Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Shut Out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia, National People with Disabilities and Carer Council Report Launch

Location: Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

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I want to first acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation.

So much has been invested in this report.

By so many people.

Rhonda and Kirsten, the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council and the many others whose dedication and determination made it happen.

The thousands of people across the country who went along to the consultation sessions and wrote submissions.

Two and a half thousand attending forums and focus groups. Seven hundred and fifty putting their feelings on paper.

I want to say thank you to all of you.

And I want you to know that we get the message.

For those of us who haven’t lived with a disability, it is impossible to understand your deep frustration.

And we cannot know the true depth of your exclusion.

As one person said so poignantly in their submission: ‘We can put men on the moon, we can go to war, but we cannot fulfil basic needs enabling our disabled community to live with human dignity.’

It’s up to all of us to put the same effort into fixing the system for people with disability as we did in getting to the moon.

This is the way we can bring about real change for people with disability.

Many issues were raised in the report – too many to canvas in detail here today.

But overwhelmingly it opens our eyes to what life is like when you are ‘shut out’ from the opportunities most people enjoy and, indeed, expect in their lives.

‘Shut out’ too because of the stereotyping and prejudice that people with disability face every day.

But this is no plea for special treatment.

This is a call for access to the same opportunities that others of us have – the opportunity for people with disability to fulfil their potential.

To deny that opportunity is to lose the enormous contribution people with disability can make.

We need to ask how many gifted thinkers, artists and leaders we are depriving ourselves of because of the inability to think beyond a person’s disability.

Again a quote in the report says it all – the experience of a child at school: ‘I remember my Year 8 science teacher said she couldn’t wear my microphone because it put holes in her clothes. I couldn’t do anything about it… she was the teacher and I was the student. I failed Year 8 science but it had nothing to do with my ability because in Year 9 science I had a teacher who wore the microphone and I topped the class.’

All of us here know we face huge challenges in changing attitudes.

The Government is determined to work with you to make sure people with disability have the opportunity to be involved in their communities, where possible have a job and a life that is meaningful and worthwhile.

After years of neglect there is a lot of catching up to do. But we’ve made a start:

  • Doubling the funding to the States and Territories under the National Disability Agreement, including the highest ever level of growth funding;
  • Increasing the Disability Support Pension for around 720,000 Australians. Carers on Carer Payment will also receive the increases, as well as an annual carer supplement to give carers certainty and security;
  • Ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – one of the first Western countries to do so.

And in 2007, before we were in Government, committing to developing a National Disability Strategy with the states and territories.

And we are delivering on that promise.

Signalling a new era of cooperation, ending the blame game, working in partnership with state and territory governments to work together to improve the lives of people with disability and their carers.

So that we can reform the disability services system to focus on early intervention and tailor it to meet each person’s different needs.

To help with this, last year, Bill Shorten and I established the National People with Disability and Carer Council.

Because unlike the previous government which gagged the community sector we want you to speak out.

It’s why we asked the Council to undertake this report because if we’re to get the National Disability Strategy right, we need to hear it straight from you.

And that’s what you’ve given us in this report. The real and human experience of the barriers people with disability encounter every day of their lives.

Seeing the world through their eyes.

Sometimes confronting, sometimes disturbing.

But essential if we are give Australians with disability the opportunities they so clearly need and want.

Thank you again for your hard work and commitment.