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Australia's proud record in improving the status of people with intellectual disabilities

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N JE W § Brian H o w e

RELEASED e p u ty P r im e M in is te r M in is te r fo r H e a lth , H o u sin g a n d C o m m u n ity S e rv ice s

BH170/92 5 August 1992


Australia has come a long way in the area of intellectual disability with the most significant and far-reaching reforms being initiated under a decade of Labor Government, the Federal Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services, Brian Howe, said today.

Mr Howe was opening an international conference on intellectual disability, which is taking place at the Gold Coast, on behalf of the Prime Minister, Mr Keating.

The five-day conference, the 9th World Congress of the Intellectual Association for the Study of Mental Deficiency, brings together world leaders in the field of intellectual disability.

It provides a forum for the presentation of research into aspects of intellectual disability, including treatment, prevention, early intervention, employment, integration and community living, language, communication and educational programs.

Over 1,000 delegates are attending the congress.

Mr Howe said that in Australia the past ten years have been a time of unprecedented reform and development in disability policy, driven by the Government's social justice strategy.

"Disability Services provide an excellent example of social justice at work - by tackling inequities and advancing the rights of people with a disability and by addressing the fundamental or root problem - attitudes".

Mr Howe outlined the highlights of a decade of disability reform by the Federal Government.


Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Justice Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Commonwealth-State Relations

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These included:

Legislative reform under the Disability Services Act 1986 and the proposed Disability Discrimination Legislation;

Service and administrative reform under the Disability Reform Package and the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement signed by all Heads of Government in 1991; and

A range of reforms enhancing the options for people with intellectual disabilities to gain employment, such as the Union/Employer Disability Awareness Pilot Projects.

"It is now our aim as the Government to build on these fundamental reforms as we move into the 90's. Our goal is 'One Nation' - and if we can demonstrate fairness to all people, all groups within Australian society - then we are well on the way to achieving our goal".

Mr Howe said that it was especially important to focus on disability issues as we chart Australia's economic recovery, to ensure the full participation of people with disabilities in the workforce.

Referring to the recent Youth Summit, Mr Howe said, "People with a disability have the right to participate in the workforce and share in any future gains. Our job, which will not be easy, is to ensure that people with a disability

are able to access the training places and new jobs created as part of the new youth package".

Contact: Leith Greenslade, Mental Health Policy Section DHHCS Phone (06) 289 7534 or Rose Gardiner, Mr Howe's Office, 2777 680 or mobile phone 018 622 060











5 August 1992

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to be here

today, on behalf of the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Paul Keating, to open the 9th World Congress of The International Association for the Scientific Study of Mental Deficiency.

As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services, I am proud to represent the Government which has initiated the most significant and far-reaching reforms in the area

of disabilities.

In Australia as elsewhere, the past ten years have been a time of unprecedented reform and development in disability policy. Many

milestones have been reached along the road towards a fairer society - a fairer society for all of our citizens.

While acknowledging the many challenges which still lie ahead of us, I believe it is appropriate to take stock and also to acknowledge that the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 was a significant catalyst for reform. There is much we can be proud of.

This morning, I want to broadly outline some of these reforms, to

give you an idea of exactly how far we have come in Australia; and also to discuss new initiatives which I am confident will further advance the rights and the quality of life enjoyed by people with a


As you know, history has not generally been kind to people with a

disability, who have almost always been seen as somehow different

from the rest of society, and less deserving of a share in its


This negative difference has often led to them being feared or pitied by societies which have felt justified in isolating them from community life and offering them life conditions that were not as

good as those available to other citizens.

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It is for this reason that we must continue to aim for something


Only in this way will people with a disability be able to participate fully in the community and benefit from the same

opportunities to improve their quality of life and fulfil their potential as are enjoyed by other citizens.

People with a Disability and the Social Justice Strategy

The Federal Labor Government brought into office a vision for a

fairer and more prosperous society in which every Australian

receives a fair share.

We are well on the way to achieving this vision through our social

justice strategy.

This strategy aims to develop a fairer Australia in which all people

can participate fully in economic, social and political life and can

determine and control the direction of their lives.

The Australian Government's objectives in relation to people with a

disability are part of its overall social justice strategy.

Disability services in Australia provide an excellent example of

social justice at work - by tackling inequities and advancing the

rights of people with a disability and by addressing the fundamental

or root problem - attitudes.

