Thank you for inviting the Prime Minister to speak today. While he is unable to attend, I am honoured to be here.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Lands from which I am speaking to you today – the Kaurna people – and pay my respects to Country, Elders past, present and emerging. I would also like to extend that acknowledgement and respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.
We are in the midst of NAIDOC week – and thank you firstly for that wonderful welcome to country. NAIDOC week is a week that celebrates and recognises the history, culture and achievements of First Nations peoples. This year’s theme is Get Up, Stand Up, Show Up and what a great theme.
In the spirit of NAIDOC week, there is a real opportunity for all Australians to learn from Indigenous cultures and their approaches to inclusion.
This is the second National Youth Summit for young people with disability.
This summit, like the first, has been co-designed by and for young people with lived experience of disability. It is a lot of work – a big thank you to everyone involved.
As Minister for Social Services I am committed to young people being heard by this Labor Government and the policy makers who support us.
Some of the skills you learn here at this week’s conference will help make your voices heard.
You have the power to shape not just your own futures - but the future of disability policy impacting many others.
It is important that programs across all levels of government enable young people with disability to fully exercise their rights and reach their goals.
And it’s equally important that the families, friends and communities of young people with disability get the supports they need to help with that empowerment.
Opportunity, security, equality and at the most basic of levels – human rights. That’s what we will do as a government to enhance the lives of youth and all people with disability and those who support them.
Our Prime Minister Anthony Albanese grew up with a mother – Maryanne – who lived most her life with disability.
She had crippling rheumatoid arthritis.
Untreated, it meant she couldn't do basic things like hold a knife and fork.
In her later years, his mum started getting the support from government and the health system that she needed.
Under our government, people won’t have to wait until their later years to get the support they need.
This Government is committed to making sure that the services and systems that are designed to support people with disability work.
We are focusing on early intervention to improve long-term outcomes.
We are designing policy to support important life milestones where people with disability often get left behind, like the transition from school to work.
Our mantra in government is no one left behind. No one held back.
Disability support is a key plank of that. And supporting young Australians with disabilities and their families even more so. Because decent supports are critical to ensure young people living with disability are truly able to reach their potential.
According to the peak body that collates our data on these issues – the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare - one in six people in Australia have a disability or around 4.4 million people.
Around one in ten (9.3 per cent) Australians aged 15-24 have a disability.
For Australian children aged 0-14 this is a similar but slightly less number of 7.6 per cent.
I understand some of the themes that emerged from the first National Youth Summit are ones that are still topical today - identity, enablers, barriers, solutions and social movement.
Social movement is a term for how organisations, government and the community can contribute to greater inclusiveness that young people with disability want to see in the world.
It is through the work of organisations like Children and Young people with Disability Australia and in hosting this National Youth Disability Summit, that solutions to removing barriers to full participation of young people with disability in society can be found.
And for many people with disability, their challenges start from a very young age.
It’s no secret I have a passion for what happens in the early years for our children - and how important it is to set them up for bright futures.
As the Parliamentary Secretary for Disability and Carers in 2013, I was committed to ensuring the best possible support for children with disability and their families and carers.
Back then, I launched and oversaw a number of programs dedicated to improving the lives of children with disability including our Better Start Early Days Workshops and Better Start for Children with Disability initiative.
Around nine years on, I feel as though I’ve come full circle with the enormous privilege now of being the Social Services Minister.
And my passion for delivering better outcomes for our children, including those with disability, has only grown during my time working in this space.
With two children of my own, I am acutely aware of the importance of what happens in the early years, to ensure the best possible life journey for them.
I have often spoken about the early childhood experience. In fact, I recently spoke at the Australian Institute for Family Studies Conference. At this conference, I emphasised the importance of investing in the early years.
I reflected about how high-quality early childhood programs promote healthy development and remove the need for more expensive interventions later in a child’s life.
It’s by investing in the early years that we empower our children and set them up for the best possible start to life.
These investments are of equal importance for families with a child or youth with disability.
I’m acutely aware of this. Last year my nephew was diagnosed with a significant genetic disability.
One of the challenges my family faced was finding the right high-quality early education that met his needs.
It wasn’t easy in the early days to find the early learning centre.
It took some time to find a service that had the well-trained staff, the extra support and understanding he needed to thrive.
What struck me as just how important it is to find a service who have well-trained, passionate staff that promote learning for children with disability.
Now in a service like this, my nephew feels at home and his parents feel relieved that he is somewhere he can thrive.
While a positive outcome, this service is not in his local area.
I know many parents that have to drive across town to access the right early education services. This shouldn’t be the norm.
Children with disability deserve the same access to a great start in their learning journey. And finding ways that we can improve carer training and have more centres with skilled, disability-aware staff will help in that goal.
The government takes this responsibility very seriously and that’s why we are committed to implementing Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031.
This Strategy is at the centre of all of our activities to produce positive outcomes for people with disability right across the country and the outcome areas of the Strategy cover the themes of this Summit.
Most critically, it was people with disability that were central in shaping this strategy along with their families, carers and representatives.
This includes many hours put in by the CEO of Children and Young people with Disability Australia, Mary Sayers.
The Strategy sets priorities and plans for governments at all levels, to improve the lives of all Australians with disability - not just those accessing the NDIS.
Under the Strategy, all governments have made a commitment to do implementation better.
