Global Citizenship Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Speech to Global Citizenship Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College, St Joseph’s Education Centre
June 14, 2016

Hello everyone, thanks Dr Knight for inviting me to come and meet you today.  I hope we will have time for a chat and any questions you may have, but I will start with a few words about how I got into parliament and disability rights, but I’d also like to share some video clips with you, and that’s not something I usually do but I found some things that I hope you will find interesting and wanted to share those.

So, starting with my political journey –

Unbeknown to me at the time, my political journey began when I started a campaign of advocating for a new wheelchair.  I was 20 years old and was still using the same wheelchair I’d had since I was 10!  And I certainly had done a fair bit of growing between 10 and 20 years of age – and my wheelchair was too small and it was causing me problems because of this.

Although Disability SA were fully aware of my need for a new chair, I had been waiting more than two years and I just got fed up.  I was constantly having to monitor with Disability Services when I might finally get my adult wheelchair.  So, out of my frustration I set up a campaign on Facebook and all of a sudden people from all over Australia and the world were interested – including David Bevan and Matthew Abraham the presenters from ABC Adelaide radio, and I became a bit of a regular on their program – telling their listeners the latest update in my wait for my wheelchair.

Through this experience I realised that in every sense for me, the personal is political.  Because it is action that takes us beyond our words, beliefs and thoughts to lead us to become that more respectful, fair, just and equal society we want South Australia to be, and it was through this wheelchair campaign – where I was not only advocating for my own rights but also for the rights of my peers – that I was approached by Dignity for Disability to stand as a candidate in the 2010 election.  In unexpected circumstances I was elected becoming something of an “accidental politician”.

I’ve seen some great changes for the disability sector in the six years since I was elected.  Australia now has a National Disability Insurance Scheme, or NDIS, being rolled out.  We have an Act that governs it at the federal level that refers to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, or UNCRPD.  This has enabled South Australia’s antiquated Disability Services Act to be amended to refer to the UNCRPD – and about time too since it was ratified by Australia in 2008!  I have been proud to play a pivotal role in creating SA’s Disability Justice Plan as a way of giving a voice to people who were voiceless.  Our planning laws now require consideration of the inclusion of the principles of Universal Design in the built form and the public realm, to support access for people with differing needs and capabilities.

So in some ways, the human rights of people with disability as equals alongside their non-disabled peers in the community are slowly being recognised.

But we still have such a long way to go. People still ring up talkback radio and ask ‘why should I have to pay for someone else’s kid’s wheelchair?’  forgetting that tomorrow they themselves – or their own child – could so easily become members of the “disability club” becoming dependent on others for their showers and personal care for the rest of their life.  That’s the reality of it, and of course it makes me angry that such attitudes still exist.

I want to see a community that can more than cope with differences – I want our system to offer the type of positive and re-assuring attitudinal support that makes everybody feel valued for the role they play.  I don’t want people to feel that they can’t get the understanding they need when they are trying to access services.

I guess it may surprise some of you that, as a politician, my primary goal is to do myself out of a job.  And this goal will be reached when having a disability in South Australia no longer constitutes a full-time job for anyone.  In every sense, I exist in my current position as a member of parliament to ensure that we get a paradigm shift within our society which results in a deep understanding of what it does, and does not, mean to live with a disability.  It is about breaking down those attitudinal barriers.

To me, it seems that even with the best will in the world, many people do not fully respect the rights of people with disabilities, even people who work every day in the health, disability and education sectors.

So, as young women, what can you do?  Well, I would like to encourage you to join Amnesty International, and through them become involved in campaigns for human rights, but to also see the everyday place to stand up for people who are not getting a fair go.  Even in 21st Century Australian society, women and people with disabilities, as well as others, don’t always stand equally with others, and we need to see that it is our place to change that.

The personal is political.  I will leave you with my three keys to getting it right.

They are: “fairness, innovation, and respect”.

Fairness, because everyone deserves a fair go.

Innovation, because one important way forward is to work together to discover the synergy of creative solutions, and

Respect, because, it doesn’t matter whether or not you can help someone, showing them respect means we can all hold our heads high.

We are all in this together, and I hope we can take every opportunity to set ourselves the highest standards.

Now, before we turn to questions, I’d like to share some things from the web.





We are one woman – song for UN https://youtu.be/Dnq2QeCvwpw