Interview, ABC Stateline
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JESSICA van VONDEREN: The United Nations records people with a disability as the largest minority in the world, and one of the most disadvantaged. It’s also found that despite discrimination laws, human rights are not guaranteed for people with disabilities. Last month, Australia was one of 30 nations to sign an international convention designed to ensure those rights are delivered. This week, work started nationally on the enormous task of making the rights into laws. But Parliament Secretary for Disabilities Bill Shorten says it’ll take more than new law to bring about real equality. He was in Brisbane this week to speak at a conference about those channels. Kathy McLeish speak to him.
KATHY MCLEISH: How will the UN convention of rights for people with disabilities make a difference?
BILL SHORTEN, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR DISABILITIES: What the UN convention does its 34 articles or 34 headings, chapters, and they outline a whole range of responsibilities which governments all round the world should sign up to about the way they treat people with disabilities. That goes from economic participation, through to social opportunities, through to making sure they’ve got adequate levels of housing, education, right through to recreation and the arts. So it sets a standard of performance which decisions in Australia have to match up to. We’re putting our hand up. We’re one of the first Western countries in the world to say, “We want to be held accountable by international standards”.
KATHY MCLESIH: It’s about implementation and enforcement of those rights isn’t it?
BILL SHORTEN: Well the way I’d characterisation improvements of situation with people with disabilities, it’s almost like a series of mountain peaks and a lot of troughs. Periodically we pass a new law, with the international year in the early ’80s, the discrimination Act in the early ’90s but we had a lot of flat lining in between. And what’s happened in the last 10, 12 years and let’s be really blunt – is you’re less likely to have a job, less likely to have an educational opportunity. Yet your finding it harder to make ends meet if you’ve got a disability or care for someone. What we’ve got to turn convention into a reality.
KATHY MCLEISH: That means incorporating those rights into law and backing them, doesn’t it? And what will that mean to the States?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, the Federal and State Governments are working together. We found Lindy Nelson Carr in Queensland a good minister to work with. We’re able to open up lines of communication the Prime Minister and Jenny Macklin, my boss, have been able to allocate literally hundreds of millions of dollars extra to the State of Queensland to assist in the provision of disability services. But it’s more than just governments working together. There’s a whole lot of people in the community who’ve got to start speaking up. What I’d really like to see one day is someone on a wheelchair if they can’t get on the bus it’s not the person on the wheelchair has to complain, it’s that everyone riding the bus says, “Hey, I want my friend to ride this bus”. What we’ve got to get over our hang-ups. It’s not the impairment that’s the problem; it’s the attitudes of everyone else who disable the person with impairment.
KATHY MCLEISH: It’s going to be a huge task isn’t it. Just how much needs to be done to change the way people think about disability?
BILL SHORTEN: Well first of all, we’ve got to get it up the charts. Governments have to take it more seriously and the Rudd Government is going to develop a national disability strategy, which is good. We’re going to get departments talking to each other. But at even more fundamental level about how do we get these things happening? What we’ve got to do is the private sector has to start employing more people with disability. They say there’s a labour shortage yet there’s three-quarters of a million Australians who can’t get a job on the disability support pension, many of whom would love to work. I think we’ve got to start the media has to start reporting disability, not between either miracle cure or abuse stories. I do believe the government’s got to lead the way in terms of employing more people and I do think we’ve got to make it easier for carers to be able to get the mix right. More respite, more long-term accommodation. The heart-breaking problems that I and other Labor politicians encounter is when you get an ageing parent or parents in their 70s or 80s or even 90s who are looking after an adult child with a severe disability. They just want to know that if they predecease their child there’ll be adequate and dignified accommodation and options for their child. We can’t make that promise in Australia at the moment, and the system’s letting people down.
KATHY MCLEISH: Personally for you you’ve come from unions, now to disability do you see parallels?
BILL SHORTEN: I thought I’d seen unfair treatment in the workplace, but nothing prepared me for the systematic second-class discrimination against people with disability. But I enjoy fighting for the underdog. I think that I hate seeing the waste of human talent which is currently what happens with people with disability. Serving in the Rudd Government is a privilege and working with people with disability and their families and carers, that’s a fantastic opportunity to right some wrongs.
KATHY MCLEISH: Thanks for joining us.
BILL SHORTEN: Thank you Kathy.