PMB: Disability

27 February 2017

I second the motion. Mr Speaker, I rise to speak on the private member's motion that celebrates the achievements of people with disability in our community. I make particular mention of Paralympian Liesl Tesch, who I had the pleasure of spending some time with on Australia Day this year in beautiful Port Stephens in my electorate of Paterson. Liesl was last week preselected as the Labor candidate for the New South Wales state seat of Gosford. I note that I am joined this afternoon in the Federation Chamber by the member for Dobell. There will be a by-election held soon in Gosford and I know that, if elected, Liesl will do an outstanding job of representing the people of Gosford.

This year, Liesl was the Australia Day Ambassador for Port Stephens and shared with those celebrating our national day what it means to be Australian and what makes Australia great. The message was as simple as it was profound: 'We embrace change,' Liesl said, 'We make things possible.' Liesl has certainly embraced change and made things possible, not just for herself but for thousands of people. She has influenced so many along the way, as she did on Australia Day in my electorate. She was truly magnificent.

In her outstanding career of 24 years as a Paralympian, Liesl has won five medals, including two silver and a bronze for women's basketball and back-to-back gold medals in sailing. Liesl, who was honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia in 2014, has also done so much for other athletes with disabilities. She co-founded Sport Matters, which supports and encourages athletes with disability in developing countries, and is working to establish the national Paralympian Mentoring Program, in which up and coming Australian athletes with a disability will be mentored for three months by Paralympians past and present.

Also, as a high school geography teacher, Leisel has inspired cohorts of young people to embrace change and make things possible. She lists as some of her priorities, if elected to office, education and youth employment. Her closing remarks on Australia Day this year were an encouragement and an inspiration to us all: set yourself some goals and make Australia a great place.

In the area of disability, we Australians have set ourselves some goals, and those goals are encapsulated in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The NDIS is a new way of providing support for people living with a disability. Created by the Rudd-Gillard Labor government, it is a whole-of-life approach—a major reform of disability services in Australia, designed to provide the right support according to each person's needs and goals. True choice and control is something that we all want in our lives. It is a noble aspiration, and I know it is working for many people.

I was also heartened the other day to catch up with Graeme Innes, another outstanding Australian with a disability, whose contribution I would like to celebrate. Graeme is a former Disability Discrimination Commissioner and now a board member of Life Without Barriers. He was catching the same little plane as me. We call it the 'bug smasher'. I know that the member for Dobell has been on that plane with me before. It is tiny. It flies from Canberra to Newcastle, and it is a fabulous service. I had interviewed Graeme in my past life in radio and was always inspired by him and his ability to embrace change and make things possible—a bit like Leisel, really. Graeme has been a strong advocate of the NDIS as a way of changing lives, not just the lives of Australians with disabilities but the lives of those with whom they interact and love. On the eve of its rollout, Graeme said that all Australians would feel the change that the NDIS would bring. Hundreds of thousands more jobs would be created across the country in support of roles for the scheme, and many people with disabilities would move off welfare and into work.

While I was boarding that little bug smasher of a plane with Graeme, climbing up the very narrow stairs and squeezing down the very narrow aisle, side by side with Graeme and his very well-behaved dog, I was reminded of the determination and the drive that it takes for people with a disability to do what many Australians without a disability take for granted. He is truly inspirational. The NDIS can give that determination solid support. But, as Graeme said when it was launched, it is not without bumps, and they are the bumps that we must continue to smooth out to make it great.