Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


World Down Syndrome Day

9:32 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

In 2012, the UN decided to designate 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day and called on people across the world to use this day to work together to raise awareness of people with Down syndrome and their right to live in dignity and make their own choices. This year, all people with Down syndrome will have the opportunity to contribute to the community and live valued lives, included on a full and equal basis with others in all aspects of society. People with Down syndrome can, and do, bring so much to our community, wherever they live around the world, when given the opportunity. But many still are prevented from making such meaningful contributions. Tomorrow, on World Down Syndrome Day, we have an opportunity to take part in a worldwide process, calling upon every person with Down syndrome to tell the world what they—you—can bring to our community.

This year's international video campaign is called Lea Goes To School. This is another in the long line of incredibly gut-wrenchingly beautiful and engaging videos that have been created by CoorDown, which is the Down syndrome organisation in Italy. This year, it's an animated film about Lea, who is walking down the road to go to school. The video gives us a clear opportunity to look at the need to promote the fundamental human right to inclusive education and full participation in the community—an education system in which every student, regardless of disability or difference, is welcomed and supported in regular classrooms and in which all students learn together and reach their full potential, academically, socially and emotionally. This would be a place that respects and values diversity and prepares all students to be members of the rich communities in which they work and live. This is the world of school to which all students, including students with Down syndrome and other disabilities, are entitled as they prepare to be part of the world beyond it.

Lea has that opportunity, and she knows that when children are included from the very start—from the very start of their educational journey—they're given the best opportunity to develop mutual respect and understanding, and the skills they need to live together in today's diverse communities. But we know that around the world many children with Down syndrome and other disabilities continue to be excluded from regular classrooms, denied access to an inclusive education and diverted into an alternate, separate, special life path, with lifelong consequences.

In the past in this place, Senator Sue Boyce made a strong argument for the need for inclusive education for people with disabilities, and she spoke here with passion about the way that inclusive education opportunities will make our communities stronger. This is an inclusion which is a true human right. Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the right to an inclusive education as a human right of people with disability. People aren't going to read all the UN proclamations, and they probably don't want to wade through a lot of academic research either. But, when you see the animation Lea Goes to School, the message is clearly placed in the voice of a young girl who, when directed towards a special route that would give her special education and special jobs, to live separately in a special way, she stands up and boldly says, 'I'm not special—I'm Lea.' And that's the message of Lea Goes to School.

I want to put on record the wonderful work of the CoorDown organisation in Italy. In past years, I've spoken about the impact of their previous videos that look at the world of people with Down syndrome and engage with all of us to listen and learn from the people who know best about Down syndrome—the people who have it. I did admit, in a previous contribution in this place, that I tear up regularly when I see these productions, and I really encourage people to take the opportunity to go to the website and see previous productions from previous Down syndrome days to see the beauty and the creative spirit of this organisation, and how they truly celebrate and engage on Down Syndrome Day. Truly, I think, again this year, with Lea Goes to School, they've come up with another winner.

Across Australia, Down Syndrome Australia has asked people to provide their own videos, to come forward and tell their stories about their own experiences and what they bring to their community. There's been a special program of 21 days of videos leading up to tomorrow, World Down Syndrome Day. I really hope that people take the chance to go onto the Down Syndrome Australia website and look at the stories of people who talk about their own lives. It ranges from very small children—there is a gorgeous little girl called Evie who's a dancer. She's very young, but she wants to express her individuality and her creativity in her dance.

I want to mention particularly tonight one of the special people who have told their story for World Down Syndrome Day—that's Callum. He is on the website in his red T-shirt working to help his sister Meaghan, who was the candidate for Gaven in the Queensland state election. One of her strongest campaign volunteers was her brother Callum, who worked on this campaign to help his sister in a tough fight to go into the state parliament of Queensland. Callum was described as an integral part of that team from the very beginning. He wanted to help his sister, and he brought his own special skills to the campaign. He was valued and enjoyed working with the other team members. His skills included making tea and coffee for the team when they got together for meetings or campaigning activities, helping out on the barbecue, and even taking part in something that I don't always enjoy, which is the doorknocking campaign. But apparently Callum really enjoyed it. We know now that Meaghan Scanlon did win that election and is now the newly elected member for Gaven in the state parliament, and a minister—the youngest woman minister in the history of the Queensland parliament. On the day that Meaghan was sworn in, Callum and his friends from the campaign and his mum were there together to share in the experience of welcoming Meaghan into the Queensland parliament.

Callum was day 13 of the program that was leading up to tomorrow's World Down Syndrome Day. All the stories—of Callum and the other people who are celebrated in that process—talk about the fact that they are living in the community and they are contributing to the community. We need to be aware, we need to learn and we need to experience with people who have Down syndrome, and the families that support them, the value that they bring into our society and the struggles that they have, because often there are tough times. But we see that, when people work together and they have respect and dignity, they can get through those tough times.

Another one of the young women, Olivia, talks about when she was in grade 10. She changed the learning support that was involved in her school, and she found the change very hard. But she had teachers who helped her and people who helped her through, and she won three awards at her last prize-giving night. She also did a National Institute of Dramatic Arts course. Again, this celebrates achievements and talks about accepting the challenges of living with Down syndrome in our society.

It's very important that we take the time on World Down Syndrome Day this year to look at the importance of a fully inclusive learning environment. We can celebrate with Lea that, while she may not be special when it comes to special needs, she is truly a special human being.