Mr Deputy Speaker, firstly, thank you to the Member for Fisher for this opportunity to reflect on the lives of people with disabilities in the Mighty Eden-Monaro.
We have much to celebrate in the communities that I serve when it comes to being inclusive of people with disability.
One such example exists in the town of Bega, at the southern end of my electorate.
The Bega Valley is home to Tulgeen Disability Services – which has been providing services to people with a disability for over 40 years.
From humble beginnings, shaped by parents and strong community support, Tulgeen is now a significant force in the Bega Valley’s economy, culture and spirit.
The Bega Valley community has embraced Tulgeen and the people it supports in an open hearted, good natured, country kind of way.
People living with disability – whether those disabilities are physical or cognitive, are part of the day to day buzz on Bega’s main street.
I’m thinking of conversations with Benny and his commentary on the weekend’s footy game with the Newcastle Knights or Hawthorn Hawks and it brings a smile to my face.
Around these friendly, everyday interactions – the wider community is keeping check and adding their own layer of care and support to these vulnerable people – who are now central to Bega’s identity.
Sharing day to day life with people with disabilities over the last four decades has made the Bega Valley community stronger, deeper and more tolerant.
Tulgeen offers paid, supported employment within four social and disability enterprises.
People with a disability are empowered to learn, maintain and expand workplace skills and experience with a view to moving to open employment.
But there is more to life than just work – something we are all better for remembering.
Tulgeen also offers a range of lifestyle activities designed to build connection with the wider community, build the confidence of their clients and establish ways of communication and expressions.
Tulgeen’s ‘Art in the Garage’ program is a thriving activity where clients who are interested in the arts are mentored by practising artists to develop their creativity and build on their skills.
During the year artworks are chosen to be exhibited in local and interstate galleries, libraries and in other public facilities.
Artworks sold at these events earn the artists a commission with many of the artists becoming very well-known – their works are in hot demand.
Tulgeen has always been future focused and with the support of the NSW Government, construction is currently underway on a purpose-built facility in Bega to provide supported accommodation for people with disabilities.
This new infrastructure builds on Tulgeen’s long history of in-home support services.
The health and disability sector is the Bega Valley’s largest employer – accounting for almost 16% of local jobs.
In the September quarter, it injected $6 million into the local economy.
As we look to renew and strengthen our community in the wake of prolonged drought, bushfires, and COVID-19 – the potential of the care economy is obvious.
Especially as we look to build on Labor’s vision for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
We should all celebrate the fact that the NDIS is now available to all eligible Australians.
The scheme, born of great Labor leaders like Jenny Macklin, Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard, is now assisting 400,000 people.
The freedom, choice and control the NDIS has delivered people with disability and their families and friends marks a significant step forward for this country.
As with any reform of this size, constant refinement is critical, and I urge the government to continue the investment and grow the scheme.
All too often we hear the stories of frustration as fragile people try their best to navigate the bureaucracy.
The challenges people with disabilities face in their day to day lives should not be compounded by a scheme designed to enrich their lives.
There is a real sense that there simply aren’t enough workers within the NDIS itself or in the community-based disability workforce.
The Productivity Commission estimates we need approximately 95,000 additional full-time equivalent workers – that was the estimate in 2014.
More than six years on, what is this government doing to expand the disability workforce?
My vision is that every Australian town can celebrate and welcome the contribution people with disability make to community life – just like the Bega Valley does.
For that to happen, we need to commit ourselves to the continual improvement and proper funding of the NDIS.