Speech by The Hon Jane Prentice MP

Parliamentary Friends Group for Eye Health and Vision Care Dinner

Good evening and it’s lovely to see so many people here this evening to discuss the very important issue of employment of people with disability, in particular, those with vision impairment.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Thank you to Aunty Agnes for the welcome to country.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Alastair McEwin, Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner and a wonderful contributor to disability rights
  • Carla Northam – Vision 2020 CEO
  • Former Senator, the Hon Amanda Vanstone (tbc)
  • Representatives of Vision 2020 partner organisations
  • My parliamentary colleagues.

It is an honour to be here, not only in my role as the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, but also to represent the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull.

The Parliamentary Friends group remind us of the values and principles that bind all of us in this iconic place. Eye health and vision care is a cause we can and should support.

I commend Vision 2020 on advocating for the elimination of preventable blindness and vision loss for close to twenty years. Vision 2020 is a strong voice in ensuring Australia meets our obligations to the World Health Organisation’s Universal Eye Health: a global action plan 2014-2019.

I acknowledge the work done by you and other partners of the Global Consortium for Eye Health, (many of whom are represented here tonight), to make a positive impact both here and in the Indo – Pacific region, in tackling preventable blindness. You are important advocates for equality of access and opportunity for people who are blind or vision impaired.

As the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, I am passionate about access to employment for people with disability including people who are blind or vision impaired.

The Turnbull government is putting in place policies that create the right conditions for people with disability to find and maintain employment. This will help them to achieve economic security and independence.

Australia’s National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 aims to ensure that people with disability have fair access to everything from public buildings, to employment, healthcare, education, transport and housing. Implementation of the Strategy will make a difference in the way people with disability live; in shaping attitudes; and in recognising diversity in every day life.

Improvements have been significant, but there is more to do.

Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) play an important role in supporting people with disability in the workplace. We have more than 180 ADEs that employ more than 20,000 people with disability Australia-wide.

Over the past two years there has been ongoing consultation across both the disability and employment sectors to implement significant reforms to our Disability Employment Services (DES).

In the next four years $3 billion will be invested in DES and other services to help people with disability to secure long-term employment.

This new model, due to start in July, will give people with disability more choice and control when seeking employment. It will build stronger links between employers and people with disability and enable employers to experience the benefits of a diverse workforce, including the valuable contributions made by people with disability.

We have also introduced AccessAbility Day that aims to bring people with disability and employers together for one day. Employers can connect with a person with disability and see their potential in the workplace, while people with disability can have an opportunity to experience a workplace or role.

AccessAbility Day will be rolled out nationally this year and will open doors for employers to a new pool of talented and capable individuals

Last November I attended an annual workshop bringing people with disability, employers and government representatives together to plan ways to improve employment outcomes for people with disability.

Some very innovative ideas were presented: for example, how to raise awareness of all the important and valuable contributions people with disability bring to the workforce; how to best support self-employment and entrepreneurship; sharing success stories and how to connect people to the right job for them.

It is an important part of our broader policy direction to grow the economy and increase employment opportunities, so that each individual is afforded the right to work, to contribute to their family and community, to be independent, and to enjoy the social and economic benefits that come with employment.

I am sure all of you here this evening are aware of the National Disability Insurance Scheme – the most significant social reform Australia has seen since Medicare. Full rollout is expected by 2020, and will support around 460,000 Australians with significant and permanent disability. Employment supports are available in a NDIS participant’s plan.

Eye health and vision care are essential to prevent vision impairment and blindness. We must do everything we can to increase access to preventative measures for communities in Australia, and around our region.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, eye health is a serious concern. We are the only country in the developed world where endemic levels of trachoma still exist, together with high levels of glaucoma and cataracts. The impacts of diabetes on eye health remains high. Like ear health, untreated eye conditions and the resulting loss of capacity can have compounding effects on the disadvantage for Indigenous Australians.

Last year the government announced an investment of $3 million for the Australian Government Plan to Improve Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People with Disability. The plan recognises that disability support for Indigenous Australians must be culturally competent, delivered to meet the cultural and social needs of these communities, and help with the unique supports individuals need, including in regards to work, and as the Prime Minister said today in his ‘Close the Gap’ address, we must deliver these programs with the Indigenous groups not TO them, if they are to succeed.

This support ensures people have the services they need delivered in the way that suits them best. This allows people to succeed and makes our communities stronger, safer, more cohesive and more inclusive.

The former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said so well:

“The overriding thing for me in the disability field is working to achieve attitude change. The way society needs to see people with disabilities is just as agents of our own destiny. Getting on, living normal lives, raising children holding down jobs.”

This is what I think we all wish to achieve through our work – to take action to stop preventable conditions affecting people’s lives, and to create the conditions where everyone, regardless of ability, are supported to live the life they want.

I congratulate Vision2020 on the contribution you make every day to the lives of more than 453,000 Australians who are blind or vision impaired.

I look forward to continuing our work together and thank you so very much for the chance to speak tonight.