Address on 2023 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Para Asian Football Cup in Melbourne

I know you've been acknowledged, but Sarah, Russell - Sarah from Football Australia of course, Sarah Walsh, Russell Lloyd, LaTrobe University Dean of Allied Health. Athletes who I've had the privilege to meet before, Talia and Nicole, also it’s great to meet Cosmo and Caitlyn, representatives of Football Australia and Football Victoria. I'd like to thank Football Australia for inviting me to help announce that Australia will be hosting the 2023 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football and the Asian Oceania Championships later this year.

This is the first time that my home state of Victoria will host a Cerebral Palsy Football International event. It's the first time that we'll be hosting the prestigious Para Asian Cup and it's going to be fantastic for young people to be able to see athletes doing great sporting effort, but for young people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities, seeing athletes who look like them doing pretty special things. It'll be the first time that the men's and women's Para Asian Cup will be held at the same time, so that's also great, and the first ever Women's Cerebral Palsy Australia Football Asia Cup here. There's a lot of experts on football and the future of football here, so I'm mindful that I'm a bit precocious for me to say it, but I think it is an exciting time for Australian football. But for me it's also an exciting time for those amongst the 4.4 million Australians who self-report as having a disability, who want and aspire to play sport.

It was quite a privilege for me to meet members of the ParaMatildas and ParaRoos when they came to Canberra, including Talia and Nicole, which was just quite inspirational. But for me, what I took away was not that they're athletes, which they clearly are, but how the sport changed their lives. Talia said It's more than just a game. It's a place where she can embrace her disability. For Nicole, it helped her finish her degree. Another player told me that they no longer felt the isolation, the isolation of having to learn about their disability alone. For some, it's a sense of community, realizing they could dream of playing football because they had role models. It's the power of sport, but it's the power of disability and sport. In this country all too often we've allowed a person's impairment, for us to see the person with the impairment, and that's how we define them. And so, we make people with disability in some ways feel like strangers in their own body, whereas the power of this sporting endeavour and plenty of others means that there'll be kids right now who, when they see Talia or Nicole. Cosmo or Kaitlyn, they'll say, if they could do that, maybe I could.

And that to me is what's so special about what's happening going forward. I'm very fortunate, I’m the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and we support more than 17,000 participants whose primary diagnosis is cerebral palsy. The scheme, which I help administer when it works properly, allows people to have fulfilling lives, be in their study, their work, their support or their sense of connection and community. Cerebral palsy, in fact, is a common physical disability in childhood. It affects more than 17 million people worldwide and at least 34,000 people in Australia. When you also add the thousands of Australians who live or are living with an acquired brain injury, I think that what we're seeing today is incredibly important. I've had chances over the last ten and 15 years to work with the CP community. They're strong. The people living with it and their families, they're resilient. They look after each other. But I think the community, like the NDIS, seeks to allow individuals to have choice. It seeks to allow them to engage in community. Australia is a very lucky country. We know that. You just have to watch the news, what happens anywhere else in the world. But what we shouldn't do in this country is say because of a person's level of their impairment, that that should deny them the opportunity to share in this lucky country.

So, it's about letting people, encouraging people, to have fulfilling lives. When you talk to Talia and Nicole, I think they're unconsciously modest because I'm not sure you quite realize the impact you have on the people who you talk to - and not just people with CP, but just all of us. And it just, I think, puts a lot of things in perspective. I think the ParaRoos and the ParaMatildas absolutely foster inclusion, nurture talented athletes. I think that when people go and see a ParaRoos or a ParaMatildas match, what they will see is athletes, who happen to have a disability. And that's really what we should see, isn't it? The ParaRoos in their 25 years of operation have enjoyed enormous success. Like a lot of teams with athletes who are disabled, they don't enjoy the same public profile that their success actually warrants them to. But participating in the Paralympics, nine World Championships, currently 10th in the international rankings for cerebral palsy football around the world, that's impressive. And that is an achievement. The ParaMatildas only founded last year, straight to winning silver in the World Cup in Spain. Amazing. And I do think - and this is really for me, the power of today, the power of what you do and the power of what we will see going forward - is that there are kids, children, young people who will wonder if they're going to be, you know, the next David Barber, the next Eloise Northam, the next Georgia Beikoff.

That is the power of what you do. So, I think the Para Asian Cup will showcase Australia as an exemplar of sporting prowess and inclusion. We'll have our best players playing on the best grounds as we welcome participants from all around the world. I'm very impressed with Football Australia, Football Victoria for supporting this. I wish the athletes all the very best and you can count on me to explain to other sports administrators in other parts of the sporting ecosystem in Australia that athletes with disability deserve the same support and that if we want to be successful on the world stage, as our athletes with disability are, then we've got to nurture it at all levels of the sport. So, congratulations to Football Australia, in particular to the athletes here today. And again, I'll just finish - I think you, like really modest people, I don't think you quite realise how much impact you have in the world around you. And that's a special gift which you give all of us. So, thank you for letting me be a part of it.