbers of people with a disability lead more fulfilling lives.
You have employed people with disability and helped them get the care and support they need, but most importantly, you are helping them stand up for their rights, stay connected with the community and get a roof over their heads.
It’s this level of commitment over the past 60 years that has delivered so much support to the communities of Queensland and more recently, New South Wales.
And it all began when a group of Queensland mothers refused to accept the attitude that their children with an intellectual disability could not receive an education.
Sixty years ago, I am sure they could not have imagined the impact they would have on the lives of people with disability today.
And today I wish to recognise and congratulate the work of the Area Committees, people with disability, and their families from across Queensland and NSW.
I applaud you for raising awareness of the important role people with disability have in our community, and showcasing the extraordinary contributions they make to their communities.
The Australian Government is proud to support the Foundation with an estimated $22 million this year, through the Disability Employment Assistance Program.
This funding, as you know, is helping to provide jobs for people with disability in businesses such as recycling, manufacturing, sewing and plant nurseries.
One great example is Endeavour Foundation’s Northgate site which you would all be quite familiar with.
This service provides employment and training opportunities for 142 people with disability in the community.
Not only is it giving them a chance to learn skills including in packaging, mailing, collation and assembly – they also can interact with one another and make friends.
This is what it is all about – giving people with disability every opportunity and support to contribute to the community.
Of course, we cannot talk about people with disability without also talking about the army of people who care and support for them.
We owe a great debt to those who take on caring responsibilities, often making personal sacrifices to help people with disability lead more fulfilling and healthy lives.
And this Government wants to show carers that we are serious about recognising your sacrifice by providing practical, on-the-ground services to help ease your work load.
We are proud of our achievements on issues affecting people with disability and carers.
Perhaps the most significant of these is the increase to the pension rate.
An increase which delivers extra support to an estimated 793,000 people on the Disability Support Pension, and the 169,000 people receiving a Carer Payment.
We have also taken major steps towards helping people with disability join and remain in the workforce with a $1.2 billion investment into an employment services program and a $41 million innovation fund.
These programs reflect our view that not only is finding work good for building our nation’s prosperity but it is valuable in giving people dignity and economic independence.
We are proud to have reached a new National Disability Agreement, which commenced on 1 January 2009.
From 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2014, we will be providing more than $6.2 billion to the State and Territory Governments for increased and improved specialist disability services, such as supported accommodation, targeted support and respite.
This is just a snapshot of some our reforms in the disability sector.
Government’s election commitments
We recognise of course that is still much to be done.
During the recent election campaign, we announced our Better Start for Children with Disability initiative, which will commence July 2011.
This program, which builds on the success of the Helping Children with Autism package, will provide up to $12,000 for early intervention services to help the families of children under six years of age who have been diagnosed with sight or hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome.
For families with older children, Medicare rebates for a range of allied health services will be available for children up to the age of 15, provided a diagnosis has been made, and a treatment and management plan is in place before the age of 13.
We also pledged to establish a new $60 million capital fund to build community-based supported accommodation places for people with disability. This means that for the first time, community organisations will be able to apply for direct capital funding from the Federal Government.
National Disability Strategy
Beyond those new programs, we are continuing with initiatives we started in our first term in office, including the National Disability Strategy.
The ten year Strategy will provide a national framework to drive future reforms in both mainstream systems and the disability service system for people with disability, their families and carers.
The Strategy has been developed in consultation with people with disability, the community, State and Territory Governments and local governments.
National Disability Insurance Scheme
As part of this Strategy, we have asked the Productivity Commission to investigate new approaches for funding to better meet the long-term needs of people with disability, their families and carers.
We need to seriously examine whether a long-term care and support scheme is appropriate for Australia.
Which is why we have provided $640,000 to help people with disability, their families and carers contribute to the National Disability Strategy, including this Inquiry.
The Commission expects to release its draft report in February next year and its final report to Government is due in July next year.
I encourage you to make submission to the Inquiry once the draft has been released.
The Inquiry is an initial step to build an evidence base required for Government to consider future changes.
Disability Support Pension
I mentioned earlier that the Government has already delivered a significant boost to payments including the Disability Support Pension (DSP).
But as many of you will be aware, these are only some of the changes to the DSP.
From the middle of this year, we introduced a number of changes to improve the assessment process for the DSP and help recipients to re-enter the workforce. These include:
- Allowing more people with terminal illness or profound disability to be fast-tracked onto payment without being unnecessarily referred for a Job Capacity Assessment;
- Establishing a Health Professional Advice Unit in Centrelink; and
- Reviewing the Impairment Tables – which assess work-related impairment for claiming the DSP.
While I understand some of these changes will not be popular with everyone, they are necessary to make sure the DSP is sustainable into the future and that people with capacity to work are able to make the most of their skills.
Australian Disability Enterprises
Many of you here today will also be aware that the Government is committed to a 10 year vision for the supported employment sector.
The Vision will aim to improve economic and social inclusion in supported employment for people with disability, and strengthen the sustainability of Australian Disability Enterprises.
Consultations are being held at the moment to seek the views of Australian Disability Enterprise employees and providers on how to achieve improvement in the supported employment sector.
Some of you here today would have participated in these consultations and I welcome your input. There is still an opportunity to have your say and I encourage you to do this
One issue I am well aware of is the ageing of the Australian Disability Enterprise workforce.
The issue of ageing is one that is affecting not just employees in Enterprises but also the entire population of people with disability, and the Australian population more broadly.
With this in mind, we need to consider this issue holistically, with other Australian Government departments, and State and Territory Government jurisdictions.
You will be aware that we are currently piloting retirement transition options at three sites in NSW, Victoria and in the Australian Capital Territory.
In addition, we are exploring this issue more broadly at a Senior Officer level across Australian, State and Territory Governments. These issues are complex, and will take time to work through.
However, I want to assure you that we are aware of concerns in relation to this issue.
The Government is also working on a National Carer Strategy.
Just a few weeks ago, as part of Carers Week celebrations, I launched a discussion paper on the Strategy, which you can access online.
It will bring together reforms occurring in the disability, mental health, primary health, hospitals and aged care systems so that they can be considered from the point of view of how they will impact on the wellbeing of carers over the next 10 years.
Each and every one of these initiatives is about improving the lives of people with disability and the people who care and support them.
We want to encourage greater participation in work and community, and remove all barriers, including discrimination, which prevent these Australians from helping to create a more inclusive society.
This Government is about listening to the community and taking action.
And while a great deal has been done in disability policy over the past three years there are still many more challenges ahead.
And as the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, I look forward to tackling those challenges head on.
I want to thank the Endeavour Foundation for inviting me here today, and I thank all of you for coming and taking such an interest in these important issues.
I’m very keen to hear your questions and ideas for the future.
I am happy to take questions now, and if you don’t get a chance to ask in this forum, I will be here for morning tea and am happy to speak to you then.