This includes an intensive focus to drive practical changes through the development of Targeted Action Plans, under which all governments have committed to specific actions.
Each Targeted Action Plan is subject to annual reporting to show the progress each government has made against their actions.
We will work closely with the Strategy’s Advisory Council, which includes Cindy Liu, who has played an important role in Children and Young people with Disability Australia and these national youth disability summits.
As part of this Advisory Council, Cindy will provide direct, independent advice on the Strategy’s implementation and progress to me and other disability ministers across the country.
All governments have committed that all new policies, programs and services they develop will use the Guiding Principles in the Strategy to deliver on human rights for people with disability.
We also know, however, that the experiences for people with disability are diverse. For some there are intersecting experiences of discrimination, whether it be to do with their gender, sexuality, or culture.
All governments have committed to thinking about individual differences to see if actions need to be adjusted.
On that point, I’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge Damian Griffis, CEO of First Peoples Disability Network, who will be talking about the importance of intersectionality, as well as advocacy, in his keynote presentation, following my remarks.
And now I want to return to my opening remarks about First Nations people with disability.
Whilst there is real strength in inclusion, First Nations people with disability, sadly, are the most marginalised.
Disability is approximately twice the rate in First Nations populations compared with non-indigenous populations. When it comes to education, 15.8 per cent of First Nations people with disability have completed year 11 or 12 , and less than half have completed year 10 or below .
I have heard the concerns raised by First Nations women and their communities in the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) report developed by June Oscar (2020). This report draws attention to the needs of all First Nations youth in being supported and empowered. In particular, to develop, maintain and grow connections into the future to overcome internalised racism that may impact perceptions of their own identities and sense of self-worth.
This is also reflected in the Australian Government’s commitment to Closing the Gap, which has specific targets and outcomes for First Nations young people.
Disability intersects with every aspect of a person’s life. That is why the Government considers disability as a priority across all Closing the Gap targets and priority reforms.
As I said earlier, there is much for all of us to learn from First Nations ways of inclusion. I look forward to working closely with the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Honourable Linda Burney to progress this critical work.
Returning to other aspects of Australia’s Disability Strategy, a big focus is improving the transition from school to work and improving pathways and accessibility to further education and training.
Students with disability have the same right to access and participate in education as students without disability.
The Strategy is also focussed on community attitudes; we have heard from people with disability that attitudes can be the biggest barrier for them to succeed in life and that is critical from a young age.
As the Strategy is implemented over the next ten years, you will be able to see real, tangible results being achieved.
It’s one of my priorities to also improve pathways for youth with a disability into meaningful employment - if that’s their own goal and chosen by them.
Nationally the unemployment rate is at 3.9 per cent – the lowest rate in decades. But youth unemployment still remains much higher at 8.8 per cent.
The Labor government will later this year host a Jobs Summit to focus on employment pathways and how to create opportunities for the workers of our future.
As Minister for Social Services I will play a key role in that Summit and I want disability employment and youth to be a part of the discussion.
But, I want to go further. I want to make disability employment a key plank of the work I do this year.
People with disability should have equal opportunities in employment.
I strongly believe that everyone deserves the dignity of work and the economic, social and psychological benefits that work brings.
There is so much more we can do in this space – as a Government we are looking at how we can improve employment outcomes for people with disability.
We know that people with disability typically spend longer than the broader population on income support.
For young people with disability, one of our priorities is to better support the transition from school to work – so unemployment is not an issue in the first place.
Young people with disability need the same access to work experience, part-time jobs and other opportunities to explore their employment opportunities.
Meaningful employment should be a realistic and achievable goal for everyone.
I intend on hosting a disability employment roundtable in addition to the Jobs Summit to centre our focus in this space.
This Government is committed to a better future for Australians with disability of working age so they can benefit from equal opportunity in employment. There are almost 2.1 million people with disability in Australia of working age.
We want to ensure young people with disability are supported to find work and enter careers of their choice.
Hiring someone with disability should not be seen as an optional or charitable act. People with disability bring diverse skills and experiences and make significant contributions to the workplace.
There is an amazing, skilled workforce that is sadly underutilised. Hiring a person with disability makes good business sense and is good for the nation.
We know increasing employment opportunities has the power to positively change lives and reduce experiences of disadvantage and discrimination.
The Government also supports young people with disability through a range of programs and services that create, support and promote connections between people with disability and the communities they live in.
People with disability have the right to feel included, valued and safe, wherever they are. And all Australians need to work together to achieve the best outcomes for those experiencing disadvantage.
In summary, there’s lots of work to do as a new Government to better support young people and children with disability – and importantly their families and carer.
I’ve spoken about a lot of things we are doing already and others we are building towards. I hope I have shown you how committed I am to driving better outcomes for all people with disability.
My guiding principle as Minister for Social Services is that government is here to support people. And to do this I will be looking to hear your voices on what matters most to you, to ensure we continue to do better to make a real difference.
We aren’t going to be able to combat every issue we face quickly and perfectly. But I promise we will try our best, working with you and for you.
It is your voices I want at the table helping in all aspects of improving disability policy.
I look forward to meeting many of you, hearing your ideas and working together to improve the futures of young people with disability.
A big thank you to Children and Young people with Disability Australia for all the important work you do and for organising such a great summit.