By bobb |

Hon Bill Shorten MP

Member for Maribyrnong
Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services

Bill Shorten spoke on the 01/04/2009 at the National Press Club. The publicity (see said:

The Rudd Government has put the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups – including people with disability – at the core of its vision for Australia.

Public recognition is growing that Australians with severe disability and their family carers deserve better support.

The Rudd Government has vested responsibility for delivering on its plans for disability services in one of its new team, Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten.

The Rudd Government has promised to deliver a National Disability Strategy and a National Disability and Mental Health Employment Strategy, both of which will require the cooperation of State and Territory governments.

It has set up an inquiry into how to increase investment into the chronically under-funded disability sector and it has promised to revamp the Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement, the national policy and funding framework for services to 220,000 Australians with severe disability.

The transcript for his speech is at

I welcome positive material such as this, especially from the Government and our elected representatives. However, I am concerned that aspects of the rhetoric are well ahead of reality or even understanding.

For example, the title's reference to any Right is misleading since the High Court of this country decided (in Purvis vs NSW [2003] HCA 62 by a narrow majority) that anyone who dislikes the behaviour of a person with a disability can exclude the person with a disability from a school (presumably from any ordinary setting such as a workplace, a community facility, etc.) In particular, schools can exclude a person with a disability and there is no need legally for any education safety net for people with a disability. This lack of a right to an education means there is no right to an ordinary life. The right of everyone else to feel comfortable overrides any needs of a person with a disability.

Australian law allows discrimination of any kind in services for people with a disability ... so services intended to help some people with a disability are often not available to all people with a disability. For example, governments provide case management and respite services for people with intellectual disability but refuse quite legally such a service to people with autism spectrum disorders. Or the Federal Government offers Carer's Allowance for carers of children with Autistic Disorder or Asperger's Disorder but deny it to children with PDD-NOS (all three by diagnoses involve "severe and pervasive impairment").

People with a disability do not have any right in Australia to treatment or rehabilitation that improves their prospects for a having an ordinary life. The government's conduct in relation to the international treaties on the Rights of children and people with a disability mislead the people ... including some key people who should know better.

On the positive side, there seems to be some sign that public awareness of these issues is growing. Bill Shorten and the Rudd Government must be commended for their contribution to this growing awareness. Recognition and public acknowledgement that the disability sector is chronically under-funded is an important step.

The speech contains some interesting material ... well worth a read if such things interest you.

Perhaps the biggest concern arising from the actual event was the conduct of the press gallery. Frankly, the questions they asked showed a profound ignorance of the subject and an especially negative approach to disability issues. They deserve contempt and derision for their utterly underwhelming performance. For example, first up came the obvious, stupid and negative question "how much will it cost?" rather than the useful and informative question "what are the likely economic benefits of better outcomes for people with a disability?" or just "how much will it save?".