Watch, listen to or read my speech to the ALP National Conference about why Labor is the party of reform and why the ALP and the labour movement must bring in a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Speech to ALP National Conference: Why Labor must introduce a NDIS
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Delegates, it is fashionable in some sections of the conservative media, in some of the far right of Australian politics and some of the far left of Australian politics, to say that Labor has had its day. That the issues upon which this movement was founded 120 years ago have by and large been accomplished and we’re in a new world.
Delegates, we know that there are many issues in Australia which still require the energy and the passion which only the Labor Party and movement can give it to change. And there is no issue, in my opinion, which requires the energy and the mighty power of the Labor Party any more than disability reform.
Three years ago I had the opportunity to become the Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services. And I had thought, as a union official and an organiser, that I had seen disadvantage and unfairness. And I had. But nothing prepared me for the second class citizenship of people with disability and their families and carers, the second class citizenship in which they live.
Imagine if you can, if you would, if we built a city with very high walls. And into that city we put 1.3 million people, that being the approximate number of people with profound and severe disabilities. And into that city with high walls we put another half a million Australians, their families, their carers, the people who love them. And we said to those peoples within the walls of this city, that you will have a second class life in Australia from birth to death. If we said to nearly two million Australians that, in being in Australia and having an impairment, means you will not get an equal go in this country.
The people with disabilities and their carers know this. They understand this.
Imagine if you have a beautiful baby, and at about the 12 month stage, that child you love with all of your heart, doesn’t start developing and growing in the way you had hoped. Imagine the impact that has upon you and your partner, what will this mean? Perhaps you will feel a sense of optimism – it will be alright. But then you have to find a GP which understands what’s going on. Then you have to get a referral to a specialist. And then you get the news that your beautiful child, your beautiful child who you love and would do anything for, but you are going to face some challenges because your child has an impairment. And then imagine beginning the ugly, lonely search for childcare. For kindergarten. For therapy, for early intervention. To get the vehicle modified.
Imagine you walk down the street and your child has a high level of autism and is acting up, and other parents are look at you, and say ‘why are you a bad parent? You can’t control your child’ – when all it is that your child is beautiful, but has autism.
Imagine if you have a child with a physical impairment, and you’re standing in a park, and some other unthinking Australian says to that parent ‘why did you have this child?’ And imagine you have two children with a disability and some unthinking, ignorant fool says to you ‘why did you have your second child?’
Then imagine you search for a primary school, you have to make the choice between special school and mainstream. Imagine you are made to feel like you are a bully – because you want your child to get the integration support that your child deserves. Then you head to the search for a secondary school.
You know, once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, we were told the world was flat; that if you sailed to the edge of the world you would fall off. We’ve now learnt that the world is not flat. But if you are a person with an impairment or if you are the parent of a child with an impairment – your world is still flat. At each point in the cycle of life, you sail off the edge and have to start again.
What is wrong with expecting that our children, regardless of impairment, can have a secondary education? What is wrong with expecting that our children can get jobs and go to universities and TAFE? What is wrong with expecting that you can get a wheelchair within 12 months of ordering one? What is wrong if your child has a spinal condition, which means they need a special bed , and that the bed takes so long, that by the time the bed arrives, the child has grown and you need a new bed?
How in this federation of ours, when you move from one state to another, you have to hand your equipment back before you can move? How is it that if you are in a motor car collision in Western Australia, and one car has Victorian license plates, and one car has Western Australian license plates, how is it that, if it’s a terrible injury some person suffers, an acquired brain injury, and they need to be fed through a straw. If they suffer severe cervical injury/spinal injury, how is it that the person, if you happen, by fate, to have a car registered in Victoria or New South Wales, that you will get a reasonable level of lifetime care. But in Western Australia - and it’s not just western Australia - because no-one can prove fault, you are stuck in the residual system. How is it that the manner of your impairment, that the method of your impairment, determines the level of your care?
This is a Labor issue. When do we allow two million people in exile in our own country, and when do we take down the walls of the city surrounding them, and say ‘please join the rest of our society.’ Now this country is not too poor. We are an imaginative, we are a generous, we are a rich country. I believe that if you are born an Australian, or you immigrate to Australia - there’s a certain deal you get.
We are very fortunate, not just with thecommitment of our Prime Minister, of our Minister Macklin and Parliamentary Secretary McLucas, and all of the other Cabinet Ministers.
We understand that there are no cheap options to reform disability. But I do believe this movement can be the conscience of the country. We are the movement who fought for the age pension. We are the movement who fought for the minimum wage. We are the movement who fought for Medicare and superannuation. And it is time to add a fifth pillar towards the basic safety net of this country.
In politics one is frequently cautioned against raising expectations. People with disability and carers, they don’t need their expectations raised; they know the lives they lead. They understand the fundamental formula: that an impairment is just one feature of the personality of the person. And they refuse to be defined by their impairment.
What disables people in Australia is not the impairment, it is the barriers that the community puts in place. What disables people is a lack of power, and a lack of money.
The principle of a National Disability Insurance Scheme addresses the idea of a lack of resources. I do not look at a person in a wheelchair or a person with an intellectual disability, or an ageing parent or grandparent and think ‘you are charity’. You are a consumer – you are a voter. But there is a second layer that Labor people understand – that is that it is not enough just to have money – you also need to have power. There is a challenge here for the Labor Party – are we the people who will empower people
with disability? Are we the people who will enrich the lives of people with disability? Some people say that disability is not a sexy topic – some people say that it’s too hard. Some people say that you can’t fund disability. They paint the picture of the well – and you lean over and you drop the coin in the well. And as you listen you never hear it hit the bottom. As if disability is an unfundable problem.
What this Government has done, and this Prime Minister has done, and this Ministry has done, is we have now said, that when you drop that coin in the well, you can hear it hit the bottom. It is not a cheap solution – but it is a possible solution.
This Government and this movement at this time, has said we can do something about disability, fundamentally, which will leave the place better than we found it. This is the generation of Labor to whom the responsibility falls, to be able to answer a promise to aged parents of beautiful adult children with disabilities. At the moment, when we talk to these people and some of them are here, I cannot guarantee that if they are no longer able to look after their child – that their child will be alright.
I believe that we are capable of the work being done, that we are able to look at the ageing parents in their 80s and their 90s, who are hanging on for one reason – to make sure that their adult child is OK.
I believe that we should one day be able to make the promise to those parents , it’s OK, your kids are going to be alright.