In the Media

One Plus One Interview with Mike Sexton and Kelly Vincent MLC

Presenter: Kelly Vincent has just turned 22, and, earlier this year, was elected to South Australia’s Upper House, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to an Australian parliament. She represents the dignity for disability Party, after she herself was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth. Using a wheelchair hasn’t stopped the young MP, who was a playwright and actor before being elected to parliament.


Kelly Vincent is speaking with Mike Sexton.


Mike Sexton: Kelly Vincent, you’ve been in the South Australian Parliament now for about six months; what’s been the most unexpected part of this job?


Kelly Vincent: The job!… Itself….is really the only answer I can give you, and… the whole thing has been completely unexpected. And I think a lot of people probably know that by now, so…


Mike Sexton: What adjustments have you had to make now that you’re inside the Parliament, rather than on the outside as an advocate?


Kelly Vincent: I suppose… ummm… firstly, when you’re doing it by yourself sort of for yourself, I guess, you know, trying to get your own wheelchair or your service, or whatever it may be, you definitely present yourself a little differently than you may when in Parliament. Ummm but in terms of the actual heart and interest and the intention that is behind it… I don’t know whether that’s changed. But definitely, I suppose, the awareness – in that I may still be trying to achieve a lot of the same things, but it’s not just for me, it’s for the whole of South Australia, and, I would hope, the whole of Australia eventually.


Mike Sexton: Being the first MP elected on a disability platform, what’s the burden of expectation been like?


Kelly Vincent: Pretty big! Pretty big. I mean, ummm, how do – how does one deal with being compared to – to Nelson Mandela, and Helen Keller, and all of these people that have made this amazing contribution to—to society and… when – when one feels that, y’know… that I haven’t really even made mine yet. It’s a big… I mean, it’s a big honour, but it’s also a big… a bit of a weight on the old shoulders! Umm… but… ah… no, I mean, at the same time, I do hope to live up to those expectations, so all I can do is take one step at a time and… and go as far as I can in one parliamentary year, and then another, and—and then six more!


Mike Sexton: You must get a mixture of people first of all wanting personal help with their unmet needs, but also perhaps trying to look systemically at how you can change things for the better. How do you sort of find that balance between those two needs?


Kelly Vincent: At the moment, I have to say that it’s been particularly difficult to focus on systemic change when you have… y’know, parents have children with autism ringing up saying their child—child’s violent behaviour is escalating and they can’t get help and they’re afraid that either their child will kill them, or they will kill their child. It’s very difficult to focus on… (chuckles nervously) the bigger picture when you feel like you’re putting out these ‘spot fires,’ so to speak. Umm, however, umm, we will get there eventually—at the moment we do have the, umm, the Productivity Commission inquiry into disability services, which is a kind of a more holistic thing than we’re focusing on at present. We’ve definitely been involved in that as much as we can, but I think it will be a while before the real plan for systemic change, umm, comes about.


Mike Sexton: d4d has been described as a single issue party—that’s something you reject. Why is that?


Kelly Vincent: Because I think on—at least on some level, the terms ‘single issue’ implies that there is a single solution to the issue at hand. So…. do I stop having a disability because I have a suitable wheelchair? Does a deaf person stop being deaf because they have a hearing aid or interpreter—etcetera, etcetera—no. We still face, umm, issues in terms of access; every time I ring up to book a restaurant, I have to check that it’s got ramps, errr, instead of stairs, and lifts and accessible toilets and this kind of thing.. I – I still face, ummmm, perceptions and connotations in society because of my disability, so no, I think that, umm, it’s really about more than giving me a wheelchair, or a support worker or anything to that—that extent, so to that end I – I do reject the issue of –umm, the label of ‘single issue’, yes.


Mike Sexton: a lot of people look at you… 22 years old, you’re in state parliament… you’ve achieved so much already, but where did this… young woman come from – what was it that inspired you when you were younger and what dreams did you have for yourself growing up?


Kelly Vincent: Umm, in terms of the dreams I had for myself… I suppose I still hold them now; they’re to be a playwright, and a disability human rights activist, and, err, and actress when they let me act—ah, I’m not fussed as long as I can write but acting is nice – umm, I want to travel, I want to help people become educated, and – and teach the world to see the world in.. the way that I do, which is… from compassion and hope and –dare I say it!—love!


Mike Sexton: What’s your sort of aim in this term of the parliament? What is it as a single person in the Upper House you can achieve, you think?


Kelly Vincent: Well, I think it is important to say that one person in parliament isn’t just one vote: it’s one voice, so I can stand up for a lot of different issues. Umm, but I guess my main focus at the moment has actually been getting my head around the job (laughs) and the Parliamentary process so that I can learn how best to go about the things that I want to achieve. Ummm obviously it’s a big process that has been… slower than I might have liked it to have been… but I guess in terms of what I’ve achieved in Parliament, ummm, in this term, ah… in my first three or four months I introduced a Bill for mandatory reporting for people with disabilities, whose disabilities are such they may not be able to communicate a complaint about abuse or neglect, or their intellectual capacity may be such that they can’t understand the abuse—the nature of abuse and neglect. So, umm… that’s still got to come to a vote, it has a long journey a head of it, and we are still looking to improve it to, errm, protect as many people as it can without impeding on people’s dignity and independence, umm, so that is going to be a long process, but if I may blow my own trumpet for a moment, I’ve been told that it is quite impressive to introduce a bill in one’s first three months of parliamentary sitting, so, umm, I’ve got that, errr, both behind me and in front of me, I suppose. Umm, I suppose I have also been taking the Government to task in terms of asking questions in parliament—regarding Self Managed Funding, umm, access to Disability Services, young people in nursing homes, just to name a few. So I guess really just letting the Government know that these issues are out there and we do have our eye on them in terms of these issues. I suppose that in itself is a step.


Mike Sexton: Next year, we expect the Productivity Report to come down and part of that will be the costings, I guess, of a national insurance scheme. What hopes do you hold for that report?


Kelly Vincent: Well, I think it goes without saying that I hope for… at least some increase in funding for the disability sector to deal with the crisis that we have at this present time. In terms of a broader, more systemic change, one thing that I’m really hoping for is the implementation of a national disability insurance scheme which is something… at the moment we’re thinking would look comparable to the Medicare levy in that everyone would pay a small amount toward Disability Services, which would stop, I hope, this build-up of waiting lists and waiting for services and this desperate crisis need that we have at the moment. But I think it’s also important in that it could actually help to bring disability up in being a ‘mainstream’ issue, and a community responsibility and privilege, in that if everybody has to pay for it, like they do with the Medicare levy, like they do in terms of care services, then, I mean… we don’t know whether we’re ever going to… end up in a coma, but we still pay for these things, so why should we not pay in case we end up in a wheelchair or in a coma or with a brain injury or any of these things? It could happen at any moment, and I’m not saying that to make it sound morbid, I’m saying that this needs to happen, and it should be a privilege to provide our society’s future in that way.


Mike Sexton: You are an ‘accidental politician’ by your own description. Is it a career or is politics something you’d recommend to other people?


Kelly Vincent: Ummm… I don’t know whether I’d recommend any job to any person because everyone has their own vision for the world and their own interests, ummm, but it is definitely something I would recommend for anyone who’s got their—or believes that they have their head and their heart in the right place, and wants to do best for the people of this great state in which we live. If I can do it, who can’t—right?!