Speech by The Hon Jane Prentice MP

Down Syndrome Australia Strategy Meeting 2017


Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today.

I am sorry I can’t be with you in person for your Strategy Day, but I do want to congratulate you all for the incredibly important work you do at Down Syndrome Australia.

I want to acknowledge your efforts in breaking down barriers for people with Down Syndrome by raising awareness and making communities more inclusive.

By sharing the experiences and challenges people with Down Syndrome and their families face you are changing attitudes.

I particularly enjoyed reading on social media earlier this year, the heart-warming stories during the lead up to World Down Syndrome Day.

These delightful stories really highlighted what someone with Down Syndrome can achieve in Australia – if they are given the opportunity.

The Life Project in the ACT and the National Down Syndrome Capacity Building Toolkit Project you deliver are helping to ensure that people with Down Syndrome connect with their communities, using the same services and participating in the same activities as everyone else.

The ultimate goal for all of us, is that people with Down Syndrome are able to live how they choose.

My vision is to ensure that people with disability, including Down Syndrome, have the opportunity to participate fully in their communities.

I don’t have to tell anyone at this meeting that people with disability want what we all want, to be valued and to live fulfilling lives as equal citizens in accessible and inclusive societies.

At a Government level we are strongly committed to this vision through a number of our policies and programs, including the National Disability Strategy, as well as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The NDIS can and will transform the lives of people with permanent and significant disability.

The NDIS represents a significant shift in the delivery of services for people with disability and will have far reaching effects.

We are committed to properly and sustainably fund the NDIS so Australians with disability, have access to individualised packages of support that match their circumstances and needs so that everyone, no matter who they are, has the opportunity to achieve in life.

The scheme recognises that most families cannot adequately prepare for the risks and financial impacts of significant disability.

This relates to another crucial area of my portfolio – carers. We all know Down Syndrome has an impact on the whole family, not only the individual. Carers make an incredible contribution to Australian life, often in the face of significant challenges.

I am sure you would be aware that the total replacement cost of informal care has been estimated to be as high as $60.3 billion a year.

Nearly 2.7 million Australians care for someone with disability, a medical condition, mental illness or someone who is frail.

The Government appreciates this and is committed to delivering a range of programs that assist and support carers in their role.

We spent more than $8.3 billion on carer payments in 2016-17.

Employment offers both economic security and independence and it is an area in which I am especially interested, indeed determined.

We are taking steps to increase employer demand for people with disability and provide better support to assist people with disability to remain in employment.

Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) play an important role in supporting people with disability, allowing them to enter the workforce more easily, connect socially with others and have a sense of independence.

There are now more than 180 ADEs with 283 outlets across Australia employing more than 20,000 people with disability.

We are well advanced in preparing a new model for Disability Employment Services (DES) to start in July 2018 following extensive consultation with the disability and employment sector.

The Government will continue to invest around $800 million a year through DES to assist job seekers with disability to gain employment and to support people with disability in the workplace.

We are also committed to disability advocacy services and recently announced funding extensions to the National Disability Advocacy Program the NDIS Appeals Program as well as a funding process for the Disability Representative Organisations.

The funding extensions will ensure skilled and appropriate advocacy services are accessible to those who need them most.

Advocacy reforms will be phased in over the next two years and will include:

  • a move to a more person centred approach
  • improved coordination of systemic issues
  • a greater focus on helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability
  • funding for interpreter services to help culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability
  • improved reporting of outcomes

We look forward to continuing to engage with Down Syndrome Australia to enhance the future advocacy approach for these programs to better inform governments of the outcomes for people with disability and the community.

Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today.

As in all areas of human endeavour there is always more work to be done, but I would like to think that I am involved in Disability Services at a time when there is enormous support and good will for our policies and programs.

I wish you all the best as you develop your strategic plan to improve the lives of people with Down Syndrome.

You are indeed privileged to work with this incredibly joyful group of extraordinary Australians and I commend the systemic advocacy you do and the important role you play to give people with Down Syndrome a national voice.