Through the social justice strategy, social policy is part of the mainstream of government activity. It is not something which is

tacked on at the end to take care of the inequities and problems

caused by other policies.

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The Government takes the view that it is the role of government to

provide leadership and to ensure social justice for its citizens

through positive action.

While accepting a leadership role, we also understand that success

in this area, like in so many others, will only come about if we all work together in a team effort. Governments alone can not solve the

problems facing people with a disability. Commitment and action by other levels of government, unions, employers, our non-government providers, and the general community are essential.

The barriers to full participation are complex and interrelated.

Solutions require an effective and co-ordinated approach. All portfolios of government must therefore be involved, not just the traditional social or community services portfolios. Departments of

transport, communications, employment, industrial relations and education for example have vital roles to play.

The Marriage of Social and Economic Policy

There are few times in which it is more difficult to provide leadership and sustain a commitment to social justic as during a

recession. In such times of unemployment, everyone needs to be

doubly conscious of the need to link our economic policy to our social policy - to ensure that we do not discriminate against those

with a disability; that the too few opportunities are shared and that everyone feels that they are working for growth and recovery.

The realisation of social justice goals for people with a disability

not only benefits them, but society as a whole. People with a

disability are an untapped economic and social resource. We incur

significant costs to the economy because their potential is not

fully realised. Our challenge is to raise awareness of the

potential of employees with a disability, and provide the necessary

support measures.

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For people with a disability, the Government has a target of creating 8000 extra places a year in labour market programs and 4500

more places in rehabilitation programs by 1993-94.

In previous recessions, it was accepted that such programs were

'luxuries' that could not be afforded. We know now that this is the very time not to drop these programs so that job seekers with special circumstances have their best chance of gaining employment in the recovery.

Currently in Australia, there is a big focus on employment for young

people. We have just had a Youth Summit where a number of key players in the field, including young people, discussed ways in

which we can collectively reduce teenage unemployment.

The Prime Minister announced a number of initiatives which will provide up to 100,000 jobs and training places for those young people currently out of work.

Governments, unions and industry are committed to the reforms, we

must include people with a disability. We must not overlook the rights of people with a disability, particularly young people with a

disability, when we talk about the youth unemployment problem and

the extra training and jobs that will be created under the new

Government initiative.

Young people with a disability have a right to both participate in the workforce and share in any future gains. Our task, which will

not be easy, is to ensure that people with a disability are able to

access the training places and new jobs created as part of the new

youth package.

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The transition from school to work is always difficult - but it is especially difficult for young people with a disability. We need to do much better in ensuring that these young people have options and

support for whichever option they choose and are not isolated from programs which can help them move on from school to a job and


There is much remaining to be done in this area.

Major Disability Reforms Under the Labor Government

Within the broad structure of social justice, this Government has been instrumental in developing disability services across Australia since its election in 1983.

Significant reforms were achieved in the 1980's, beginning with the Handicapped Programs Review in 1985 which led to the Disability

Services Act coming into operation in 1987.

This Act, which is internationally regarded as a ground-breaking piece of legislation, is based on the fundamental principle that

people with a disability have the same rights as other Australian

citizens. The Act requires that Commonwealth funded services for

people with a disability be provided in a manner consistent with

their rights as Australian citizens and human beings. These include

the right to dignity, privacy, and choice and the fulfilment of their capacities to contribute fully to community life.

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The Act:

. promotes the integration of people with a disability into

the community;

. enables people with a disability to achieve positive

outcomes including increased independence and employment opportunities; and

. encourages a positive image of people with a disability.

It is now our aim as a Government to build on these fundamental reforms as we move into the 90's .

Our goal is ONE NATION - and if we can demonstrate fairness to all people, all groups within Australian society - then we are well on the way to achieving our goal.

No-one would argue that we have reached that goal.

Nonetheless, initiatives in the disability services area in

the 90' s show that we are, in fact, getting closer to it.

We are getting closer to it because the focus has shifted from high cost, segregated institutions to working

co-operatively and in the broader community to a common end.

Participation in the Workforce

A corner-stone of this Government's social justice strategy is that the key to maximising independence and integration

into the community for people with a disability is through

jobs in open employment.

