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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1694

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (09:42): On 21 March the federal parliament will play host to a national treasure. Mr Tony Stevens, a child welfare campaigner for more than four decades who turns 88 this year, will be rollerskating to Canberra. That is right: at 88 years of age he will be rollerskating to Canberra pushing a person in a wheelchair. He will be here to launch his book, detailing his life and the course that he has pursued, entitled The Last Gamble and the Years Between, and also to protest at this government's talk about an NDIS but its failure to put any money up. I am sure Tony would want me to acknowledge the Engisch family and their extended family at the Canterbury Bankstown Torch, who have warmly assisted Tony to get his book published, and Clubs Australia, in particular Anthony Ball.

Tony and I have shared a common experience of raising a child with a disability. His son Larry was born with Down syndrome, as was my boy Trent. Larry's fight for life and his ultimate death sparked a determination in Tony's soul that stirred a lifelong pursuit to get a better deal for children with disabilities. After 40 years of standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves, a fire still burns, driving Tony in this pursuit in his golden years.

I would like to share a passage from Tony's book. This passage outlines the moment when Tony first felt the call to fight for children with a disability as he sat beside Larry, who was near death:

I gathered my things from the casualty room, where I had stayed during a forty-eight hour vigil and prepared to leave the hospital. It seemed there was nothing more that I could do.

A child that seemed to have no ideal sanctuary in our world would go to his maker; the problem that appeared to have no answer would be solved… a feeling of relief flooded through me.

Overcome by grief and remorse I went back to take one last look at Larry, lying at peace, ashamed for thinking that 'death was the only solution' to the problems that arrived with his birth.

Kneeling at the side of his cot, appealing to the God that I doubted, asking forgiveness for surrendering my Faith during the turmoil and tragedy, making a 'silent' vow: 'to pledge my life to the cause of children like him as atonement.' A miracle happened. When he recovered, I took him home, determined that he would never again be forsaken and I would build 'a world of their own', that would provide for the specific needs, care and protection for children like him.

Tony Stevens will be in Canberra next month on his last gamble, a crusade that began more than 40 years ago. I am pleased to report to the House that I have copy of The last gamble and the years between, for every member of this House to read. I hope you read it and understand, and make a commitment to national disability insurance.