Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Speech to the 2014 National Disability Awards, Great Hall, Parliament House Canberra

Ladies and gentlemen, you look magnificent. What a great night. This, for me, is always the highlight of the year.

At the outset, can I acknowledge and thank Shane and Charlie for their warm and wonderful welcome this evening.

And can I also thank Kieran Gilbert for being our Master of Ceremonies tonight. Kieran, as well as being a senior member of the press gallery here in Canberra, is also a passionate advocate for people with disability. And Kieran is very sneaky as a journalist – whenever I’m on Sky being interviewed by Kieran about the issues of the day, Kieran always manages to work in a question – “Mitch, how’s the NDIS going? How is it tracking?” He is always advocating and pushing for the cause. So Kieran, thank you so much for your support and for being our MC tonight.

We were joined earlier this evening for drinks by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and by the Leader of Opposition, Bill Shorten. I think their presence earlier tonight here together demonstrated that in all of what transpires under this roof, there is one area of policy that is beyond partisanship. And I think that is a credit to the Parliament.

Can I also acknowledge a few of my other colleagues who are here tonight, the Shadow Ministers in this portfolio area – Jenny Macklin, Claire Moore and Helen Polley. Christine Milne, the Leader of the Australian Greens, Rachel Siewert, who is my counterpart in the Australian Greens. My ministerial colleagues – Marise Payne and Paul Fletcher. The Father of the House, Phillip Ruddock.

I also want to make two special mentions. Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, who is the Commander of the Australian Fleet of the Australian Navy, and is a patron of wheelchair rugby. He always reminds me that it’s wheelchair rugby, not wheelchair rugby league. An important distinction.

We’re also joined tonight by the 2014 Patron of the International Day of People with Disability – outstanding Australian and paralympian Jacqui Freney. Jacqui thank you so much for being our patron and for being with us tonight.

Disability is fortunately an area where the Parliament comes together. Where we look to the national interest. And tonight is an opportunity to say to all of my parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the aisle, thank you for your support.

But most importantly, tonight is a night to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that we are, as a nation, embracing diversity. Embracing inclusion. And Australians with disability are starting, at long last, to get the better deal that they deserve.

We do still have further to go in that venture. The NDIS is still in its early stages. But we as a Government, we as a Parliament, are absolutely committed to seeing the NDIS rolled out and rolled out in full.

But we also need to recognise that the NDIS isn’t, and won’t be, the answer or the solution to everything. That all levels of government still have to maintain – through the National Disability Strategy – their commitment to providing the sort of society, the sort of community and the sort of infrastructure that all Australians are entitled to expect.

Tonight is a night to above all to thank and acknowledge the people who are the award nominees tonight, and who will be the award winners. There are good things happening across the nation. It is important that we acknowledge that and that we celebrate the individuals and the organisations who are seeking to make a difference in their community.

Tonight isn’t the night to hear from Members of Parliament, from politicians. Tonight is a night to see the good work that is happening and to hear from the award recipients. I’m very much looking forward to the acceptance speeches from those who are successful tonight.

Thank you again for being here and let’s celebrate the good things that are happening in our nation.

Thanks very much.