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With appropriate training and support, many people with a disability can join the general workforce and benefit from the same conditions that other workers enjoy.

In most cases, getting a job on equal terms with colleagues is the first step out of a life of isolation, dependence and

social disadvantage.

The Government and a number of other agencies have been working very hard over the past five years to increase the participation of people with a disability in the workforce.

The Commonwealth's Disability Reform Package introduced in 1990, has three key Commonwealth departments working together to increase the employment options available to people with a disability and to make it easier for people to

access job programs.

The package aims to provide incentives for both people with a disability to work and for employers to employ them.

It also aims to promote and maintain employer and union

interest and awareness of the benefits to be gained by

employing people with a disability. Partnerships with

employers and unions are a tremendous step forward.

The Government's commitment to the success of the package is

evidenced by the increased labour market, rehabilitation and

training placements that have been created as part of this


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Greater Co-operation between Levels of Government

This initiative is an example of Commonwealth departments working together for people with a disability. On a broader level, there has been an agreement signed between the Commonwealth and the State and Territory Governments which

represents a new era in Commonwealth/State relations.

The Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement was signed by

all Australian Heads of Government in 1991 and will last for

a period of five years.

It represents a turning point in Commonwealth/State relations in

the disability area.

As many of you will be aware, we have a federal system in Australia with one national Government (the Commonwealth) and eight jurisdictions - called States and Territories - each with their own

legislature and parliament.

Within this system, there is a great need to co-ordinate the

various roles and responsibilities of the different levels of

government in the setting of policy and the delivery of services.

The Agreement will achieve greater co-operation between governments because it draws a clear line between the roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government in the

delivery of disability services.

Clearly defined government responsibilities will lead to more

efficient and effective service delivery for people with a


This will put a stop to the duplication and overlap in the administration and funding of disability services which had crept

up as a result of poor co-ordination.

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Under the Agreement the Commonwealth will administer employment

services for people with a disability.

The States will administer accommodation and community support


These arrangements recognise the Commonwealth's responsibility for

employment services for the general community and the direct links with the income security system.

The Agreement also provides other benefits for people with a disability. In particular, each State Government must enact

legislation complementary to the Commonwealth's Disability Services

Act before the Agreement is implemented in that State.

This will ensure that the social justice principles embodied in the Commonwealth's 1986 Act are extended to all consumers, not just those who use Commonwealth funded services.

Since July 1991, four States (Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory) have enacted their complementary


Other States are at various stages with the development of their complementary legislation, and the Commonwealth is working with

them towards the implementation of the Agreement.

I have just outlined two fundamental reforms in the area of disability services. The reforms will have direct and positive

effects for people with a disability by making it easier for them to negotiate the system and by offering more opportunities for

employment, training and community support.

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New Initiatives for People with a Disability

An important challenge facing the Government's social justice strategy is to develop new models which can respond to the changing times and the changing needs of people with a disability.

It is important that I mention these, especially in the current

economic climate, in which many people are suffering, many people are disadvantaged, and most devastating of all, many people are unemployed.

Within this climate we must not forget people with a disability, or place them at the bottom of the list. We must continue to support those who are most disadvantaged in the labour market -

especially people with a disability.

Most people with a disability want nothing more than to be thought of as individuals with abilities rather than disabilities, earning their own living and paying their own way. For too long, people with a disability have had no choice but to spend a lifetime in

segregated settings such as hostels and sheltered workshops.

Two initiatives I want to talk about are:

. The union/employer disability awareness pilot; and

. Disability Discrimination Legislation

The aim of the union/employer disability awareness pilot projects

is to raise the level of awareness of employers, unions and coworkers about the capacities, and largely untapped potential, of

people with a disability in the workplace.

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Experience has shown that real improvements in the employment of people with a disability can best be achieved when unions, employers and people with a disability work together. With better understanding and co-operation there will be improved employment

opportunities for people with a disability.

In addition, the projects seek to inform people with a disability

about their workplace rights.

The pilot projects are sponsored by three unions.

Educational strategies are currently being developed to inform people with a disability of their rights and responsibilities in

the workforce. .

The same information is also being provided to union officials and

workplace delegates.

Management within the business sector, including personnel managers, is also being targeted.

This initiative will make it easier for people with a disability

to work in open employment. It will also encourage employers to

reach out to people with a disability.

