Parliament: Parliamentary Initiatives

Maurice Corcoran – SA Community Visitor

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I move:

That this council notes the contribution to the South Australian community of Maurice Corcoran AM and;

  1. Acknowledges the ongoing commitment of Mr Corcoran to ensuring that public transport is accessible to all; and
  2. Congratulates Maurice Corcoran on being given the Lesley Hall Leadership Award at the 10th National Disability Awards.

I move this notion in recognition of a long time disability rights activist in this state, who is now, of course, probably known to most members in this place as South Australia’s community visitor, both for mental health and disability support services. I am sure many members in this chamber know Maurice Corcoran. In introducing this motion today, I would like to introduce you to a little of his story. It is not my story, so I am sure he could do a better job of telling it, but I will try my best, and then I will elaborate further when I take this motion to a vote.

In the meantime, I would like to share a few words of Maurice’s story, or what I know Maurice’s story, that was developed by quoting a couple of excerpts from his story on the History of Disability in South Australia website, with an interview conversation for the 100 Leaders Project, Stories of Living, which Maurice participated in.

Maurice was born in 1958 at Tantanoola, in south-east South Australia. At age 18 he was working as an apprentice fitter and turner in M t Gambier, but all that changed when Maurice had a vehicle accident. He was travelling back from a BBQ just outside of Mount Gambier on a narrow road and had to move to the side to allow an oncoming car to pass but in doing so, started sliding on loose gravel, over-corrected and ended up swiping that car. A small suitcase on the back seat of the car was catapulted across the back seat striking Maurice on the back of the neck causing a C5/6 lesion which left him with quadriplegia. He sustained no other injuries.

When his Mum and Dad went to the hospital in Mt Gambier the doctor who had assessed Maurice said to them ‘Your son’s a quadriplegic. He’s the worst I’ve ever seen. He’ll never be able to do anything for himself or anyone else for the rest of his life.’ In retrospect that has [probably] been a great motivator for Maurice.

Maurice remembers lying in the Royal Adelaide Hospital spinal injuries intensive care area the first week or so after the accident. He received a telegram from the General Manager of Panel Board (his previous workplace) saying ‘if you can do anything at all after this we want you back here working for us.’ Maurice reflects how that automatically took him out of the sick role and got him thinking about a possible return to work. Consequently he is strongly committed to early intervention for people experiencing trauma or acquiring a disability in order to reach their full potential whatever that may be.

The story continues on, but for now I would just like to include one more point:

Maurice considers his philosophy has been important in the way he has chosen to live his life alongside disability. ‘All too often disability is seen as a great tragedy—a traumatic experience. In reality doors have closed, but other doors have opened up, and I always say that to people. You can look at a whole range of your interests, your skills and abilities, and there are always opportunities. It’s just a matter of what you do with it. Everyone’s got choices. And my dear old mum, I remember her philosophy was “W ell, you don’t have to look far to find someone worse off than yourself. ” I guess that’s the main thing—there’s always going to be challenges and opportunities for us to take on board. You can sit back and be an observer in life, or you can sit back and say ” I want to be a participant. I want to be a part of that. ” ‘

These are certainly words that Maurice has used not only to live his life but to help other people live better lives and the lives of their choosing. His work in the early 1990s, or maybe 2000s, involved lobbying for improved access to public transport, specifically to buses, because Maurice decided that he did not want to have to rely on access cabs to get everywhere, and fair enough. He was part of a very successful campaign in that regard.

He is now using that philosophy in his role as community visitor where he pays visits to different disability and mental health housing and support providers to ensure that the standards being provided in those places are a standard that I think we would all accept in regard to everything from the quality of the food to observing any physical restraint or violence or aggression that may be going on toward people supported in that service or living in that home and so on.

His fight is certainly a big one. We have many battles still to overcome in that area, but I know, from knowing Maurice in some small way personally, that his passion outweighs the challenge. As I have said, I will say more when the motion is taken to a vote, because I would like to mix in my comments with those of other members.

For the time being, I put on the record my thanks to Maurice yet again for all of his work and all of the advice that he has provided to me and my office in the course of his role as community visitor. Of course, I also acknowledge his being given the Lesley Hall Leadership Award at the 10th National Disability Awards. I look forward to providing more comments of support and acknowledgement for Maurice in summing up at a later date, but for now I commend the motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens.