ADJOURNMENT;Disability Services – 25 Oct 2010

During my time in this place several of my speeches have focussed on issues confronting people with disability. This would indicate to other senators and my constituents that disability services is one of my major areas of interest. I am a passionate advocate for people with disability—for their right to be treated as equal members of our community and to be given, to the greatest degree possible, the same opportunities in life as other Australians.

Another passionate advocate for people with disability was the former Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services, the member for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten has of course been succeeded by Senator McLucas, the new Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers. I would like to congratulate Senator McLucas on her appointment to what will no doubt be a very demanding but also very rewarding role. While Mr Shorten has made a big impact in the portfolio, I am sure Senator McLucas will also be a strong and passionate advocate for disability services.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to host Mr Shorten on a couple of occasions when he visited my home state of Tasmania. It was certainly a great opportunity to see firsthand his genuine regard for people with disability and the very real commitment he had to his portfolio. I was especially pleased that Mr Shorten found the time to visit during the International Day of People with a Disability and host a forum with stakeholders in the disability services sector.

On that day we also visited the Margate CP Tip Shop, operated by Cerebral Palsy Tasmania—‘CP Tas’—and tonight I take this opportunity to talk a little about CP Tas and their recent activities. CP Tas have recently established new premises, The Hunt, which is an adjunct to the Margate CP Tip Shop. The Hunt is an opportunity shop in Huntingfield, just south of Kingston, selling a vast range of antiques and collectibles. I had the pleasure to officially open The Hunt on 4 August, and although that was some time ago I think it is an important enough issue to talk about it in my speech tonight. Of course, 4 August was during National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Week.

National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Week is celebrated annually to recognise the achievements of people with cerebral palsy and to create greater awareness, understanding and acceptance. The theme of this year’s National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Week—Count Me In—is a plea to all Australians that they consider taking personal responsibility for the communities that they live in. The opening of The Hunt was truly a community event, and it was attended by staff, CP Tas representatives, parents of the staff and members of the broader community. CP Tas have put together a photo montage of the event on YouTube, and there is a link to it from my website for anyone interested in looking at it.

It was especially a pleasure to meet some of the delightful staff, who all seemed to enjoy and take great pride in their work. When I arrived, a handful of the staff were engaged in putting together some beautiful mosaic images on round tiles, and those mosaics were available for sale, arranged in a row against the fence surrounding the shop’s premises. Of course, the day’s proceedings had to be opened by one of the staff blowing on a royal trumpet, which is similar to a vuvuzela, one of the items that had been collected for the shop’s stock. CP Tas runs an Australian disability enterprise, and The Hunt is the training venue for this enterprise.

Australian disability enterprises, for those not familiar with them, are commercial enterprises that provide employment for people with disability in a supported employment environment. There are 355 such outlets around Australia providing employment to roughly 20,000 people with moderate to severe disabilities. While The Hunt is a commercial enterprise, any surplus it makes from its operations goes directly towards providing financial assistance to families of people with disability so they can purchase aids and equipment. I add at this point that op shops are also a great way of promoting environmental sustainability. It seems that when we promote sustainable resource use we often hear the catchcry ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, yet while two of the three Rs—reducing and recycling—seem to get a lot of the focus, there is very little public discussion about the concept of reusing.

It was especially satisfying to have the opportunity to open The Hunt, because when the Margate CP Tip Shop’s owners, Kingborough Council, were considering offering the tender to operate the shop to another company, I was involved in the campaign for CP Tas to keep the contract, and that was a long time before I entered this place. Without CP Tas continuing to hold the contract to operate the Margate CP Tip Shop, the existence of The Hunt would not have possible. To their credit, Kingborough Council reconsidered their original decision and awarded the contract again to CP Tas—a proven, confident and successful operator—rather than to a private company. There was a fair amount of public pressure applied to bring about this decision—the issue was raised in the House of Representatives and discussed on the ABC’s Stateline program. It was an important victory for people living with cerebral palsy and their families, because without that source of revenue CP Tas would have had to seek that funding through other means and several people with disability would not have been in supported employment. The revenue from Kingborough Council and the resulting employment opportunities are vital to supporting people with disability, including cerebral palsy.

CP Tas are an organisation whose mission is to provide services and support to people with disability, particularly cerebral palsy, and to engage the broader community in doing so. They do this through a variety of services, including a Tasmanian CP register, which is a collection of data about people living with cerebral palsy. The CP register’s data helps to identify how many people have cerebral palsy in Tasmania, which areas they live in and whether there are changes in the incidence and severity of cerebral palsy. They provide assistive equipment and technology to schools to support children with disability. They also provide financial assistance to families to help them meet equipment and technology needs or assist with their day-to-day lives. CP Tas also assists schoolchildren with transport to and from school with a fleet of specially equipped buses. Finally, there is their supported employment program, which operates through The Hunt and the tip shop. In addition to raising funds from The Hunt and the tip shop, CP Tas runs a number of fundraising activities. These include an annual wine show called the Grape A’ Fare, a golf day, and an event called A Thousand Kilometres for Kids, which involves 1,000 kilometres of gruelling swimming, running and kayaking from Marrawah on the north-west coast of Tasmania to Kingston in the south.

For Senators to get a picture of how CP affects those living with it, they should imagine their limbs refusing to do exactly what their brains told them to do and the frustration that would cause in their daily lives. As if that frustration is not enough, people with cerebral palsy can also experience derision and ridicule because of their condition. One of the things that make National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Week so important is the need to educate society about cerebral palsy and how it affects those who have it. Unfortunately, there will always be some people who through cruelty and ignorance say careless or insensitive things to people with cerebral palsy, but the more understanding we can promote about this condition the more we can promote acceptance of people with cerebral palsy. With understanding and acceptance comes the will to provide appropriate support to help them achieve their life goals, and people with CP have a great deal to offer.

A good start, of course, is early intervention services for children with cerebral palsy. One of the Gillard Labor government’s election commitments is to provide more funding for early intervention services for children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Under our policy—called ‘a better start for children with disability’—the government will ensure that children with disabilities that affect their development have access to intensive early intervention therapies and treatments from expert health professionals. Children under six diagnosed with a listed disability will be eligible to receive up to $12,000 for early intervention services. A maximum of $6,000 can be spent in any financial year, and families have up to their child’s seventh birthday to use the funding. Around 20,000 children under the age of 13 with disabilities will also be able to access new Medicare services for diagnosis and treatment. A Medicare rebate for the development of a treatment and management plan will be available for each diagnosed child under the age of 13, and this will reduce financial pressures on their families.

In the short time I have left to talk about National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Week I return to its theme, Count Me In, and point out that it is important that we acknowledge the hard work and dedication of those who are already standing up to be counted. Carers of people with a disability provide such a valuable service to the community. These are ordinary people doing an extraordinary job for almost nothing; it is the desire to make sure their loved ones have the best quality of life possible that spurs them on. Those people include husbands and wives, parents, sons, daughters, siblings and other friends and relatives. The commitment they make to helping people with a disability is selfless.