Speech by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Launch of The Economic Impact of Cerebral Palsy in Australia in 2007


Good morning everyone. I’m very pleased to be here. This is a good report. What I’d like to do in launching the report is not necessarily just repeating the statistics which you just heard and frankly, Laze (Pejoski, Senior Economist, Access Economics) knows them better than me anyway.

What I’d like to do today is give you an outline about what I think the report means, and what is the new Federal Government doing in the area of disability, and explain how I think this report enhances what we’re doing and gives us some lessons for what we’re doing. In other words, it’s good to launch a report, but where does it go? What are the consequences of this report, and what does it mean for people with Cerebral Palsy and their families?

I have to say the first observation I want to make to you as the new Parliamentary Secretary is: it’s good to have information, but information only becomes really powerful when it’s applied, and when it’s applied in households and families. Disability is a poor cousin of public policy in Australia. Not because it’s not important, but because it hasn’t received enough importance. So the first observation I’d like to make about this report is, it’s just good research, it’s powerful research, it’s research which redefines the challenge.

Too many Australians treat disability as invisible. Now obviously none of you here treat it as invisible, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But unless you live a life with an impairment, or you care for someone with a significant impairment, it doesn’t affect you. So one of the greatest challenges is, how do we get people who are not affected by disability, or at least who think they’re not affected by disability, how do we get them to join the dots and make this important?

I thought I’d seen unfair conduct in my old role as a union rep, but disability is second class, and in fact I was reprimanded by a parent yesterday in Perth, disability isn’t second class in Australia, it’s almost third class. A worrying statistic that leapt out at me is that depending on your socio-economic background, prevalence of CP is greater. This is a complicated but not complex problem. A complex problem is one where people haven’t worked out the answers. A complicated problem is one where we know the answers, there’s just a lot of answers involved. And I see this as a complicated challenge where there’s a lot of things that need to be done.

I like the recommendations. The new Government is proposing to do more in the employment space, we’re very committed to early intervention, we are very committed to try and join up government. These are the things which we get told, but I do consider that disability is probably – and I guess I would because it’s my area of responsibility, and despite all the good work the people in this room have done – it is without a doubt one of the major public policy failings in Australia in the last two decades. How can we live in a country where incomes have gone up? Prices have gone up too, but incomes have gone up, housing values have gone up? For many categories of cohorts of Australians we have full employment, and yet at the same time people with a disability, people on the Disability Support Pension, have missed out even more than ever before? And there’s more people on the DSP than ever before. I don’t regard that having a lot of people on the DSP means we’ve got a lot of people rorting the system. In fact what it tells me is that public policy in Australia has surrendered the challenge of including people with disability and their families. So I think the second point out of this research is it highlights to me, the complete failure of both sides of politics in the last number of decades to do enough about disability.

Which really leads me to the third and final point which I’d like to look talk about. When I say complete failure I’m not making a partisan point about either side, it’s more about this invisibility factor. The third point which I wanted to make is; if we’re going to have a new disability strategy in Australia, the disability sector needs to do their politics differently. I must get the completely accurate translation of what Einstein said, but I think he did make this basic point. That if you know that something isn’t working, to keep doing it the same way and expect a different result – well it’s not going to happen is it? And that’s what I think we’ve been doing in disability, just bits of money here and there is not going to bring change.

The reason why this is good report is because it’s building new allies and new arguments. You can no longer look at disability just as charity, every human being is worth investment, and you’ve got to have an optimistic view of every human being as a potential contributor. And the discussion of productivity and economics is not economic rationalism to me, but in fact it’s redefining a person with impairment as someone with a contribution, it’s not focussing on the disability, it’s focussing on the ability. It’s not getting distracted by one issue, it’s understanding and appreciating that human beings have all got something wonderful within them, and society is better at giving people the chance to bring out and distil what’s inherent within their capacity, and the whole of society benefits.

So I see this research as good because it provides new and detailed data. Data in the disability sector is hopeless. We quote stats from the ABS in 2003, we need to our numbers a lot more focussed this is why this is powerful. We also need to draw attention to the issues, but also we need new allies and new ways of empowering people with disability. That means saying disability is not just a charity issue, it’s not just a medical issue. It’s an economic issue and at its core it’s a society issue which means that people should be able to participate, not because of their impairment, but because of all the abilities people have within them. So I’m disturbed by what I read. I’m empowered by what I read.

I think the new Government wants to be a champion. On July the 17th we managed in pretty quick time to ratify the UN Convention on Rights of People with Disability. We will use that Convention to form the chapters of the disability strategy. We do want to have long term accommodation for children of ageing carers so that the anxiety which so many parents feel, ‘what will happen to my child if I pre-decease them?’ We can give them some comfort.

I’ll conclude on this point. In the fourteenth century they said world was flat. That if you sailed too far to edge you’d fall off the end. Now we’ve learnt since then. The point about that is, people with disability and their families regularly sail off the end of the Earth. For them, the world is still flat. Can you get early intervention? Don’t know. What happens in the primary school system? Hard. Then you move to the secondary system, but what do you do after school years? And what about a whole-of-life approach to people, regarding people them as people, not units to be fitted in different departments depending on particular issues with age in geography?

So I think the challenge is to turn this report into meaningful policy for families. If a family’s got to move around Australia or overseas just to get the care they need then this country’s letting them down. You know we are excited about the Beijing Olympics in a couple of day’s time. If we don’t do well in the swimming pool there’ll be a national inquiry, with four Access Economics reports on it. But, we’re not coming first when it comes to disability – we are in some areas but in many areas we’re not. So the power of this report is that we can make this nation the most generous on the Earth in terms of providing people hope in their lives. So I think this report is another valuable extension on trying to put people with disability, people with CP, in the middle of our society, not at the margins. So I congratulate CP Australia, I thank all your societies, I congratulate Access Economics on helping, because that’s what we all want to do. Thank you.