Speech given 7 December 2022:
Dhawura nguna dhawura Ngunnawal.
This is Ngunnawal Country.
Tonight we are gathering on Ngunnawal country.
This always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Sovereignty was never ceded.
I pay my respects to First Nations elders past and present and acknowledge them for their nurturing of future leaders, and I acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.
I know many people and families have a connection to the ACT and Region. Canberra has always been a place where people come together to share knowledge and ideas.
To become a truly reconciled nation, to be able to truly care for country and for each other, we must listen to, understand and support First Nations people. This is why truth, treaty and voice is so important, and it’s why I will be supporting a referendum for an Indigenous voice to Parliament, as well as the work of truth-telling and treaties.
• Mr Dylan Alcott AO, Current Australian of the Year
• Aunty Violet Sheridan, Ngunnawal Elder
• Members of the ACT Inclusion Council
• 2022 Inclusion Awards judges
• 2022 Sponsors
• Members of the ACT Disability Reference Group
• Mr Andrew Barr MLA, ACT Chief Minister
• Ms Rachel Stephen-Smith MLA, Minister for Health
• All the finalists and their supporters present tonight.
Good evening everyone.
Can I just start by saying, you all look amazing tonight. This is the first time I’ve been to the Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards, and it’s a pretty awesome night, isn’t it?
Tonight is an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding achievements of people with disability in our community, and to value allies of people with disability working to change the world for the better.
And it’s been a heck of a year, right? I want to take you back, just for a moment, to January 2022. I was supposed to have a week off work, my first proper break since I started this job in November 2020. But that week, Canberra was hit by the Omicron wave, and the supercell storm that took out power for hundreds of houses and caused massive damage and disruption. I think a lot of us, particularly people who have the least personal capacity to adapt to living in isolation without reliable electricity, were feeling pretty down.
And then we had the Australian of the Year announcements. I remember sitting in my lounge room, watching Dylan Alcott’s speech, and just cheering “yes!”
Because Dylan was talking about everything that was already on my to do list:
• Look after people, especially those most at risk, during COVID-19.
• Make the NDIS work the way it should.
• Get more people with disability into employment.
• And for people with disability to have pride in themselves.
And we’re doing these things. On the day Dylan made that speech, the ACT Government made the decision to provide free Rapid Antigen Tests to every disability in home support worker, even though the Commonwealth wasn’t willing to fund it at the time. No cost, no hassle, we just did it. Thank you, Chief Minister, for supporting that.
Working with the current Commonwealth Minister and other State Ministers, and an NDIA Board with more representation from people with lived experience of disability than ever before, we are taking on the big task of the NDIS Review. And I am very happy that the terms of reference include things that I advocated strongly for, like assessing the value of the NDIS not just the financial costs. And that any future changes to the NDIS will be co-designed with people with disability, just as the original design of the NDIS was done with people with disability. And when I say co-design, I mean the real deal.
This is what we’ve been doing in the ACT this year in developing our new ten-year Disability Strategy for the ACT, setting the agenda for how we continue our journey to being the most accessible, inclusive, welcoming city in Australia.
As the Chief Minister mentioned earlier, the consultation for the ACT’s Strategy was co-designed and led by the ACT Disability Reference Group. Every conversation was led by people with disability. And it was not just inclusive, it was intersectional. We had people with disability leading conversations about their experience and goals as people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, as First Nations people, as members of the LGBTIQ+ community. I can’t pop out to get milk in this city without someone literally stopping me in the street to tell me what a great experience they had participating in the ACT Disability Strategy.
I thank the Disability Reference Group for co-designing the consultation and all the facilitators for the time and energy they invested in delivering such productive consultation events. And to every person who participated – thank you. You have given me the next decade of to do lists. And can I please get a cheer for the Chief Minister and Treasurer who I’m sure is looking forward to my requests to fund all the good things we’re going to do
Employment is one area that came through very clearly in the ACT Disability Strategy consultations, just as it did in Dylan’s speech back in January. We are listening, and we are acting on it.
This group of people in the room tonight are excellent champions for these changes and the right people to be allies and supporters of this work. It reinforces to me the importance of the last piece of work I did with Sue Salthouse, just a few years ago, trying to get better data on unemployment for women with disabilities in the ACT. Meaningful, interesting work with a true living wage should be accessible to everyone, and it makes such a difference to our lives.
Cultural and systemic change is a challenging, long-term proposition that requires ongoing effort and commitment.
Which brings me to the last thing on Dylan’s to do list from last January: for people with disability to have pride in themselves.
Disability pride is a growing chorus that I hear throughout the community. Seeing the diversity of the way our bodies and minds work as a strength, and taking pride in disability being part of identity, is challenging. It’s not what we’ve all internalised over our lives about what disability means.
But the truth is, our community is facing some big problems, and we need the voices of people with disability at every decision making table. We’re facing the existential threats of living with COVID, climate change, the growing inequality crisis, a world in conflict. We need your creativity, your talents, your flexibility and adaptability, your ideas if we’re going to solve this. We need all of you.
If we’re going to build a better world, we have to do things differently so we don’t just build back more of the same. We need people who see things differently, have different life experiences, think differently. It’s a different world, and we’re going to make it a better one together. I encourage you to push me to shake things up.
Thank you to all our finalists this evening who are putting these values into actions to ensure we all belong, participate and flourish, and that we all look out for each other.
I wish all our finalists the very best of luck this evening, however I know you are all winners and I thank you for making my community a better place to be!
Enjoy your evening everyone.