May – June 2008
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation constituted and driven by women with disabilities. Please find below a brief Update Report from WWDA for the months of May and June 2008. If you have any questions, or would like more information on anything in this report, please email Carolyn or Shirley at: email@example.com.
1. WWDA Submission to the Australian Government’s Green Paper on Homelessness
In January 2008 the Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, and the Minister for Housing, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, announced the development of a comprehensive long-term plan to tackle homelessness as a matter of national priority. The Australian Government developed a Green Paper entitled ‘Which Way Home? A New Approach to Homelessness’ as a first step in developing this new approach to homelessness. The Paper seeks to promote public discussion of homelessness, highlight the challenges faced by people who are homeless, and suggest ways forward. A White Paper will then set out the Australian Government’s response to the Green Paper, and will provide a national plan of action for the years leading up to 2020.
WWDA developed a Submission in response to the Green Paper. WWDA’s Submission entitled ‘Shut Out, Hung Out, Left Out, Missing Out’ draws on years of information from WWDA members about their lack of access to safe and affordable housing. WWDA’s submission provides a brief analysis of the intersection of gender, disability and homelessness and highlights the fact that women with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups experiencing, and at risk of experiencing, homelessness in Australia. WWDA’s Submission also details a range of strategies for consideration in addressing homelessness for women with disabilities. These strategies target the factors that increase the risk of homelessness for disabled women, including: lack of affordable, secure housing; unemployment & inadequate income; and domestic & family violence.
WWDA’s Submission has been sent to a number of Ministers and politicians, as well as to the members of the Government’s ‘Expert Group’ overseeing the development of the new approach to tackling homelessness. WWDA is also in the process of distributing a copy to all WWDA members. A copy will also soon be made available on WWDA’s website. Please contact Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.
2. Australian Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children
On 26 May 2008 the Government announced the membership of its National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. The National Council will oversee the development of a National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. Earlier this year, WWDA wrote to the Minister for the Status of Women (Hon Tanya Plibersek), and met with her advisers, to stress the importance of WWDA having a place on the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. In doing so, WWDA reiterated that, compared to non-disabled women, women with disabilities:
- experience violence at higher rates and more frequently;
- are at a significantly higher risk of violence;
- have considerably fewer pathways to safety;
- tend to be subjected to violence for significantly longer periods of time;
- experience violence that is more diverse in nature; and,
- experience violence at the hands of a greater number of perpetrators.
WWDA was therefore, extremely disappointed that the membership of the Government’s National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children excluded women with disabilities. This exclusion would appear to be inconsistent with the Australian Labor Party’s pre-election commitment to address the issue of violence against disabled women: ‘Labor recognises the particular vulnerability of people, particularly women, with a disability, to domestic violence and will implement measures to address this’ (ALP Platform and Constitution 2007, p.219).
WWDA has written to the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to express our concerns at WWDA’s omission from the Council and to request that urgent consideration be given to ensuring a woman with a disability is co-opted as a member of the Council (a copy of WWDA’s letter is included in Appendix 1; Membership of the Council is detailed at Appendix 2).
The Australian Government has recently called for public responses to inform the development of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. The Government has developed a set of four questions to which it is seeking responses, and these are:
- Why is domestic violence and sexual assault happening in Australia?
- What resources, programs or services are you aware of that are successful in preventing or reducing the effects of domestic and family violence or sexual assault?
- What are the barriers to family safety for women and children in Australia?
- What suggestions do you have to reduce domestic and family violence and sexual assault against women and children?
The closing date for responses is July 18. Responses should be returned to Office for Women, PO Box 7576 Canberra Mail Centre ACT 2610. Alternatively responses can be emailed to email@example.com More information is available on the Office for Women website at: http://www.ofw.facs.gov.au/womens_safety_agenda/national_council_reduce_violence.htm
3. Sterilisation of Girls with Disabilities – Update
In WWDA’s March/April 2008 Update Report (available at www.wwda.org.au/bulletin.htm) we provided a background and update on the issue of sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities, including WWDA’s systemic advocacy work around the Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG) draft Bill (Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006). At the SCAG meeting on 28 March 2008, it was agreed that ‘there would be limited benefit in developing model legislation’ and the issue of sterilisation of intellectually disabled minors was removed from the SCAG Agenda. Ministers also agreed to ‘review current arrangements to ensure that all tribunals or bodies with the power to make orders concerning the sterilisation of minors with an intellectual disability are required to be satisfied that all appropriate alternatives to sterilisation have been fully explored and/or tried before such an order is made’. However, given that the issue was removed from the SCAG agenda, it is not clear how or if the States & Territories will ‘review current arrangements.’
