Address to the National Disability Services Conference

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Check against delivery

Ladies and gentlemen

You honour me with the invitation to address you today.

My special thanks to Anne Bryce, to National Disability Services State Manager Scott Holz, my Deputy and Shadow Minister for Disability Services Linda Burney, my friend John Della Bosca and the many leaders in the sector gathered in this room.

For those of us in Labor politics, our careers are pointless and our Labor movement means nothing, if we aren’t bringing new hope to those who have traditionally been marginalised.

Empowering people with disabilities and supporting those who care for them and love them must be as fundamental to Labor’s mission as it is to yours.

I believe there is an inherent dignity to all human life.

It is not something I’ve spoken publicly about before, but my wife Edel has a brother with Down Syndrome.

Enda is 28 – he’s been out to Australia from Ireland twice – once with his parents and again last year when we brought him back with us from our visit to Edel’s family.

Enda’s parents naturally feel a mix of pride, love and concern for what will become of him when they are no longer here.

That is a poignant issue for our family – as it is for so many families.

And prior to entering politics, I organised and represented workers in not-for-profit disability services.

I witnessed these men and women make a difference every day.

Today I see the same quiet heroism within our disability sector.

For a long time, people with disabilities existed beyond the horizon of policy makers.

Now, with the advent of the NDIS – they’ve moved to the forefront of our public policy debate.

Delivered by Prime Minister Julia Gillard through a hung parliament, the NDIS is a Labor policy – a great Labor achievement.

Yet unusually it is also a bipartisan achievement.

We now have consensus between Liberal and Labor on a universal insurance scheme covering every Australian against the risk of acquiring a significant and permanent disability.

We also have consensus on the need for a permanent increase in the Medicare Levy to fund it.

Yet the NDIS treats people with disabilities as more than passive recipients of assistance.

Through individualised funding packages, each person has choice and control over what support services they need.

The NDIS makes them masters of their own care, authors of their own destiny, in what is the birthright of every human being – a meaningful, fulfilling and passionate life.

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Disability should always be the bipartisan portfolio.

Here in NSW, we’ve seen it with substantial bipartisan investment in Stronger Together.

I now want to work with Mike Baird to ensure the NDIS lives up to its promise.

I know that the Premier’s address to you yesterday was eagerly anticipated and I thank him for his contribution.

Nonetheless, as we move from the concept to implementation phase, I want to make clear that Labor’s bipartisanship is not a blank cheque.

The NDIS must remain true to its original calling. One of the key ingredients of ongoing bipartisanship is communication.

We, like so many in the disability community, request that the Government provide more detail on the timetable, geographic location and scope of the NDIS rollout and consult meaningfully with the sector.

And if NSW Labor were in government today, we would handle some aspects of the NDIS differently.

Most fundamentally, we do not see the NDIS as an excuse to simply allow the NSW Government to hand over all responsibility to Canberra.

The NDIS may be a revolution but it will not cover everything.

Many people with disabilities will not meet the NDIS eligibility criteria for a support package.

They stand at risk of falling between the cracks of the different jurisdictions.

The State’s actions have also pulled funding certainty from a number of disability programs, leaving them pinballing between the Department of Aging, Disability and Home Care in NSW and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

The question of whether the Commonwealth or the State will pay for programs in areas such as housing, criminal justice and advocacy remains unresolved.

In addition, many people with disabilities have contacted Labor to express their anxiety about the Government’s transfer of Homecare services, occurring in tandem with the NDIS rollout.

The decision to tender this long-standing service will have enormous ramifications for tens of thousands of people across NSW.

These are people who have established trust with Homecare to clothe them, bathe them and do everything from mop floors to make breakfast.

Labor welcomes quality service providers from the non-government sector, particularly small organisations with an altruistic mission who are genuinely dedicated to building social capital.

Labor believes in a broad ageing, disability and home care sector.

If elected in March, we will have to work with the transfer agreement we inherit.

But our principles are clear.

People with disabilities are not business clients – they are people. And Labor will always stand up for quality service provision and not just price in the provision of care.

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Ladies and gentlemen.

My message to you today is that while the NDIS is vital, a State Government will have an ongoing duty to fund, administer and oversee the support services alongside it.

So I take this opportunity to detail Labor’s top four policy priorities.

First of all, a State Labor Government will appoint a Minister for Disability Inclusion and create an Office of Disability Inclusion within the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

And under a Government led by me, my most senior and most trusted colleague Linda Burney will be both Deputy Premier of the State and its Minister for Disability Inclusion.

A new funding model is not enough.

We need nothing less than a new paradigm for thinking about disability.

