Speech to the “Every Australian Counts” MPs’ Breakfast
Parliament House, Canberra
13 October 2011
E & OE
Thank you John [Della Bosca], and at the outset can I say how good it is to see someone in their post-political life continue to make a contribution to the community. So John, congratulations to you and your team for the great work you’re doing.
Could I also acknowledge the Prime Minister, and also my portfolio colleagues in all parties Jenny Macklin, Jan McLucas, her predecessor Bill Shorten, Kevin Andrews and Rachel Siewert – and all my parliamentary colleagues here today.
Friends, this week, like most in this place, has been characterised by a bit of drama and a bit of controversy. But the good news is that there is an area of policy where partisanship is readily put aside, and that of course is the area of disabilities. It is how the Americans put it – an area where people are prepared to reach across the aisle to each other, and that’s as it should be. Everyone in this room, I would hope, when it comes to disabilities has a pretty low threshold when it comes to partisan point-scoring.
All of us just want to see change, and the Productivity Commission has made a compelling case for change. I think the movement and the momentum for a better deal for people with disabilities is irresistible. So friends, we do gather here today in common purpose. We gather here because we are all committed to a better deal for people with disabilities. We are all committed to a new national deal for people with disabilities.
I think probably the two most profound findings of that wonderful Productivity Commission work are; firstly, that if you were seeking to design what it is that government does from scratch, disability would be one of the first things that you would start with decent support for people with disability. That should be part of core government business.
The other simple yet profound finding that the Productivity Commission put forward was that any new national system of disability should have the individual at the centre and in charge. That, as much as a new national deal, would be transformative in the quality of life for so many Australians.
We do all need to look for ways to bring this about, rather than to look for reasons why it can’t be done. Since I’ve been in this portfolio, which has been a couple of years now, I’ve come to love it. And I think that this portfolio – whether you’re in government or whether you’re in opposition – will be the most significant portfolio that any holder of that office will have. Because it’s hard to think of another area of government activity, it’s hard to think of another policy area, that is in such desperate need of change. It’s hard to think of another policy area where true reform could make such a difference to the quality of life of millions of Australians.
We’re here today, all of us, to commit to staying the course. That’s what I want to do. I want to stay in this gig to make sure that whether it be the current government, or a government of a different persuasion, that that happens.
So to everyone here today, can I urge you to hold our collective feet to the fire. No one here wants any more false dawns, we just want to see a better deal. I keep coming back to the fact that there is a level of care which families do want to provide for one of their number who may have a disability, and that families should provide for one of their number with a disability. But there is a level of care, beyond which it is unreasonable to expect families to provide without proper support from the government. Without that support, it becomes crushing. And people won’t reach their full potential. People won’t be able to avail themselves of all the opportunities that they should.
So it’s great to be here, we do have a common purpose, and I look forward to working with everyone here to make the dream come true.
Thanks very much.