Whilst WWDA welcomed the SCAG decision not to proceed with the development of the draft Bill (Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006), we are concerned at the decision to remove the issue of sterilisation of intellectually disabled minors from the SCAG agenda altogether. WWDA’s long standing position on the issue has advocated in part, for all Australian Governments to work together to develop universal legislation which prohibits sterilisation of any child unless there is a serious threat to health or life. Such universal legislation would be consistent with a number of international human rights treaties to which Australia is a party, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), and the soon to be ratified Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The need for Australia to develop universal legislation to prohibit the sterilisation of children has been strongly recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Australian Government is a required to submit periodic reports on the measures taken to give effect to their obligations under the various human rights treaties to which it is a party. The Australian Government, through the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) is currently preparing its Fourth Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
WWDA has recently developed a response to the Draft Fourth Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically in relation to the section dealing with Sterilisation of Children with Disabilities (pg 26,). WWDA question the Australian Government’s assertion within the Draft Report that:
133. A blanket prohibition on the sterilisation of children could lead to negative consequences for some individuals, particularly children with disabilities. Applications for sterilisation are made in a variety of circumstances, not just to address the need for contraception. Sometimes sterilisation is necessary to prevent serious damage to a child’s health, for example, in a case of severe menstrual bleeding where hormonal or other treatments are contraindicated. The child may not be sexually active and contraception may not be an issue, but the concern is the impact on the child’s quality of life if they are prevented from participating to an ordinary extent in school and social life.
WWDA rejects these presumptions and is concerned with the integrity and scientific rigour of the statement. WWDA’s response points out that we know of no instances in Australia where authorisations to sterilise have been sought for minors without disabilities in the absence of a threat to life or health. The sterilisation of a child in circumstances other than where there is a serious threat to the health or life of that child effectively denies the child present and future enjoyment of her or his human rights.
Further, WWDA’s response to the Draft Fourth Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child reiterates to the Australian Government WWDA’s long held and clearly articulated position that:
- forced sterilisation is an act of unnecessary and dehumanising violence which denies a woman’s basic human right to bodily integrity and to bear children and which results in adverse life-long physical and mental health effects;
- sterilisation of disabled women and girls is a form of social control in which a woman’s right to bodily integrity is denied often at the behest of parents and medical or other professionals, who deem this bodily violation ‘in her best interests’;
- sterilisation, an irreversible medical procedure, if performed without consent, is a gross violation of human rights;
- sterilisation has lifelong physical, psychological and social consequences that are a question for adulthood not childhood;
- all Australian Governments must work together to develop universal legislation which prohibits sterilisation of any child unless there is a serious threat to heath or life.
Copies of the Australian Government’s Draft Fourth Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child are available from WWDA (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) or can be downloaded from the Attorney-General’s website at: http://www.ag.gov.au/www/agd/agd.nsf/Page/Humanrightsandanti-discrimination_Humanrights
4. WWDA Policy & Position Paper on Advocacy & Human Rights
In April 2008, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) released a Policy Paper entitled ‘The Role of Advocacy in Advancing the Human Rights of Women with Disabilities in Australia’. The Paper seeks to articulate WWDA’s approach to disability advocacy in advancing and promoting the human rights of women with disabilities. WWDA’s Policy paper looks at how human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) can and should be used to inform and guide disability advocacy work. WWDA argues that in translating these powerful human rights instruments into concrete change in the lives of women and girls with disabilities, Governments must establish and support mechanisms and structures which enable women with disabilities to ‘do it for themselves’, and to act politically as agents in their own right. The final section of the paper identifies a number of key human rights issues for women and girls with disabilities in Australia and links the issue with the relevant core international human rights treaty.
WWDA’s Policy & Position Paper has been sent to a number of Ministers and politicians, and WWDA has also distributed a copy to all WWDA members and other key stakeholders. A copy is also now available on WWDA’s website at: www.wwda.org.au/advpolpaper08.htm
5. National Women’s NGO CEDAW Project
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is part of a consortium of national women’s organisations that are undertaking a national project to develop the next CEDAW Non-Government Organisations (NGO) Shadow Report. CEDAW – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – is the international treaty that covers women’s rights. It provides a comprehensive action plan for governments to achieve substantive equality for women. The Australian Government is required to submit periodic reports to the CEDAW Committee on the measures taken to give effect to its obligations under CEDAW. The reports are meant to be an honest evaluation of the implementation of the treaty, but very often governments just focus on the “good news”. In order to ensure that the treaty bodies get a balanced view, non government organisations (NGOs) prepare their own reports, called Shadow Reports, and send them to the Committees as alternative sources of information.
The national project to develop the next CEDAW Shadow Report is being auspiced by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). WWDA is part of the NGO Working Group involved in the Project, and WWDA member Christina Ryan will be taking the lead representative role for WWDA on this Working Group. Christina will keep WWDA members up to date on the Project as it unfolds, and there will be opportunities for involvement from WWDA members.
If you would like more information on CEDAW itself or the Project, you can contact Carolyn at email@example.com and/or Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org
Information about CEDAW including a copy of the Convention itself is available from the human rights section of WWDA’s website: www.wwda.org.au/unhrt.htm
Please email WWDA at email@example.com if you would like a copy of the last NGO Shadow Report (2005). It is available in either PDF (448KB) or Word (605).
