House debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020


International Day of People with Disability

4:50 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are getting towards the end of quite a difficult year. Many of us are thinking about our families and thinking about ourselves. But today is actually a very significant day; 3 December marks International Day of People with Disability. It's a day for us to share messages of inclusivity, to celebrate and recognise the achievements of people with disability and to focus on the ability of individuals rather than their disability. It's perhaps one of the most important days of the year, and we all ought to be part of it. There are 4.4 million Australians who live with disability, and this is an opportunity for us to celebrate each and every one of them.

I have worked with people from every corner of the world, from every part of the country, from every racial group, from every socioeconomic group, and I can tell you that disability doesn't discriminate. I've had the joy of working with numerous families through the years. Many of my patients have some form of disability, be it people like Ethan with cerebral palsy, Nafese with cerebral palsy, George with Down syndrome and Nathaniel with autism. I've experienced and witnessed the heartbreak of some truly difficult and harrowing stories, and I've also experienced firsthand the joy and love that people living with disability can bring to the lives of others. I love this year's theme: 'Building back better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world'. I think that's a great message.

Many people think that, with the advent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, helping people with disability is done and dusted. That's not the case, clearly. We must build a world that's inclusive of all, and we must make that world accessible. It's astounding to me that this parliament has very few people with disability serving in it, and I think we can do a whole lot better.

Throughout my career I've witnessed some revolutionary initiatives which have transformed the lives of people living with disability. A simple thing like making our train stations accessible to people with disability has really opened the world for many people who have mobility issues, may be wheelchair bound or have cerebral palsy. I have a patient with cerebral palsy who has to use a wheelchair, and he now travels from Campbelltown to North Sydney and back every day on the train to go to work. I think this is absolutely fantastic. A simple thing like that has made an absolute revolution to the lives of people with disability. Of course, even simple things done years ago, such as the advent of Medicare, have enabled people with disability to access medical treatment that they previously hadn't had.

We've spoken about the NDIS. I remember speaking to Julia Gillard close to 20 years ago when she first came into the parliament, when she came out to the electorate as a guest of Chris Hayes. She said, 'We must do better for people with disability.' Even then she was thinking about the NDIS. To give credit, it has bipartisan support; former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was a very strong supporter of the NDIS. We have done well but there is a long way to go.

The latest quarterly figures show that, for example, the NDIS is currently serving over 400,000 participants, and that's made a remarkable difference to them and their families. Children with autism who may have severe literacy difficulties, even post-school, can now access speech therapy, occupational therapy and job support. Again, this is life-changing for these people.

My electorate of Macarthur is a wonderful place to live and work, and its people are its greatest assets. But we have a relatively high level of people living with a disability, and the NDIS and the move to a more accessible world has made a marked difference to many of these people. The reason for my consistent advocacy for this and for continued advocacy for supports in my electorate—such as the Shepherd Centre for children with severe hearing loss, which I'm pleased to report the state government has just announced funding for—is that everyone needs to be included in our society. People with disability, the gifts of our society, have as many rights as anyone else, and I will continually advocate for them.