World Down Syndrome Day Breakfast


Good morning.

Thank you, Michael, [Cox] for you warm welcome and wonderful words, so eloquently highlighting some of the challenges, but also so inspirational about wanting to make a difference across the whole world.

I appreciate your work and I wish you all the best in New York. I’m going to talk a little bit about New York and the UN Convention in a minute but first, happy World Down Syndrome Day to everyone here.

I would like to start by acknowledging we meet on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and pay my respects to elder’s past and present.

And I’d just like to acknowledge some of my parliamentary colleagues. I know you’re going to hear shortly from Dr. Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for a lot of things but importantly, for our purposes today, for charities.

I would like to acknowledge Libby Coker, who is Chair of the NDIS Standing Committee, and Ged Kearney, our wonderful Assistant Minister for Health, who does an amazing amount of work with all of you.

Well, today is a day where we are gathered to celebrate all of your achievements. I think it’s a really important day to recognise and celebrate strengths, that’s a really important part of the day and I’d like to thank Down Syndrome Australia for hosting this event. I think it is very important to mark the occasion. But it’s also of course, a great reminder that we need to continually be committed to building a society that embraces every person, that respects them for their differences, but harnesses their talents as well.

I’d like to send a very strong message today that our Government is absolutely committed to what Michael was talking about, and that is making sure Australia – and our focus is on Australia at the moment, that’s my job, might be a bit hard to go to the world! I’ll leave that to you Michael! - but really to make Australia more inclusive by accepting rights and ensuring that everyone with disability is celebrated for who they are and what they bring.

I think it's important for me, as Minister, that it's not just on World Down Syndrome Day. Today is a very important day for us to focus on that, but I want to make sure that I'm working towards this, along with all of you, every single day and that is what really is encapsulated in Australia's 10-year Disability Strategy.

Our National Disability Strategy really shapes our vision for building a more inclusive Australia to ensure that people with disability can fulfill their potential as equal citizens. And since becoming Minister for Social Services, I've been absolutely determined to make sure this Strategy, that's on paper, actually comes to life. I want to take it off the page and put it into practice. As Michael said, we need to walk the walk as well.

I think what we see when we look at that Strategy, is that it's not just people with disability that benefit when we have a more inclusive society, everybody in our community benefits when we have an inclusive society. And that was exactly the message that Olivia Sidhu, who is with us today…where is she? where is Olivia? She took that message onto the floor of the UN General Assembly in New York, so you have got big shoes to fill Michael!

But it was a real privilege to see Olivia send that really strong message to the world at the General Assembly, to the largest delegation of people with disability that congregate. And I have to say she did receive cheers from the entire hall when she said that inclusion helps everyone lead a more independent and healthier life.

We want the entire community involved in achieving a more inclusive society. Now of course, one of the areas, and Michael also touched on this, he stole all my thunder, is in the area of employment.

Everyone deserves the benefits that come from meaningful employment. But at the moment so many employers are missing out on the talents that people with disability bring. Now interestingly, looking at the research, there is a strong appetite for employers to employ people with disability. In fact 93% of large businesses and 89% of medium businesses say that they're open to hiring people with disability. But unfortunately, only around a third of all businesses actually do so. We’ve got this real disconnect between businesses wanting to do it, but not actually doing it. It is so important that as the government and as the community, we're working with those businesses to demonstrate that with the right adjustments, a change in attitude and a bit of flexibility, they too can experience the benefits of employing people with disability.

Now, one of the areas that we're working on is actually through our Careers Pathway Pilot with some big employers like Coles, Target, KMART and Woolworths. But what we're looking at with those companies is not just how we provide entry level jobs, but how we support those companies to provide career pathways for people with disability so that they not only can get a meaningful job, but actually can continue to progress that job into a career, just like any of anyone in community would like to do.

Now of course we know that even with more inclusive workplaces some people may need extra supports and services to help them reach their full potential and that could be through the NDIS or through other supports. That’s why one of the big programs that we are looking at redesigning is the Disability Employment Services, because Disability Employment Services is a program that should be supporting people to reach their goals and reach their potential. We're working to redesign the service to create better outcomes for those looking for a job.

One of the first things I found out when I came into this role, was when the Disability Employment Services were being rated, the views and perspectives of people with disability, the main users of this service, were not even taken into consideration in their ratings.

So one of the first things we've put in place is actually a Quality Framework. These services are now going to be measured on how they take customer complaints, how they actually involve participants in co-design, for example, and how they meet the needs of people with disability. We're also looking at how we can ensure that Disability Employment Services provide pathways for people that may be volunteers, who may not have those mutual obligations, but still want to get the benefit of high-quality employment services.

At the moment, we're running a trial that looks at how we meld the National Disability Insurance Scheme participants and ensure that they can also access the Disability Employment Services as well. We’re always looking at how we can make sure that we're opening up those opportunities and making sure that people do get that support. We’re also looking at how we provide meaningful pathways within supported employment, and we've just recently established a new fund that ensures that for people working in supported employment, that those businesses are also providing career opportunities, ways to step up, ways to get new skills, ways to develop. Later this year we'll be holding a number of expos that you can visit to find out about employment supports and hear from employers who want to employ people with disability.

Now, as Darrell mentioned briefly, some of the calls for a more inclusive society came strongly through the Disability Royal Commission and the Government, of course, is working through this.

There were 13 volumes and 222 recommendations based on evidence and I'd like to thank everyone that bravely provided their evidence to the Royal Commission.

I always say that as a politician it's really easy to talk about other people. It's a lot harder when you're sharing your own experience. And so for all of those people that were able to provide their own experience to the Royal Commission, sometimes very difficult issues, like abuse and neglect, I'd like to thank you for that.

We haven't waited for the Final Report to start making change as I've suggested, but in terms of the Government's formal response, we have said that we will work through the 222 recommendations with the states and territories and to look at how we implement those.

But, in conclusion, I would like to thank Down Syndrome Australia for all that you do to ensure the voices of the Down Syndrome Community are heard, but particularly thank all of those with lived experience who share your experience. Those that do self-advocacy and advocacy on behalf of other people with Down Syndrome. Your voices are being heard. Your voices are important to our Government and I look forward to continuing to work with you into the future so that we can do exactly what we all hope and make Australia a more inclusive place for everyone.

Thank you for having me here today.