6. National Disability Advocacy Program – Update
The Australian Government has funded disability advocacy services for over 20 years and during this time a range of advocacy service models have been developed. The Australian Government, through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) currently funds 68 disability advocacy services around Australia under the National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP). The NDAP is undergoing a process of review and a series of changes, some of which include: development of new Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and accompanying Service Standards; standard policies and procedures; and standardised criteria for prioritising access to disability advocacy agencies. The Government has announced an extension to 2012 for implementation of the NDAP changes. In late June, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities & Children’s Services, the Hon Bill Shorten recently wrote to the disability advocacy services to provide an update of the enhancements to the program. Some of the key points included:
- the use of alternative mechanisms to competitive tendering for the distribution of funding to NDAP agencies;
- provision of funding to 10 regional areas to expand the delivery of individual advocacy;
- new funding which will be offered recurrently over three years (totaling $3 million);
- the need for a clear separation between advocacy and service provision to ensure that advocacy remains an effective safeguard for people with disabilities;
- the critical role of partnerships and collaboration within the sector in order to develop organisational capacity, address service gaps and delivered best advocacy outcomes;
- the development of a Quality Improvement Strategy for Advocacy.
WWDA has been advised by FaHCSIA that a report from the National Disability Advocacy Program consultations to date is currently being finalised will soon be made available on the Department’s website. For more information contact:
Disability Policy and Coordination Branch
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)
Ph: (02) 6244 6120 Fax: (02) 6244 8499
7. Critical Disability Studies Thematic Group Established
A Critical Disability Studies Thematic Group has been approved by the Executive of The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) (www.tasa.org.au). Three members of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) – Karen Soldatic (PhD student at University of Western Australia), Dr Leanne Dowse (University of New South Wales), and Associate Professor Helen Meekosha (University of New South Wales), were part of the 15 member group who put the proposal together.
The aims and objectives of the Critical Disability Studies Thematic Group are:
- foster the recognition of existing, and the development of new critical sociologies on disability, with the aim of building upon recent theoretical developments that examine the social, cultural, economic and political relations of disability;
- encourage critical research that examines the intersectionality of disability, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, migration, class and Aboriginality;
- build links with disability communities to facilitate research networks across Australia to generate collaborative research & publishing projects between scholars, disability activists and disabled people;
- provide a collegial and cohesive forum which encourages critical debate and reflection;
- support emerging scholars and post-graduate students;
- provide an avenue for researchers to have draft papers informally reviewed by members; and;
- encourage the submission of papers to TASA conferences from critical disability scholars, disability activists and disability communities engaged in counter-hegemonic knowledge production.
Convener Contact Details:
Dr Genee Marks
Faculty of Education
University of Ballarat
Ph: +61 2 5327 9747
Director Consumer Protection
People with Disability Australia Inc
Ph: +61 2 9370 3192
8. Communities in Control Conference
Communities in Control is the annual conference of Our Community – (www.ourcommunity.com.au) – world-leading social enterprise that provides 15 Knowledge Centres – spanning all aspects of running a community group and comprising a range of resources, training, advice and tools – for Australia’s 700,000 community groups and schools, as well as practical linkages between the community sector and the general public, business and government. The 2008 Communities in Control Conference took place in Melbourne in June. The theme of the 2008 conference was: The Community Challenge: Building Political, Environmental, Social & Economic Pathways Towards True Social Inclusion. With support from Rhonda Galbally, CEO of Our Community, two WWDA members (Sue Salthouse & Keran Howe) were able to attend both days of the Conference on behalf of WWDA.
Many of the papers presented at the Conference are available from the Our Community website. Of particular relevance to WWDA was the speech given by the Hon Bill Shorten, who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Disability and Children’s Services. Mr Shorten’s speech has been included as an attachment to this Update Report.
9. Upcoming Disability Conferences
Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) Policy About Us, For Us! A Practical Revolution in the Lives of People with Disabilities (9 – 10th October 2008, Melbourne)
The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations is hosting its first Conference. The conference will have a practical focus concentrating on key contemporary policy issues in the lives of Australians living with disability. Speakers and concurrent sessions have the aim of developing realistic and practical recommendations on issues for a ‘compilation of ideas’ to be delivered to government. To view the conference program and to register go to: http://www.hotelnetwork.com.au
Disability, Disadvantage and Development in the Pacific & Asia: An International Conference (National Museum of Australia, Canberra, September 29-30, 2008)
This Conference will provide first hand information on the situation of people with disabilities in the Pacific and Asia region including their access to services, their ability to access information and their opportunities for development. It will review the work of the global, regional and local organisations working with people with disabilities and the strategies and actions needed to ensure equal access to social and economic development of all. For more information or to register go to: http://www.addc.org.au/ or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
10. Senate Inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Act 1984
On 26 June 2008, the Australian Senate referred the following matter to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report by 12 November 2008: The effectiveness of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality. Examples of what the Inquiry will consider include:
- the scope of the Act, and the manner in which key terms and concepts are defined;
- the extent to which the Act implements the non-discrimination obligations of the relevant international human rights treaties;
- the powers and capacity of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, particularly in initiating inquiries into systemic discrimination and to monitor progress towards equality;
- consistency of the Act with other Commonwealth and state and territory discrimination legislation;
- the effectiveness in addressing intersecting forms of discrimination.
