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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 81


Senator KNOWLES (2:59 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services. I ask the minister whether she would inform the Senate how the Howard government is providing more opportunities and increased assistance to people with disabilities and if she is aware of any alternative policies.


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) —I thank Senator Knowles for her question and acknowledge her long and abiding interest in issues affecting people with disabilities. The Australian government is committed to a focus on ability to take the `dis' out of disability. The International Day of People with a Disability is held on 3 December every year—tomorrow. I notice Senator McLucas is wearing her ribbon. We will be wearing ribbons every day soon. It is a United Nations sanctioned event and a day to celebrate the ability of people with disabilities. I hope that all members and senators will acknowledge that day tomorrow.

The Australian government's vision for supporting people with disabilities is to provide more opportunities for participation in the economic and social life of the community, and to achieve better outcomes for those individuals. As part of recognising International Day of People with a Disability my department has produced a teachers resource kit to raise awareness of disability issues with teachers and students and an annual disability calendar, which celebrates the ability and contributions to society of all people with a disability. The Australian, state and territory governments have committed around $16.2 billion over the five years of the third Commonwealth-state and territory disability agreement, with the Australian government's share being nearly $5 billion. I recently launched the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, which will provide a national voice for people with disabilities.

Since the Howard government's introduction of legislation to maintain pension rates at no less than 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings, we have seen increases in payment of both the disability support pension and the carer payment by $43 per fortnight. This is more than the increase in the cost of living—$43 a fortnight more than would have otherwise been the case under the old indexation. The number of jobseekers assisted through disability employment assistance has increased by greater than 60 per cent. Currently, proposed changes to the disability support pension are stalled in the Senate. These reforms are about delivering quality services, greater opportunities and fairer wages for people with disabilities. The reforms will help those who are able to work 15 hours or more a week at full award wages. These changes will not apply only to new DSP applicants, and will not impact on people with a severe profound disability.

The 2004-05 budget included a further $99 million over four years for disability employment services to strengthen the disability employment sector, to support services in moving forward with the reforms and to improve the living standards of very vulnerable workers. I am also pleased to say that all state and territory ministers at last week's cross-jurisdictional meeting accepted the Australian government's plan and offer to help ageing carers plan for the future of their adult sons and daughters with a disability who are growing older. The carers are growing older and they are asking questions that we, as state and Commonwealth governments, need to be able to answer. They are not easy questions or easy answers, but it is time we faced up to them. We are going a little more slowly at the ministerial meeting but it is back on the agenda and I have told the ministers that I am serious about it.

In addition, following the Australian government's offer of $72.5 million the state and territory ministers agreed to negotiate mutually acceptable arrangements to meet the respite needs of carers over the age of 70 years who are carers of sons and daughters with a disability. These people have cared for their sons and daughters for 30, 40 and 50 years and are asking for respite. They deserve it. I have asked the states to work quickly to ensure that we have this $72.5 million for giving respite to those carers.

The ALP has said that it is committed to improving disability services but when you look at their policy it is about reviews, summits, analysis and targets—there is nothing about real practical help. We need to ensure that people with disabilities get the help they deserve. (Time expired)


Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.