World Down Syndrome Congress Speech


Good morning and thank you very much for having me here at the 2024 World Down Syndrome Congress.

I begin this morning by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we meet the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, and pay my respects to elders past and present.

I would like to thank Down Syndrome Australia for hosting this year’s event, and acknowledge the vital work they do, along with their state and territory members and other organisations across Australia in supporting people with Down syndrome, their families and supporters.

And for those who have travelled internationally – welcome to Australia.

Whether you are a person with Down syndrome, a family member, a friend, a carer, or an advocate – this would not be possible without you.

We can see that reflected in the theme of this year’s Congress, Together we can: Celebrating diversity and inclusion.

Being able to network with people from different cultures and countries and developing a bigger network is one of the many exciting things about this event.

I was very pleased last year to provide a letter of support for this event on behalf of the Australian Government, as well as providing Diamond Sponsorship.

Events like the World Down Syndrome Congress are an opportunity to hear about your successes, the barriers that you may face, and the ways we can best support you to live the life you want.

No one’s story is the same. But every story matters.

By sharing these stories, and celebrating our similarities alongside what makes us unique, we help to create a kinder, more inclusive world where people with Down Syndrome have opportunities and importantly, have their rights upheld.

When we come together, we are stronger for it. And when we work together, we are better for it.

It’s important we come together to talk about what people can do – not what they can’t do.

And how we can create a more inclusive society, because inclusion creates more opportunities and benefits everyone.

Disability Employment

And that is why creating more opportunities for people with disability in employment is a key area I have focused on since becoming Minister for Social Services.

Because businesses are missing out on many skills and talents people with disability bring, including the competitive advantage of an inclusive workforce.

Hiring people with disabilities means businesses can improve customer experience and increase innovations through diversity.

If that wasn’t convincing enough, research shows that profits for inclusive businesses are also higher.

As well as bringing talent, people with disability generally take less sick leave, and stay in jobs for longer.

But we know that too often people with disability are not always getting the opportunity to thrive in employment and face barriers to participation.

We know that an overwhelming 92 per cent of members want to recruit more people with disability to their workforce.

But many employers believe they don’t have the skills or resources – or think it will be too expensive to make the adjustments needed for people with disability to succeed.

But we know this is not the case – often it just requires a change in attitudes or adjusting the way they engage with employees and train them in their role.

It’s not just about getting people into any job – It’s about supporting people with disability to find the right job and have opportunities for career progression.

And that is why as a government we are investing in approaches to not only get a job, but to support career development for people with disability and driving an uplift in the quality of services.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to work, but to achieve this, supports need to be individualised and put people with disability at the centre – where they should be.

DES reform

And that is why I will be introducing a new specialist disability employment program that tailors supports to the individual. It will replace the current Disability Employment Services (DES) program from 1 July next year.

I have committed $5.5 billion over the next four years to disability employment services and support, because inclusion should not just be a focus in workplaces.

It is also important that the services supporting people with disability to prepare for and find work are inclusive.

The new program will focus on building stronger relationships between providers and participants. Providers will be encouraged to put the individual at the centre of their service delivery model.

This means that providers will need to get to know you and understand your individual support needs, goals, and aspirations so that they can work with you to develop a personalised job plan to help you get the skills you need and find a job that you want to do.

Everyone’s employment journey is different, and a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

That means more opportunities and better opportunities for all of you here who want to work and are working.

Employers will be supported to build their confidence and capability to employ people with disability, and to create more inclusive workplaces and recruitment practices.

Providers will work directly with employers and employees to provide tailored supports so that people with disability succeed in their roles.

The eligibility of the new program will also be expanded to include volunteers and people with disability who have a work capacity of less than 8 hours a week  – meaning around 15,000 additional people will be able to benefit per year.

Because it is not inclusive to say that some people with disability can’t use the program – which is why we are changing this. We want to create more opportunities for people with disability.

At the heart of the new program will be a commitment to continuous improvement in the quality of services and achieving real results for participants.

But our Government hasn’t waited for the new program to make improvements.

Upon coming to this role I was shocked to learn that Disability Employment Service providers were not measured against quality – even through it was a Key Performance Indicator in their contracts.

This is why I introduced the DES Quality Framework in July last year.

The new quality framework places DES participants at the centre of defining what a quality service means to them, and ensuring providers are listening and responding to those needs.

We introduced this because quality matters.

And you get better results and outcomes from a quality service.

And to make sure that people with disability can choose a quality service we will be introducing a provider scorecard that is simple to understand and measures how well providers are supporting people in their program.

The Scorecard will ensure transparency on provider performance and is easy to understand so that you have the information needed to make an informed choice.

Because I won’t accept an employment service that just ticks a box – I want them to be striving to be the best and making continuous improvements.

We are building a Disability Employment Centre of Excellence will support high quality services and continuous improvement by providing best-practice resources, tools and training to help providers deliver quality employment services and supports to both participants with disability and employers.