The specific terms of terms of reference are available from the Committee website at: www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/legcon_ctte/sex_discrim/info.htm
The Committee invites written submissions by 1 August 2008. Submissions should be emailed and/or sent to:
Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Department of the Senate, PO Box 6100, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600
11. Parliamentary Inquiry into Women’s equal opportunities in the workforce including pay equity
The House of Representatives Employment and Workplace Relations Committee has been asked by the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to inquire into and report on the causes of any potential disadvantages in relation to women’s participation in the workforce including, but not limited to:
- the adequacy of current data to reliably monitor employment changes that may impact on pay equity issues;
- the need for education and information among employers, employees and trade unions in relation to pay equity issues;
- current structural arrangements in the negotiation of wages that may impact disproportionately on women;
- the adequacy of recent and current equal remuneration provisions in state and federal workplace relations legislation;
- the adequacy of current arrangements to ensure fair access to training and promotion for women who have taken maternity leave and/or returned to work part time and/or sought flexible work hours; and
- the need for further legislative reform to address pay equity in Australia.
Interested persons and organisations are invited to make written submissions to the inquiry by 28 August 2008, after which the committee will hold public hearings. Further details on the inquiry, including the terms of reference, background documents, membership of the Committee and advice on making submissions can be obtained on the Committee’s website at www.aph.gov.au/ewr or by contacting the committee secretariat on (02) 6277 4162 or emailing email@example.com.
12. New on the WWDA Website
Women With Disabilities Australia: ‘The Role of Advocacy in Advancing the Human Rights of Women with Disabilities in Australia’- Policy & Position Paper) (2008)
This Policy Paper which seeks to articulate WWDA’s approach to disability advocacy in advancing and promoting the human rights of women with disabilities. The paper also looks at how human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) can and should be used to inform and guide disability advocacy work. Available in HTML, PDF and Word format. Go to: www.wwda.org.au/subs.htm
Completely Knocked Out: Australian perspectives on disability, disempowerment and domestic violence – By Sue Salthouse (2007)
World wide the incidence of domestic violence is of alarming proportions. This paper examines its genesis, cultural origins and impact from the viewpoint of women with disabilities. The cycle of poverty, low education and low employment perpetuate the disempowerment and power imbalances that enable domestic violence to thrive. There is an ongoing lack of global, national and local initiatives to address this scourge. These shortcomings are examined in the context of various UN actions, including Human Rights Conventions and the Millennium Development Goals. This paper was presented on behalf of WWDA by Sue Salthouse (WWDA Vice President) at the Domestic Violence, Disability and Cultural Safety National Forum, November 2007, NSW, Australia. Available in HTML and PDF formats. Go to: www.wwda.org.au/confpaps.htm
Forgotten Sisters: Recognising and Responding to Domestic Violence in the Lives of Women with Disabilities – By Dr Leanne Dowse and Annie Parkinson (2007)
Paper presented by Dr Leanne Dowse (Social Sciences and International Studies, UNSW) and Annie Parkinson (President, Women with Disabilities Australia) at the Domestic Violence, Disability and Cultural Safety National Forum, November 2007, NSW, Australia. Available in HTML and PDF formats. Go to: www.wwda.org.au/confpaps.htm
13. Join WWDA!
The success of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) relies heavily on the participation and goodwill of our members. We are always seeking women with disabilities who would like to represent WWDA at government consultations, workshops, forums and committees, as well as helping us in other ways such as commenting on WWDA documents and reports; presenting papers at Conferences; writing articles for our website, becoming members of our Management Committee and so on. WWDA is a Public Benevolent Institution, which means that donations over $2 are tax deductible.
Remember, becoming a financial member of WWDA entitles you to nominate for the Management Committee when vacancies arise and/or vote at annual elections.
WWDA’s Membership Form is available from the WWDA website www.wwda.org.au/member.htm or by contacting WWDA.
14. WWDA Resource Manual on Violence Against Women With Disabilities
Covers of the Violence Manual Booklets
In late November 2007, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) published a Resource Manual on Violence Against Women With Disabilities. This Manual is made up of four Books:
- A Life Like Mine! – Narratives from women with disabilities who experience violence
- Forgotten Sisters – A global review of violence against women with disabilities
- It’s Not Ok It’s Violence – Information about domestic violence and women with disabilities
- More Than Just A Ramp – A guide for women’s refuges to develop disability discrimination act action plans
Audio, e-text & Large Print PDF versions of the Booklets are included on a CD-ROM which accompanies the Manual. Braille and DAISY versions are also available on request. Cost: $22.00 (within Australia). Overseas orders: price range between $50.00 AUD – $70.00 AUD depending on postal Zone. Order Forms and information about the Manual are available on the WWDA website: www.wwda.org.au/vrm2007.htm
15. Vale Christopher Newell
The untimely death on 23rd June of disability advocate, Christopher Newell, has shocked the sector. A number of WWDA members who have been feminist activists since before the beginnings of the disability movement in the 1980’s, have been long term associates of Christopher.
