Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Inaugural Yooralla Chairman’s Award – Award to John Walsh AM

Location: Melbourne

Thank you Bruce [Bonyhady], for your kind introduction.

Thank you also for your wonderful years of service to this organisation, Yooralla, and to people with disability, their families and carers across Australia through your long-standing and tireless advocacy.

I’d like to assure each of you here tonight that there have not been many weeks during my time as Minister when I haven’t been the recipient of some of this tireless advocacy.

I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation who are the traditional custodians of this land and pay respect to their elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Hon Justice Karin Emerton;

  • Parliamentarians Danielle Green and Andrea Coote;
  • Senator Mitch Fifield;
  • Members of the Yooralla Board;

And of course, John Walsh.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you all tonight to present, with Bruce, the first Yooralla Chairman’s Award.

Yooralla Chairman’s Award

For nearly 100 years, Yooralla has been working with people with a disability, their families and carers to build a better life.

Today, Yooralla supports around 30,000 Victorians with disability, from little children of pre-school age through school and into adulthood.

But this organisation also has embraced a responsibility to make our broader community more understanding and more accessible to people with disability.

The Yooralla Media Awards for journalists and media reward the contribution of those who have shed light on the experience of disability.

And now, the Yooralla Chairman’s Award recognises the contributions of those who have excelled in creating change for people with disability.

Who have broadened understanding and awareness of disability.

Have improved access and opportunity.

Who have changed how the world relates to people with disability, their families and carers.

I can think of no more fitting time to start this award.

Because today, disability is bursting from hidden struggles in homes around the country to the front pages of our newspapers.

The emergence of disability from the dark is the result of the courage of people with disability, and their families and carers who have told their stories.

It’s because of organisations like Yooralla campaigning to have these stories told and to have these stories heard.

It’s because of the determination of campaigners like Bruce Bonyhady who have knocked on doors in Canberra and in Spring Street week after week, year after year, to instill in our leaders the will to act.

And it’s because of the strength of the disability community to come together, differences aside, and join a single chorus to call for change.

It’s also because of the brilliance of an idea.

A single idea that has allowed the opportunity and the enthusiasm to coalesce.

Friends, that is what we are here to celebrate tonight – the brilliance of an idea and of the man who took a spark and turned it into a flame.

The man who conceived of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

That man is John Walsh – who conceived of a system of care and support that recognises that disability is for a lifetime – and so takes a lifelong approach to care and support.

A system that takes an insurance approach.

That creates an incentive for a person with disability to live a strong and independent life.

A scheme that gives people with disability more choice and control over the support they receive.

A system fundamentally and completely different from the system we know today.

Each of you wake each day to the frustrations of the current system.

A system that doesn’t support long-term, sustainable care, and doesn’t encourage community support.

Instead it exploits the love of family carers, too often leaving them exhausted and alone.

It doesn’t support people with disabilities to live strong and independent lives.

And it doesn’t give people choice and control over the care and support they receive.

Instead it forces people to beg for everything in the hope they will get something.

The system we have today has been described by the Productivity Commission as ‘unfair, underfunded, fragmented and inefficient.’

But Australians expect more than a life on charity for people with disability.

Because disability doesn’t discriminate.

On average, every 30 minutes someone in Australia is diagnosed with a significant disability.

Any one of us could fall off a ladder or have a stroke. Any one of us could have a child or grandchild born with a disability.

And no one knows this better than the man we celebrate tonight, John Walsh.

He was a young man of 20 when he fractured his spine in a game of rugby league.

The injury left him a paraplegic.

It hasn’t dampened his passion for sport, as regulars to the Sydney test will confirm.

And it hasn’t dampened his determination – but it certainly made life harder.

Especially when faced with a system that discouraged rather than encouraged opportunity for people with disability.

Anyone who knows of John’s determination will know that discouragement isn’t something likely to stop him in his tracks.

John has dedicated himself to ensuring that people with disability are afforded the chance to live a life of respect and dignity.

He has done this in his work with PricewaterhouseCoopers working to get fair compensation for clients in the accident, health, and disability areas.

He has done this in his work to establish the NSW Lifetime Care & Support Scheme.

He has advised the NSW government on future demand and funding requirements for disability services, homelessness services, Indigenous disadvantage, the NSW Motor Accidents Authority, and the NSW HomeCare Service.

And in 2008 John was integral in studying options for increasing investment opportunities in the disability sector through the Disability Investment Group.

The group set up by my former Parliamentary Secretary and now Cabinet colleague, another champion for change, Bill Shorten.

It was this work – as an actuary and as an activist – that led John to consider for the first time the idea of universal insurance for the cost of significant and permanent disability.

The brilliant idea.

A National Disability Insurance Scheme, that would insure all Australians for the cost of care and support in the event of significant and permanent disability.

Four years on – through the architecture of John Walsh and his colleagues at the Productivity Commission, and through the advocacy and activism of people like Bruce Bonyhady — this idea has been actioned.

We are building an NDIS.

And of course, we are doing it with John, who is working closely with my department to help the Government build the case for root and branch reform of disability support services.


John is a single voice but he is a persuasive one.

His voice has been joined by more than 110,000 people who have made their voices heard in the Every Australian Counts campaign.

Next week the momentum will continue with rallies around the country in support of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It’s the confluence of an amazing series of events and people, who have come together to create the change we want to see for people with disability, their families and carers.

It will make a great book some day.

But in the book will be a chapter dedicated to the architect of change: John Walsh.

John has been a deserving appointee of a Member of the Order of Australia in 2011, and received the Prime Minister’s Award for outstanding service to the disability sector.

And now, Bruce and I now have the honour of formally announcing you as the inaugural recipient of the Yooralla Chairman’s Award.

Thank you.