Because we want to make sure that all employment services and employers have the tools to achieve the best outcomes for people with disability so that everyone can benefit.

Supported employment

When it comes to supported employment, we want to see the sector evolve and provide more opportunities for career progression and open employment for people with disability with high support needs.

In last year’s Budget we invested $35 million over three years to help businesses evolve their models to create more opportunities and diverse pathways to open employment for people with disability.

We understand the complex nature of supported employment, and the need to evolve the sector while ensuring that options remain available for participants, whether in supported roles or open employment.

And to help supported employees and their families understand employment options and uphold their rights we have funded a new disability employment advocacy and information program, and up to 8 job expos so that people with disability understand their options and can exercise choice and control over their employment journey.

As always, our priority within the supported employment space is strengthening choice and control – to give participants and those that support them, the information, supports and opportunities they need to thrive at work.

Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031

But of course, driving inclusion, creating more opportunities and upholding rights is much broader than employment.

All levels of government in Australia understand these goals, which is why they have all signed up to Australia’s Disability Strategy.

The Strategy is our roadmap towards a better future for the one in five people with disability in Australia, including the 450,000 Australians with intellectual disability.

Through the Strategy we are working to improve accessibility and inclusion across all areas of Australian life such as education and learning, health and wellbeing and safety, rights and justice.

We want to make a real difference in the lives of people with disability.

And since becoming Minister for Social Services, I have been determined to bring Australia’s Disability Strategy to life.

Some examples include investing in resources and tools to make early childhood education more inclusive.

We have established the National Centre of Excellence in Intellectual Disability Health.

And we have updated our guidance materials for emergency management when there are natural disasters to reflect the needs of people with disability and the importance of inclusive practices – to name a few.

We know that while we have seen great progress driven by the Strategy in recent years, there is still more work to be done, as well as new opportunities and ideas to consider.

Australia’s commitment to human rights at the international level

In Australia, our commitment to the rights of people with disability is deeply embedded in our national strategies and programs.

They include the fundamental right to be safe. To have respect and dignity. Choice and equal opportunity. And to participate and be included in all parts of society.

We are resolved to uphold and promote these rights, not just within the borders of our country but also on the world stage.

Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This Convention is all about making sure people with disability are treated fairly and have the same freedoms as everyone else.

Australia’s Disability Strategy is underpinned by this convention and one of our key programs that reflects our Government’s ongoing work to meet responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the Disability Representative Organisations program.

Our Government doubled funding for this program because we want to work alongside Disability Representative Organisations to make sure the views and experiences of people with disability are heard and that government systems and services are made more accessible.

In recognition of the barriers people with intellectual disability and Down Syndrome still face in Australia we have increased funding to Inclusion Australia and funded Down Syndrome Australia as a dedicated Disability Representative Organisation to advocate to Government and represent the views of people with intellectual disability and Down Syndrome.

We have also incorporated the Convention into our laws.

Disability Services and Inclusion Act 2023

An example of this is the commencement of the new Disability Services and Inclusion Act 2023 on the 1st of January this year.

This replaced the Disability Services Act 1986, which pre-dated the internet and was no longer aligned to how we support people with disability in Australia.

The Act puts inclusion at the centre of our legislation rather than as an afterthought.

It does away with outdated concepts about disability and gives us a modern legal framework which will empower the delivery of meaningful change under Australia’s Disability Strategy.

It also strengthens quality and safeguards for people outside the NDIS.

The introduction of a Code of Conduct shows that we are demanding government funded disability services provide safe and inclusive services that protect the rights of people with disability – and across all of Australia by contributing to creating an inclusive society.

Alongside other legislation, it gives effect to national and international obligations.

International Disability Equity and Rights Strategy (DFAT)

It is important that our core principles of inclusion, opportunities and rights are not just enacted at home, but also in our international engagement.

Which is why we are developing a new International Disability Equity and Rights Strategy.

Australia is committed to advancing the rights of people with disability and prioritising disability equity in all of our international engagement on foreign policy, development cooperation and humanitarian action.

And this Strategy will outline our priorities to advance this commitment.

The Strategy will ensure Australia remains a strong and consistent leader in advancing equity and rights for people with disability globally.

In line with the long-standing principle of ‘nothing about us without us’, the Strategy is being developed in close consultation with the international disability community.

We have established an External Reference Group, comprising disability leaders and experts, to guide the development of this Strategy, that will complement Australia’s Disability Strategy.

Drafting is underway and this Strategy is expected to be released later this year.


This is an enriching and exciting time in history, as we work to create real change in the lives of Australians with disability by advancing inclusion and creating more opportunities across all aspects of our society.

Working, always, to put the voices, experiences, rights and needs of people with disability at the centre of all we do in this space.

Because inclusion, opportunities and upholding human rights is so important to support people to reach their potential and for society as a whole – it makes the nation a better place.

Your stories matter. Your perspectives and your contributions matter.

And we will continue to listen and work closely with you to create an Australia where these are valued, welcomed and celebrated.

Thank you.