A proponent of the social model of disability, he had worked particularly on consumer issues in health, and telecommunications, as well as being a bioethicist, an ordained Anglican canon, and Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Tasmania.
Sue Salthouse represented WWDA at a Thanksgiving Service, colleagues, friends and family, held at the University on 3rd July.
16. Appendix 1: WWDA Correspondence to Prime Minister
Hon Kevin Rudd MP
PO Box 6022
CANBERRA ACT 2600
June 11, 2008
Dear Prime Minister
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the national peak organisation representing more than 2 million disabled women in Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities for women with disabilities and works systemically to address issues of concern to its constituents. One of the most pressing human rights issues facing women with disabilities in Australia is violence.
WWDA therefore congratulates you on your Government’s commitment to reducing and preventing violence against women and children, and welcomes its approach to tackling violence against women as part of a broader framework of social inclusion. This approach has great immediacy for WWDA, given that women with disabilities remain largely invisible and voiceless, even though they face multiple forms of discrimination, structural poverty and social exclusion. Regrettably, violence against women and girls with disabilities continues to thrive in a culture of silence, denial and apathy. Compared to non-disabled women, women with disabilities:
- experience violence at higher rates and more frequently;
- are at a significantly higher risk of violence;
- have considerably fewer pathways to safety;
- tend to be subjected to violence for significantly longer periods of time;
- experience violence that is more diverse in nature; and,
- experience violence at the hands of a greater number of perpetrators.
Yet, despite these facts, legislation, policy and services for women with disabilities experiencing, or at risk of experiencing violence, are limited at best and non-existent at worst.
WWDA strongly supports the establishment of the National Council on Violence Against Women and Children, and has articulated the importance of WWDA representation on this vital advisory structure. Our work on the issue of violence against women with disabilities has found that meaningful engagement must be inherent in the key strategies to address violence against them so that their experiences and their views are integral to identifying potential solutions and building successful interventions.
WWDA was therefore extremely disappointed to learn that the membership of the National Council on Violence Against Women and Children excludes women with disabilities.
WWDA respectfully requests that urgent consideration be given to ensuring a woman with a disability is co-opted as a member of the Council. This inclusion is vital in ensuring a national voice to a human rights issue that to date, has been largely ignored in efforts to address gender based violence. WWDA is happy to assist by providing a list of suitable candidates who possess experience not only in the issue of violence but also in the work of a national advisory structure.
We look forward to the opportunity of working collaboratively with the National Council members and other stakeholders to reduce and prevent violence against women with disabilities.
17. Appendix 2: Transcript of speech by Bill Shorten MP to the Communities in Control Conference
Next Steps in Making Australian Communities Liveable for People with Disabilities
Presentation by The Honourable Bill Shorten MP
Parliamentary Secretary for Disability and Children’s Services
Hon Bill Shorten
Hi everyone and thanks for that generous introduction Rhonda. I’d like to acknowledge Father Joe Caddy from Centacare and Rhonda Galbally, without whom a day like this just couldn’t happen. I also understand that Joan Kirner is here, the former Premier of Victoria. It’s fantastic to be talking about issues I know that Joan’s campaigned on for a long time.
It is a pleasure to be here. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
I’d also like to say that you’re actually meeting in the electorate of Maribyrnong so I’m the local Member of Parliament here too. In fact, I used to be the union organiser at this race track. I’ve only ever stopped the races here once, and I’m very sorry.
Communities in Control is a great name and I think it’s a great vision. You heard this morning from my senior colleague Jenny Macklin about the vital initiatives which we’re looking at in a range of areas to do with putting communities back in control.
What I want to do is to talk to you particularly about disability. And if anything was needed to underscore the importance of reframing the debate about disability in Australia it’s today’s sensationalist attack on people on the Disability Support Pension. I don’t know if you’re aware but the Daily Telegraph has led a story about someone where the implication was clearly that they were ripping off the system. But what annoys me is that 99.9% of people on the Disability Support Pension do not want to be on that pension. They would rather not have the impairment in their daily struggles. So there’s something going on which we all collectively need to unite around. And it’s about redefining and reconceptualising disability in our community.
As politicians we often hold ourselves up to be the font of knowledge, but I think we all know that isn’t the case. What I see about politics in the future is it reflects what’s been happening in the past, that people all too often are ahead of business and ahead of government and ahead of politicians. People in communities are often leading the way in seeking to ensure that communities and people within them have better lives. That’s why it was so interesting to be part of the apology to the stolen generation, which was amazing. For all of the carry on of the political climate of the previous 11 years, you’d have thought that the sky would fall in when an apology was given. You’d have thought that the Government’s coffers would be raided, there would be rioting. There were some who were saying that the nature of Australian society would be fundamentally altered if we did make an apology to the stolen generations.
