Well, thank you very, very much Alastair.
Can I also start by adding my acknowledgement of country.
I’d also like to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues who are here this morning, starting with Senator Claire Moore, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific; Senator Jordan Steele-John, welcome, it truly is wonderful to have you serving in our Parliament – I may not always agree with you, but it’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful, to have you here and I really think we should just give Jordan a round of applause [applause].
Can I also acknowledge former Minister and Member of the House of Representatives, Bob McMullan, good to see you; and also Assistant Minister Jane Prentice and other parliamentary colleagues who are here.
Can I also acknowledge Maulani Rotinsulu and Mr Paul Deany – I look forward to our panel discussion this morning.
I’d like to start by thanking the Australian Disability and Development Consortium (ADDC) for bringing us together today, and by acknowledging the work of all of its members in organising today’s event.
For ten years now, the ADDC has been a leader in the push for disability inclusive development in our region – and I would like to thank all of its members for their tireless efforts in promoting this important issue.
It’s my great pleasure this morning to be representing the Prime Minister – who would have liked to have been here to mark the International Day of People with a Disability.
There is a lot happening at the moment in this building, so if I can pass on the Prime Minister’s best wishes to you all.
Today is an opportunity to celebrate our achievements in supporting disability inclusive development, to reflect on how far we have come, but also to take stock of the work we have ahead of us.
Now, this year’s theme for International Day of People with a Disability is – “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all”.
This theme is grounded in the transformative changes envisaged by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
It recognises our collective ambition to ‘leave no one behind’ – while working to empower all people with disability to be active contributors to their society.
This is an ambition deeply held by the Australian Government.
But, there is a lot more work to be done.
Around one billion people across the world have a disability and of those, around 80 per cent live in a developing country.
In developing countries, people with disabilities are more likely to be poor, more likely to be unemployed and less likely to go to school.
Worse still, people with disabilities are often excluded from development efforts for a range of reasons.
This is unacceptable.
Barriers to inclusion for people with a disability hold the entire society back.
Of course, the international community acknowledges this truth.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the existence of barriers to inclusion for people with disability.
Accessibility and inclusion of persons with disability are fundamental rights entrenched in the Convention.
They’re not just objectives but they are pre-requisites for other basic human rights for people with a disability.
We know that when societies are more inclusive of people, including those with a disability, their economy grows and poverty is significantly reduced.
They are stronger, they are more prosperous and they are more stable.
That is why we are committed to supporting people with disabilities to achieve equality of opportunity and of representation – especially in our region.
Now, as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, it’s been my great pleasure to see the changes that are underway in our Indo-Pacific region towards more inclusive societies.
Australian aid is making an immediate impact to support inclusion – and this is something that we should be immensely proud of.
Our disability strategy, “Development for All”, outlines our vision for supporting improved quality of life for the people with a disability in our region.
We support inclusive development through our aid investments and our broader diplomatic efforts.
We know, and we start from this preface, that disability is not a peripheral issue – but one that cuts across all of our aid investments and it is critical to the effectiveness of our aid.
We know that some groups within the disability community are at heightened risk of marginalisation, especially the deaf and those with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.
This is why, in October this year, we were very pleased to support Bhargavi Davar from TCI Asia, a regional NGO, to travel to the Pacific and speak on disability rights at the first Tongan National Mental Health Symposium.
Ms Davar, herself a person with a psychosocial disability, is a powerful advocate for inclusion.
Her example is a counter to the stigma associated with psychosocial disabilities in the Pacific, demonstrating how empowered people with disabilities can meaningfully participate in society, but more important, share their experiences.
We’re also using innovative means to extend opportunity to people with a disability.
Through “All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development”, we are partnering with USAID and World Vision to launch the “Sign on for Literacy” competition which seeks to use technology-based innovations to increase access to sign languages and literacy interventions for deaf children in low-resource contexts.
The competition specifically recognises that in some settings, especially in the Pacific, there is no documented sign language, and to build literacy, language documentation is vitally important.
I look forward to seeing the real positive and sustainable results achieved through this innovative aid partnership.
Civil society can also be a powerful agent for change.
A core part of our approach, right from the start, has been to support disabled people’s organisations in developing countries.
Groups like SENESE, in Samoa, are extending opportunity to people in those communities as only locals can.
Working with, and learning from, people with disabilities is critical to understanding how we can best address barriers to full participation.
Beyond our region, we are taking our voice to the international stage on behalf of disabled people.
Earlier this year, I was honoured to attend and co-chair the first meeting of the Global Action on Disability Network (GLAD) in Berlin, in Germany.
I am proud of Australia’s leading role in this network as current co-chair of GLAD alongside the International Disability Alliance.
At this point I must acknowledge the contribution of Colin Allen, an Australian who is doing an absolutely fantastic job in the Alliance and I’m sure he’s known to many of you.
The GLAD Network was born out of a recognition that more needs to be done to realise the rights of people with disabilities – and that this is best done working in partnership.
GLAD brings together bilateral donors, multilateral organisations, foundations and private sector – working with disabled people’s organisations – to enhance exclusion in international development.
Although still in its formative stages, GLAD has great potential to promote greater international cooperation, especially in inclusive education, in humanitarian action and in social protection, which are GLAD’s current focus.
And beyond these areas, its influence is reaching and is growing.
I look forward to co-chairing the next GLAD meeting in Helsinki, in Finland, at the end of next month.
In addition to our support for disabled people’s organisations and GLAD, we are also a leading global advocate on disability data.
Whilst support for disability-inclusive development has led to the improvement of lives, we recognise how important it is to measure not only the need, but the impact.
For this reason, we are supporting a number of initiatives to increase capacity globally to collect reliable and internationally comparable data on disability.
Last month, DFAT, alongside the Australian Bureau of Statistics, hosted the 17th Annual Meeting of the Washington Group on Disability Statistics in Sydney.
This event helped build the capacity of statisticians, including from different parts of the Pacific, to measure development in their countries.
It has also resulted in a landmark agreement with UN Statistics Division on the use of the Washington Group tools for monitoring implementation of the Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals by disaggregating data by disability status.
Many of you will be aware that Australia secured a position on the Human Rights Council this year.
This is an honour, which will provide us with a significant opportunity to continue to protect, promote, advocate the rights of persons with a disability.
I am also pleased that this week our Foreign Minister announced Australia’s intention to nominate Rosemary Kayess to the UN Committee on the Rights of People with a Disability for the 2019/22 term.
Having an Australian on that Committee will complement our work on the Council and further our leadership and advocacy and continued work in the disability sector globally.
Can I express my support for Rosemary and wish her very, very well in her new endeavour.
Ladies and gentlemen, today is an opportunity for all of us to focus on how we can better strive for inclusivity and the removal of all forms of barriers for people with a disability.
Thank you for joining us here this morning on what is a very, very busy week, and let’s all work together for the important goal of ‘leaving no one behind’.
Thank you for your kind attention.