Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Video address to the ‘Social Inclusion by Design’ Forum

Location: 'Social Inclusion by Design' Forum, Canberra


It is a pleasure to deliver the opening message today at the ‘Social Inclusion by Design’ forum.

Can I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal People and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I congratulate the Council of the Ageing for organising this forum, which will generate ideas and promote community, capacity and connectivity for senior Australians.

Senior Australians make a significant contribution to the Australian way of life. They are grandparents and parents, carers, business owners and employees. They work, they volunteer, they participate in lifelong learning, and they transfer their knowledge and skills to younger generations.

This forum presents a timely opportunity for senior Australians to have your views heard and come together with policy experts, community organisations, service delivery agents and academics to consider how public policies, communities and services can take a social inclusion approach.

Social inclusion is about creating a stronger, fairer Australia. It’s about how we see ourselves and our values as a nation reflected in the way we treat people, and it’s our vision for the kind of civil society in which we want to live.

Put simply, our social inclusion vision is for all Australians to have the capacity and opportunity to work, learn, engage and have a voice.

To achieve our vision, we need to take a new approach to developing and implementing policy. The continuing existence of severe disadvantage in our country is a clear sign that the old ways have not worked. We need new approaches that are collaborative and innovative, that ‘wrap’ services around individuals and communities.

We have been working to coordinate our policies and actions across national, state and local governments, and with the community sector. This means working together with a unity of purpose through established mechanisms such as the Council of Australian Governments, and creating new partnerships to ensure ‘joined up’ efforts and broad ranging expertise.

This is why forums such as todays make such a powerful contribution to the government’s social inclusion work. We want to hear the voices of Australia who ever they are – those at risk of exclusion and those who advocate for them – and work with community groups to ensure that vulnerable people remain connected to our community.

The recently tabled senate inquiry report into residential and community aged care in Australia highlighted the vulnerabilities of some senior Australians and we’re very mindful of this.

We want to make sure that as we enter our senior years, we are able to remain connected to and included in our communities.

Everyone needs to have a sense of belonging.

One part of this is about ensuring senior Australians have the resources to be engaged in the community.

In the budget, the government made a number of changes to the pension system to provide greater financial security to our age, carer and disability pensioners. This included a boost to the age pension – something for which I know COTA over 50s has been strongly advocating.

We also want to ensure that senior Australians have opportunities to engage with the community through work, mentoring and volunteering. So we’ve changed the level of earnings before the aged pension is reduced.

And for those looking to pass on your valuable skills to the next generation, we are also developing a national Golden Guru program, which will provide opportunities for mature age mentors who are retired, semi-retired or not working full time to support a range of business and community needs.

This was an idea that was championed by Ernie Peralta, a senior Australian himself, as part of Australia’s 2020 Summit.

The national Golden Gurus program will encourage mature age mentors to support small business owners who are just starting out – transitioning from the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme toward independence.

There are many programs like the Golden Gurus that provide senior Australians with opportunities to share their skills, meet new people, develop social support networks and make a difference in the lives of others.

The Golden Gurus idea, presented by Mr Peralta, has become a national program – testament to the fact that the idea of one person can become part of the nation’s future.

I hope that this inspires you to make the most of the ‘Social Inclusion by Design’ forum.

I am looking forward to hearing your ideas, especially in terms of defining what you feel are essential features for inclusive communities.

I’m excited that you are considering the broadest concept of design – design of services; design of neighbourhoods; design of policies and programs.

My challenge to you is to help us to prioritise what needs to be done to create inclusive communities – in the short, medium and long term.

You know we can’t do it all. The economic environment is one limitation, but more importantly, I’m sure you appreciate that this is a new overarching policy agenda that requires changes in how governments work.

Remember too, that social inclusion also requires senior Australians to do things differently – to think cross-sectorally, to be inclusive in your own organisational practices; to strengthen your co-ordinated voices; to work through and endorse priorities across your sector; to foster innovation and to be prepared to let go of practices that are no longer relevant or appropriate.

Social inclusion is about moving to a third space, where we are enabled to work in a different and collaborative way.

I hope that you find today’s forum a rich and rewarding experience. And thank you once again for the opportunity to be a part of your forum this morning.