Kelly Vincent – ABC North Interview on the International Women’s Day Breakfast and Employment

ABC North by Northwest Interview with Sarah Tomlinson:

Sarah Tomlinson: Yesterday the Zonta Club of Port Lincoln held a very successful breakfast in honour of International Women’s Day. Their guest speaker was Kelly Vincent who at the end of her delivery received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Kelly Vincent: It felt incredible and sort of unnecessary but very, very kind. I’m really glad that the message resonated because talking about the discrimination that women and particularly women with disabilities continue to face in areas like employment and financial stability and pretty much every area of life is something that I’m so passionate about talking about. So I’m glad that it resonated.

Sarah Tomlinson: It’s been seven years since you’ve been elected. You’ve been in there trying to make as much change as you can, and this year the International Women’s Day motto is ‘Be bold for change’. Why do you think it’s important for women to be bold for change?

Kelly Vincent: You can’t be what you can’t see, in this case for girls and young women it’s very difficult to imagine a different life for themselves if they don’t see fellow women standing up and being leaders and making change. It can be hard for them to envisage that life for themselves and that’s why role models are so important. But I also think it’s important to remember that being bold means different things for different people. My own leadership style is rooted in empathy and in sharing human stories. I think that makes it easier to make a case for change if you have that human connection to the issue, and so it’s quite different to the bossy, be the loudest, stereotypical view of leadership that we get.

Sarah Tomlinson: What changes do you think we need here in South Australia?

Kelly Vincent: I think employment is obviously a huge issue and we need to look at innovative new markets to encourage innovation in employment and stability in employment. Dignity Party is certainly very proud to lend a strong voice to the call for a medical cannabis industry and industrial hemp industry here in South Australia and also even things like looking at potentially moving former automotive industry workers into other manufacturing jobs like manufacturing mobility aids, wheelchairs, shower chairs, even modifying existing vehicles to be driven by people with disabilities which is a market that’s only going to grow as people get older and as technology changes as well. There’s so many exciting opportunities, definitely employment is one of them. I’ve also been very pleased to play a role in getting the Disability Justice Plan running in South Australia which makes the courts systems much more accessible to a greater range of people than it has been before. There’s definitely some teething issues with that project that need to be addressed. Quite apart from the policy perspective, I think it’s really important that we focus on a culture shift as well. I think South Australia in particular in the regions in recent times has sort of devolved almost into this very negative self-talk and negative talk from other states as well with the power outages and that type of thing, it’s so important I think that we remain focused on what we can achieve and what we can change positively also.

Sarah Tomlinson: It was interesting to see the press conference with Jay Weatherill and Frydenberg last week and actually seeing Jay Weatherill being quite strong in standing up for South Australia and saying we’ve had enough. How did you feel when you saw the press conference?

Kelly Vincent: I think that you have to admire anyone who will – because ultimately that is the role of a South Australian Member of Parliament is to stand up for South Australia and so I think we need to take any opportunity to do that. I think I quite enjoyed the sort of dichotomy between the hug at the beginning between Tom Koutsantonis and Josh Frydenberg and then the Josh and Jay kind of argument that went on. But ultimately whether it’s through the media or through the community or through legislation within parliament we need to stand up for South Australia and doing that through the media is not always the most dignified way or the most constructive way, but it all counts in terms of preserving our image. So I think we all have our differences no matter what party we come from or policy perspectives we have, but we’re all there to achieve what we believe is the best for South Australia and I think anyone that’s willing to do that needs to be recognised as a colleague.

Sarah Tomlinson: In your chat today you talked about the gender pay gap and I believe you said 18% is the difference between men and women’s wages. When we think about a pay gap for people who have disabilities you also talked about people that were unable to take steps up to advance in their career and without real good reason, apart from the fact that they have a disability, how can this change in the community?

Kelly Vincent: I think it’s one of my big frustrations that there is a focus on the agenda pay gap and that’s welcomed and absolutely needs to be addressed. I also get frustrated, when we forget there are other groups also experiencing the same, even more severe disadvantage and when it comes to people with disabilities, only about 50% of us are actively participating in the workforce because of those access barriers, or stereotypical views of us, not being able to work, or not able to do certain jobs without actually asking us and focussing on our qualifications and skills, and so that’s why the Dignity Party is so active about promoting:

(a) the support that is already out there from the Government to modify the workplace if necessary and

(b) The fact that that is not always even necessary.

It’s about having that conversation with the person and meeting them for who they are and so what we have as a result is things like Australian Disability Enterprises or ADE, or sheltered workshops where people with disabilities are working in segregated employment with other people with disabilities, doing very menial tasks for extremely low pay rates and yes OK, argument for people who are proponents is that they get the healthcare card and disabilities support pension to supplement their income but my argument would be, wouldn’t it be better to have people employed in such a way they were earning enough not to rely on a disability support pension, isn’t that kind of the purpose of paid employment and so absolutely we need to tackle the physical barriers that exist in the workforce, the lack of accessible toilets, height adjustable desks, screen meters for blind vision impaired people, the list goes on which also has benefits for all the workers, even people having children in the workforce because the more accessible toilets, the more change tables there are really is of universal benefit so yes we need to address those physical barriers. But even more so we need to address the underlying cultural reasons why we don’t look at doing that and there are exactly those assumptions that people with disabilities can’t work, that we can only do very specific jobs, that we need to take more time off work because we get sick, when in fact that statically has proven not to be the case, in fact statistically we stay in the same workplace for longer, we take fewer days off, even then compared to people without disabilities, I’m really passionate from a policy perspective about addressing tangible things in the workplace, with accessibility but also those cultural barriers that exist.

Sarah Tomlinson: I know you talk about organisations that have set up employment for people with disabilities and groups work together and do often menial tasks, I know talking to some families here on Eyre Peninsula that in order for their children who are now 18 and they want to go out, want to find a job, if they go to Adelaide and work in some of those places, they in fact, the parents have to pay for their children to go and work which just seems ridiculous doesn’t it?

Kelly Vincent: Absolutely and that is a challenge that many families where a family member has a disability. In some respects whether you’re paying for an access cab to get to work and if your income is very low because of the type of work you’re doing because of their disability then you might even be spending more getting to work than you would earn in a day, so it’s a significant barrier for lots of people and one that I think that’s why even things like the public transport system, the accessibility on that needs to be addressed because all of these things I think are really strongly interconnected and from the Dignity for Disability perspective you know we’ve never called for so-called special treatment of people with disabilities or minority groups, all we’re looking at doing is addressing the particular barriers that particular groups face more than others and actually promoting that there’s universal benefit in doing that because if we have more accessible workplaces and more accessible public transport, one example that’s good for parents is prams, it’s good for our ageing population, it’s good for people with temporary injuries as well, I really think all these things are interconnected. We don’t give family members and particularly family carers of people with disabilities enough credit for the contribution they’re making to those individuals lives but also the money they’re saving the Government by filling in the gap in that persons’ support in their life and that’s why I think it’s so important to centre the supports around the person with disability because the better supported they are to be as independent as possible, the less time that mum or dad, brother or sister, might need to take time off work to fill in those gaps, might actually be able to return to work themselves. All these things are interconnected and that’s one of the things that I really love about my role, is getting to talk about all these issues and those things that might seem so simple on the surface, but actually when you boil down to it, you can’t do one thing without the other, we can’t talk about making innovative jobs available without making the workplace accessible, we can make the workplace accessible, it’s all well and good to do that but if you can’t get a bus to work, then all these things need to be holistically looked at, that’s what I’m really pleased to be doing in my role.