But in fact most people thought the event became bigger than the individuals involved. I thought it was cathartic. It was more like watching the steam rise off the ground after the weather changes for the better. I thought that what we actually saw is that at last Government caught up to where people were at. And I think one of the overwhelming sensations of that day is people actually said, “Why did it take so long? What was the fuss all about at the end of the day?” The reason why I talk about that is because I actually think it’s a very strong metaphor for disability. Why does it take so long to do something about an issue which, once we actually do something about it, people will say, “Why did it take that long?”
I think that’s where we are at. We have an opportunity in politics today, and your conference is part of this, to be at one of those, “What was the fuss about?” sort of moments in politics.
I started off talking about newspaper reports about the Disability Support Pension. The inference was that it had doubled since Paul Keating lost to John Howard. At that time there were about 500,000 people receiving the DSP. Now it’s somewhere around 728,000 people. And no other statistic in 12 years has moved at that level of increase – a 50% increase – no other demographic statistic of the nation. But does that mean therefore that we’ve got a lot more bludgers? Of course it doesn’t. What it actually means is that the system of welfare to work has proved to achieve the exact opposite of what its parents used to try and say it would achieve. You can’t run a welfare system which gives people dignity by fear. You can’t run a system by coercion. There’s a reason why people who are disabled aren’t working – it’s because the rest of the community won’t give them jobs. That’s where I think this debate is at.
Brendan O’Connor, the Minister for Employment and Participation, and I are co-hosting a strategy to look at how we get people who are disabled the opportunity to participate in the community. This is where I think it is at. Participation doesn’t have to be wearing a tie. It doesn’t have to be a 9.00 to 5.00 job, but some form of engagement, in my opinion, in the education system, in the work system. But not so much so that people are off a particular welfare pension, but much rather because what we seek in our society is dignity for all Australians. And work does bestow a style of dignity.
But the problem is there are too many barriers to this. I have to say that as recently as last Wednesday night I was in Coburg with Kelvin Thompson. He’s the Member for Wills. We had a forum. There were 45 people there. It wasn’t quite the battleship event that this is, Rhonda, but nonetheless it was great. There were lots of people with disabilities, sector workers, carers, people interested in the debate about people with disabilities. It was a community trying to assert some control. During those two and a half hours, 19 different people made a number of interventions and comments. And it was the best rundown of the issues which face people with a disability that I believe I’ve received in six months of being in the job. An apology to any of the FaHCSIA hard working public servants but for pure cutting to the chase these 45 people in Coburg nailed a lot of what I think the key issues are.
So if you’re curious about what a new government spokesperson on disability thinks, and if I’m to address the topic of what are the next stages in terms of disability in communities:
Access, both transport and buildings. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and dealing with all of the clauses, and the Treaties Committee has dealt with that issue in Parliament this morning. So the UN Convention is marching forward.
Centrelink. I got asked on the radio today, “How do we find out if there are people cheating?” Then the question went on, “When people get better, what happens?” I said, that’s a good thing if you get better. But the point about it is if you’ve been blind I’m not sure why you need to tell Centrelink every two years, “still not seeing anything”. If you’re a parent with a child with cerebral palsy it is, in my opinion, insulting every two years to say “Jack or Jill has still got the same condition”.
There was talk about early intervention. This is something which the Government is right into, from Julia Gillard to Maxine McKew, right across all the portfolios, Jenny Macklin. There was talk about the need for lifelong planning. Why do government departments have such silos which leave people stranded between departments and between levels of government?
Supported accommodation is crucial. If you look at some of the traditional equity groups in no particular order, women, Indigenous Australians, people who live in remote parts of Australia, people from a non-English speaking background, people who are disabled. My group generally come bottom of the league table on every issue. And I’m not trying to have a misery contest. But the point about it is on income, education, housing, the aspects which give you control over your life, people with disabilities are at the bottom of the tables all too frequently.
Other issues: business services, people working in supported wage facilities, the transition to open employment. Why can’t people with disabilities, perhaps severe disabilities who work in business services and supported accommodation, why can’t they retire? What happens to people when they grow old? The possibility of insurance for catastrophic injury. The rights of disabled motorists. All the issues around the Disability Support Pension. The Mobility Allowance, the idea that you have a Mobility Allowance. If you go to a supported business service, a supported wage facility, you get a smaller allowance than if you go to open employment. That’s lucky that the buses give you the bigger discount.
Young people in nursing homes, getting age-appropriate accommodation. The issue of loneliness. People with disabilities are allowed to have friends. And it goes to this whole issue of quality of life. A disability policy in the future should start from the statement that all people deserve equal treatment; all people deserve the right to the longest possible life, full of quality. Then what government has to do is have a whole of government approach about disability.
I’ve been doing a fair bit of work for Jenny Macklin on autism lately. I just look at the clunkiness of what happens. First of all you get your diagnosis. That in itself is pretty big news. Once you’ve got your diagnosis, then you’ve got to get early intervention, and hopefully the Government will be making some comments about greater resources in the next week or two. Then you go to school, a new department. Fantastic. Then you’ve got to find a school which is good on integration. Then you’ve got to work through the definition of the Education Department about what qualifies your child for integration, aid and support. Then you go to the secondary system.