I want to acknowledge and congratulate employers in both the

private and public sectors who have had the vision and foresight to

enter into this partnership of providing real jobs for people with

a disability.

No organisation or Government can achieve results such as these

alone. Our vision of social justice recognises that we must be in

partnership with individuals, families, employers, other levels of

government and communities to improve the quality of life for all


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The second initiative, and I have left this until last because I want to stress its importance, is the development in Australia of

Disability Discrimination Legislation.

People are still subjected to discrimination purely on the basis of disability - discrimination which, I am sure all of you will agree,

is socially damaging, morally unacceptable and a cost to the whole community.

The Disability Discrimination Bill will be instrumental in

continuing social change and will have far reaching and long

awaited effects for people with a disability.

I do not believe there is any better example of social justice than this legislation - legislation which provides the framework to eliminate discrimination which prevents fair access for people with

a disability to jobs, education, sport and entertainment and which provides an effective means of overcoming perhaps the most significant barrier that people with a disability face - the

attitudinal barrier.

Changing attitudes in the community continues to be fundamental to

the overall success of disability reform.

The Government's anti-discrimination legislation is a key initiative in its commitment to social justice and human rights for

all Australians.

It will awaken and strengthen our national conscience to the

rights, needs and responsibilities of people with a disability, and

ensure that they have proper avenues for redress in the case of


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The Disability Discrimination Legislation is path-breaking. It

will help to make citizenship a reality for people, wherever they

might be.

The legislation has been introduced into Parliament and will be

debated later this month.

National Mental Health Policy

Finally, I want to mention a new initiative that will be of

interest to those of you here who are concerned with the issue of

psychiatric disability.

For too long psychiatric disability has been the poor cousin in the

disability services field.

In Australia and overseas, those with psychiatric disorders have

suffered as a result.

This issue is the subject of a current inquiry by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission which is discovering that people

with psychiatric disorders are amongst the most disadvantaged and

marginalised groups in society.

Recognising this significance of this problem, all Health Ministers

endorsed a national mental health policy in April of this year.

The policy will ensure national improvements in the range and quality of mental health services available. There will also be

measurable improvements in the status of people with mental

disorders in Australian society.

Historically these services have been a State government

responsibility in Australia. The Commonwealth has had·no direct

involvement with mental health policy or service delivery.

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Under the Policy, the Commonwealth is committed to a national approach to mental health policy, planning and service delivery.

Our Government will continue to work closely with State and Territory governments, consumers, carers, service providers and

professionals to ensure that strategies are adopted which effectively get a better deal for people with psychiatric disorders.

Closing Comments

I'd like to end there on a very positive note because I believe we have every reason to be positive.

We have achieved a better deal for people with a disability in Australia.

However, it is still not good enough.

We must not let our achievements lead to complacency. There are still fundamental areas which need to be addressed, improvements

which still need to made and new areas which we need to explore.

We have our strong social justice strategy to thank for the reforms

which have occurred so far.

The strategy provides an excellent framework for further reforms.

We will continue to work towards our vision.

A vision of a fairer Australia where people with a disability are

regarded as equals, with the same rights as all other citizens,

with recourse to the systems that redress any infringements of

their rights.

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An Australia where people with a disability can participate in the life of the community in which they live, to the degree that they wish; and can gain and hold meaningful employment that provides

wages and career opportunities that reflect performance.

An Australia where people with a disability have control over their

own bodies, lives and future; where difference is accepted, and where public instrumentalities, communities and individuals act to ensure that societies accommodates such difference.

Only then will we be able to say that justice has been achieved.

We have some way to go.

This Congress is one way forward.

Forums like this represent a unique opportunity for people to get together to discuss and promote research findings and new proposals, to engage with researchers from other disciplines and to network with representatives from a range of organisations leading

the way in the study of intellectual disability.

I congratulate the Australian Society for the Study of Intellectual

Disability for bringing the 9th Congress to Australia.

I anticipate, judging from the energy and enthusiasm in the room

today, that this Congress will be a great success and another step

forward in advancing our knowledge and understanding of intellectual disability.

I am delighted to declare the 9th World Congress for the

International Association for the Scientific Study of Mental

Deficiency officially open, and to wish all of you every success in

your deliberations over the next five days.

Thank you.