Opening Address to National Disability and Carers Congress

02 May 2011

Doing it tough

Looking around, I see a lot of familiar faces… the faces of people who were there – back at the end of 2007 – when I started out as Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services.

The faces of people who took the time to explain to me what life is really like for thousands of Australians with a disability and their carers and families.

Let me tell you, it was an eye-opener.

I'd been around the traps. I'd travelled from end to end of our great country – from shearing sheds and steel mills to Beaconsfield – meeting hardworking men and women and listening to their stories.

I thought I'd seen it all. But I hadn't. I thought I knew my country. But I didn't.

My thousand days working with you were more than an education – more than a revelation. They were a privilege.

I met a lot of great people and saw a lot of not-so-great things.

It was sobering to realise so many of my fellow countrymen and women are literally exiles in Australia, disempowered, shut out of the Australian way of life … and unable to lead an independent life.

It was a privilege to be among you when you started to unite into a disability movement determined to campaign to finally make civil rights accessible to all.

And, let me tell you, I haven't forgotten what you told me.

I haven't forgotten your stories. I haven't forgotten your campaign. I'm here to tell you that your cause is my cause.

My cause is the young men and women with lifelong disabilities living in aged care homes.

My cause is the ageing parents and carers looking after an adult child for as long as they can – hanging on because they are haunted by the lonely midnight thought of what will happen to their son or daughter when they die.

My cause is the couples with a child with a disability whose marriages collapse because they're given no respite.

My cause is the Australians who are ready and able to work, but shut out of the workforce because of the thoughtless discrimination of people not prepared to look past the disability and see the human potential.

My cause is to put an end to generations of misery and wasted potential – and, in doing so, to build a better Australia.

An Australia where the opportunities – such as schools, housing, jobs, friends and social acceptance – are accessible to all.

Read the full speech here...