The old fourteenth century Catholic Church – sorry Joe – I’m on our team too! Back then we said the world was flat, just one of the sort of little issues we get over. They worried if you sailed too far you’d fall off the end of the earth. Well that’s what happens every time people and disability progress through their life. They do fall off the end of the earth. From diagnosis, early interventions, primary school, secondary school. Then, heaven forbid, you might actually want to get a job as opposed to just sitting on the banana lounge sipping daiquiris on the Disability Support Pension. Or you might have to be in day care. Or you might actually want to educate yourself further. And so on it goes.
These are big questions. Unless disability is addressing the big questions governed by this view that you’re a human being and you want to have a whole life of opportunity, but again to use the fourteenth century analogy they’re like those turreted tower cites in northern Italy where families all just build big towers and they never really talk to each other. That’s where I think it’s at.
But one of the things which we have to look at when we talk about this issue of disability – and some of the issues which I’ve referred to, of course there’s many more – is we’ve got what I think is the real fundamental bedrock challenge in disability it’s this: impairment is a fact of life. As you get older, chances are more of us are going to join the ranks of people with impairment. It’s a fact. It’s a fact of functioning.
What isn’t a fact of life is disability. You might say, “Where’s he going with this point?” It’s this: you can have an impairment, but it’s the society which disables you. And I think this is a very important wake up call for me to understand that point.
When I was given this privilege of working with Rhonda and also working with disability, I thought I’d seen unfair treatment of people in my old job. I thought, “OK, another set of problems. Check the time and wages books. We’ll find out the problem. We’ll go to the law and assert what’s right and then that’s it. End of story. Home for tea.” But the reality is the systemic, entrenched second-class status of people with disability in Australia is obscene, it’s real and it’s more fundamental than I think most of the problems that I’ve seen so far. I’ve met, I believe, thousands of people now with disability, their families, carers, people who’ve worked in the community. I’m overawed by the commitment, the intelligence and the passion of people with disability and the people who work alongside them.
But what I do find a little odd is that the Australian society at large, we love the little battler doing well, from the Tattslotto winning ticket through to the small business person who becomes a big business person. The battling athlete, beautiful, we love that story of the underdog. Yet here we are, we’ve got a whole group of people who have underdog status. And somewhere along the line politics hasn’t embraced that. The media hasn’t embraced it.
Sure, there’s the individual stories of triumph and hope and that’s fantastic. And it’s always difficult. I don’t want to give you a story which says I’m a pessimist because I’m not a pessimist. I’m an optimist. But there’s no point in exaggerating to ourselves. And there has been progress made over the last twenty, thirty, forty years. I get all of that. I’m respectful of all of that. Just like the rest of the new government. It didn’t come to Canberra one day and say, “We’ve found this shiny new issue and no-one’s ever thought about it before.” Clearly people have. All of you have. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t given of your time, your commitment, your careers and far in excess of what you’re paid for to be here to do these things.
But I do think that disability is at the bottom of the league table when it comes to fairness and we’ve got to do something about it. If you couldn’t get a job in Australia or if you couldn’t get transport or if you couldn’t get education, if you couldn’t get meaningful and dignified income support, if you couldn’t get all these things which we take for granted because of your gender or your skin colour people would say, “This is wrong.” It might still happen but when the torch gets exposed, the torch lights on and people say, “This is wrong.” The natural generosity of Australian people rises to the fore. They shake their heads and say, “No, this is not right.” And that’s a legitimate reaction.
I do think it’s down to a couple of things. And one of them is the cyclical nature of ideas in the history of our society. The whole constant tension in the development of our nation between reform and the status quo. I have a look at the disability movement and it seems to have moved in stops and starts. You get the International Year of People with a Disability, the Disability Discrimination Act, and you do get reforms, good ones. But there’s a lot of status quo, if not indeed regression.
Now I think the whole nation, that’s the history of the nation full stop. We have periods and decades in our society in history where things get done. That period from Federation to 1914, wow, we nation build. Then of course you have a war, that’s an amazing status quo situation. But then again after World War II. There was expansion in the idea of what it is, the imagination and depth of Australia. Again in the time of Whitlam, but we had big periods of status quo in between. Again with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and they opened up the economy and that future proofed aspect, a big part of the economy. Then we’ve had the last eleven years of narcolepsy.
The point about it is reform is not a preordained outcome. Reform doesn’t just happen. I do believe Australians are generous. I do believe they’re interested in making the world a better place. But if we are reformers, which believe we are in this room, then we have to understand that reform has to be constantly battled for. We can never take it for granted. And this is at the nub of our challenge in disability, to move people from second class status.
A famous American football coach said, “Victory isn’t measured in yards. It’s measured in inches.” Certainly this has to be the case for us in disability, not for where we want to be but for our desperation to fight for everything that we can get. If we do not fight for things then we cannot expect reform to occur.
