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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 3767

Senator PRATT (5:16 PM) —I rise this evening to acknowledge a very important person in my life and an equally important program. The person is Mr Aden Deery and the program is the Politician Adoption Scheme. I would like to give the Senate a little bit of context and talk about this wonderful scheme. The Politician Adoption Scheme is run by the Developmental Disability Council of Western Australia, otherwise known as the DDC. This is a fabulous community organisation that I have been pleased to support and have an association with for many years. In its own words, the DDC says it ‘provides a voice, takes a stand and fights for the rights of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families’.

We all know that people with disabilities and their families face many issues. The DDC takes up many of these issues and makes sure that the community, including politicians, are aware of these issues so that we can take appropriate action. One of the ways the DDC undertakes its important advocacy role is through the Politician Adoption Scheme. The scheme assist politicians from all political parties to understand disability issues by gaining a personal insight into a family’s life. The politicians are adopted by a person with a disability and their family. I was very fortunate to be adopted by Aden and his family at an adoption ceremony in 2005, when I was a state MP. The idea is that, by getting to know Aden and his family by spending time with him and participating in family activities, I will be better able to represent Aden and his family’s needs. Indeed, that has certainly been my experience. I have seen Aden and his family, particularly through my association with his mother, Christine, struggle with the endless applications they have had to make over many years to try and find Aden a full-time living placement so that he could move out of home like other young men his age.

Christine and the rest of his family and their carers had lived with Aden for a great many years. But, like all young men his age, it was time for Aden to move out of home. It is a very arduous process, making those applications. It involves saying over and over again what the daily struggles for the family are. They have had to put that on record over and over and over again, over many years, in one application after another. Families are forced to dwell on all the negative things about their family dynamic and the burden—and also the joy—of providing full-time care, because that is what they are forced to emphasise in their application.

Aden and his family are really pleased that he has finally been able to move out of home and into a full-time residential placement. His new home has just been set up, so the team there are busy working out activities and routines and getting to know each other. Aden is getting on well with his new housemate, and I understand that a third resident is going to be joining them soon. Aden’s family are having to adjust to his absence, as any parent has to do when their child moves out of home. When a member of your family requires full-time care, it brings a particular intensity to their moving out of home. I am particularly pleased that Aden’s family still have plenty of family time together. I would really like to wish Aden’s mother, Christine, well in her new pursuits, which she now has more time for. I have learnt so much from Aden and his family.

I am really pleased that, since coming to office, the Rudd Labor government has taken up the cudgels for people with disability. For too long, people with disability have been locked out of their own lives and locked out of participating in the community. For many years under the Howard government, people with disability and their organisations were fighting for recognition. People with disability are not looking for pity or charity. It is very simple, really: people with disability just want their rights and entitlements. They want their rights as citizens, such as being able to vote in person and privately. They want their rights as service users, such as being able to access services that meet their needs and having a say about what services they need. They want their rights as women and men to be able to make decisions about their lifestyles and relationships, including where they live, who they live with and the type of work they want to do. The bottom line is that people with disability want the right to be treated equally. These rights are not abstract concepts. They are enshrined in law at the international, national and state level, and they have an impact on the lives and choices of people with disability every day.

The challenge for us as parliamentarians is to continue to put these rights into practice. Indeed, this is a challenge that faces the nation as a whole. The Rudd government, I am pleased to say, has been working away doing just that. I am very pleased that in July last year the government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Australia was one of the first Western nations to ratify this important international instrument. It was particularly important because it signified that the Rudd government has a strong commitment to Australia’s human rights obligations.

The Attorney-General is progressing ratification of the optional protocol to the convention, which will further strengthen it. The Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services is listening to people with disability about what should be included in a proposed National Disability Strategy. In fact, we have had 2,500 people attend consultations, received 750 submissions and currently the government is actively considering the things that have come up in the consultations.

I also know that the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is working to improve income support and related entitlements. All this groundwork has to be done because the former government chose to play down Australia’s responsibilities at an international level and it hid behind a veil of insularity. I think that, in doing so, people with disability were left alone to fight for their rights for a long time.

I would like to return to my adopted family, the Deery family. Aden has shown me firsthand what it is like to live every day with a disability. His family has given me insights into what it is like to struggle to access services. But the focus is not on Aden’s impairments. It must be on the way in which our society locks Aden and his family out of participating in everyday activities because of the lack of access to rights or services. That is the real disability in my opinion.

The disabling conditions are those we construct in our society, things like the way we build our buildings and our transport systems so that some people cannot access them, the priority we give to our decision making on the types of services that we fund in this country and the attitudes that we hold about the kinds of things that people with disability can and cannot do. So I would really like to thank personally Aden and his family for sharing their lives with me and for showing me the importance of making sure that all the things we do as parliamentarians include all people. I restate the commitment that I have given to Aden that I will continue to work to make sure that the rights of people with disability are met.