If much of the 20th century was defined by institutionalisation, the 21st century must be an era of disability inclusion.

This is why we support the closure of large residential centres.

As Deputy Premier and Minister for Disability Inclusion, Linda Burney will take responsibility for driving attitudinal change and outcomes for people with disabilities across the whole of Government.

This will involve breaking down the silos – and ensuring ongoing State Government support for people with disabilities in areas such as health, education, transport and building the stock of accessible social housing.

The Liberals and Nationals need to address whether they will even have a Minister for Disability if they are returned to government.

Labor is clear. We will elevate this portfolio – putting it under the direct oversight of the Deputy Premier.

There simply must be an individual right at the top of government who has a duty of care to people with disabilities across this State.

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Labor’s second commitment is that we will guarantee ongoing support to independent disability advocacy groups currently funded by the State but not the NDIS.

Worth $6.25 million a year, Labor will assure this funding for the next two years, with a view to renegotiating the Commonwealth’s role.

The need for State-based advocacy remains vital to connect people with disabilities to the services they need – either within or alongside the NDIS.

Yet if these groups lose funding, they will not be able to continue their good work and people with disabilities will be left voiceless in a sea of bureaucracy.

Victoria and South Australia have acted wisely in preserving some capacity for funding State-based disability grant programs.

NSW Labor agrees and we will commit to continuing state advocacy funding both during and after the NDIS transition.

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The third commitment I make today is that Labor will pursue a new approach to promote workforce participation – one that puts people with disabilities in charge of decision-making and that reports to both sides of politics.

I announce today that Labor will create a high-level Bipartisan Panel for Disability Employment.

I am delighted that Graeme Innes and Cain Beckett have agreed to jointly chair this panel.

The panel will be allocated a budget of $10 million over four years to implement the latest evidence-based strategies to increase workforce participation for people with disabilities.

They have my full authority to propose whatever is necessary – and I have no doubt that not a cent of that money will remain unspent.

The Bipartisan Panel for Disability Employment will report to both the Minister for Disability Inclusion and the relevant Shadow Minister because I want this to above partisan politics.

The most recent OECD ranking should be a matter of national shame.

Australia is 21st out 29 OECD nations for disabled workforce participation.

Here in NSW, the Government set a target of closing the unemployment gap by 50 per cent by 2016.

The reality is, we’re not even heading in the right direction.

The gap is widening.

Not only this, the proportion of people with a disability working for the NSW public service is in decline.

One of the Government’s first measures was to propose a payroll tax rebate to encourage the hiring of people with disabilities.

Despite good intentions, the scheme was poorly administered and it was abandoned.

As a result, we’ve had a whole term of government where very little has been achieved nor spent on disability employment in NSW.

So I want the Bipartisan Panel to get cracking.

Employment outcomes for people with disabilities require a mix of attitudinal change, targets, incentives and sanctions. The current system has not sufficiently married these together.

I also want to see a concerted focus on new programs in the private sector, including corporate mentoring programs and partnerships.

Westpac is taking 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interns a year for the next 10 years.

I want to see blue chip companies making the same commitment to hiring people with disabilities.

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Fourthly, Labor will commit $100 million to rebuild the NSW TAFE sector that has been so damaged by Government cutbacks.

We will also reverse the massive fee increases under the Government’s Smart and Skilled privatisation program.

Leaving TAFE institutes with a flat 15 per cent loading for each disabled student they enrol is a fraction of what is needed to find sign language interpreters, note-takers and specialist support programs such as ZoomText or JAWS.

The Government’s own budget papers predict the number of TAFE students with disabilities to plummet by 4,300, compared with two years ago.

And to make matters worse, the Federal Government has singled out the Disability Support Pension for swinging cuts.

Just when the NDIS should be sending a message of empowerment, we instead see misguided policies that limit the dreams of people with a disability.

Labor will fund our TAFE system so that it can cater for people with disabilities – and give people the chance to transform their lives.

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Ladies and gentleman

The late, great Stella Young – stand up comedian, provocateur and passionate advocate on behalf of people with disabilities said:

“I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning.”

Thanks to the dogged determination of people with disabilities and tens of thousands of brilliant hearts and minds across the sector, that world is with us now.

The NDIS offers the prospect of true autonomy for people who have lived too long on the margins.

Yet its success will require careful stewardship.

If elected in March, Labor will take our responsibilities to the disability community seriously.

We won’t abandon the field.

We will work with you and we will work with the Commonwealth.

Spurring people with disabilities to lead lives that are without limit.

And ensuring the NDIS is held to its original promise.