And I see that this is the real challenge here and this is the challenge which I have for myself in politics here is that let us not do the things which would have been done even if we weren’t here. Some things will happen. The challenge for us is to do things which but for our presence here would not happen. And this “but for” test I think is crucial in politics and it’s crucial in reform. But for our intervention, would this be happening? That to me is what distinguishes great governments from managerial governments.
I think all the signs are there for us to be a great government, but I’d love to see disability as one of those great issues, where if we were all to meet again in ten years time we could look back and say, “Remember that period where things really got going, where we demanded the rights of people with disability, not better rights than anyone else but rather that no-one else should have any better rights than people with disabilities?”
I think this is a very basic and powerful formula. We see even in Question Time in Parliament, the fulcrum of democracy, there’s been two questions on disability by the Government and even one – dare I say it – by the Opposition. That’s great. I mean, we’re not surprised when there are two questions about sport in a week. That’s important. I didn’t even mean that to be funny then! Because I was then going to say we’re not surprised if we talk about the (HMAS) Sydney, which is important, finding that. I’m a little surprised the Opposition is so fixed, the Liberal Party is now the party of low price alcopop. But I can understand that. And FuelWatch, these are issues of the day and they’re important issues.
But what’s been great is that there were two questions in the last week on disability. What are we doing on the UN Convention? Fantastic. What are we doing in supported accommodation? Jenny Macklin took the question. I have to say that each one of us has a role to be a partisan for our point of view. And our point of view has to be one of persistence and consistency about equal rights, equal treatment, empowerment of people with disabilities.
What we need to do is make disability a mainstream issue. I think we can make it and it does come down to that basic test I said before. It ain’t people with disability who have to change. It’s the community that’s got to change their attitudes to people with disability.
We’ve got to do a lot in the workplace. On the radio before when this chap was saying, “Why are there so many people on the DSP?” I said, “Well imagine you’re going for a job interview, would you write down that you suffer episodic or you have episodic mental illness? I don’t know if I would. Would you write down that you’ve been out of work for 10 years, you’re a migrant, you’ve had a Worker’s Comp claim? You get a chance to do some work, would you fill in your whole Worker’s Comp. history if you had to?” I mean, the point about it is it’s attitudes in the workplace we need to change. It’s not just the attitudes of employers. It’s also the attitude of government. We have fallen away as employers of people with disability. From the mid-’90s to the most recent figures it’s halved, the number of people with disabilities working in the Federal Government. How can we give anyone else a lecture if we don’t live the dream ourselves?
Now I do think that Australians at large are up for an argument on disability and up for a proposition. But I do think that it’s up to us to enable other people. We need new allies in the debate on disability. We need to reach out to business and get them focused not just on charity but get them focused on the fact that people with an impairment are an investment, and that the more you invest in people, the more likely you are to get something out of people, that in fact it’s part of living in a complex community.
The future belongs to organisations across the world who cope well with diversity. They’re the early adapters. They’re the ones who will get in and create opportunities.
At the core of diversity in my opinion is disability. And the more an organisation can have a diverse workforce, including people with impairment, the more likely that organisation in my opinion is to be a successful organisation. And we need to engage. The Federal Government is 25% of the GDP. But the other 70% plus of GDP, the economic activity of Australia, that’s the private sector. So we need new allies in disability. We also need to be a lot clearer in our message. I’m not able to arbitrate every issue of micro-politics in the disability community. Not that these debates aren’t important, but that ain’t really my role. My role is to be an enabler of the voice of people with disability to be heard. And that’s where we move the game forward.
Friends, I know that we can do a lot. But I do believe at the core of a disability strategy rests the goal of forming a national disability strategy, which is what we’re working on. It rests at the core of bringing together new allies. It rests upon making the performance. The KPI benchmark I set for the disability debate in Australia is that there is a debate about disability in Australia.
What I believe is important is having disability at the front of the newspapers, not just on heroic mountain climbers who might have an impairment. Not just on the question you might have a few scallywags rorting the system. But rather it’s just expected that at the centre of our culture, unless disabled people are at the centre of our culture, then we’re failing as a culture.
If we don’t do well in the Olympics and if Luxembourg pounds us in the swimming pool, it would be terrible. Or if Norway and Scandinavia could beat us at hockey, we’d be very upset. Or cricket. But that’s what they do every day when it comes to social inclusion of people with disabilities. What I want to do is make us as angry as we might be if the Norwegians, the Vikings, robbed us of a close game of whatever. We should be angry that they’re robbing us of the title of the best nation on earth for rights of people with a disability.
I think that your conference is a great idea. I cannot believe the number of people here. There’s power in numbers. There’s power in ideas. But I guess my message to conclude about disability is that each argument, each debate, each great reform in Australia has the time when things are right. I think we’re on the edge of a time of reform of disability.
Now, do I think the national mood will automatically say, no worries? No, I think it’s there, but I do think that we need to do a lot more to push it through. It’s almost as if there’s a door which if we have the political will to open the door and go to a new era, then we can. What we have to do in this room is convince everyone else not in this room to respect people with impairment, to give them the opportunities and then people with impairment, they’ll do the rest.
Thanks very much.